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Cultivating A Repair Mindset

As educators we see the opportunity to support young people to cultivate their repair mindset at home, in after-school experiences, and in the classroom. Since 2019 Agency by Design Oakland and Maker Ed have partnered with The Culture of Repair Project to ignite an interest in repair within maker-centered learning and the broader educational landscape. Our group has explored this topic and how it might be engaged in K-12 education. The resulting publication, Cultivating a Repair Mindset Toolkit, both shares our research and invites engagement in the richness of repair. Download the full toolkit (designed by Bri James) for free here . Here are some ways educators can use it with their learners.

Curious about repair? Print out the “Repair Zine” (Page 18 of the Toolkit). Fold the zine into a poncho book and then use your home to do the listed activities like a repair hunt (to find objects that need repair) or to sketch and write the names of tools you have on hand.

Explore design, engineering, and invention: “Repair Exploration” (Page 19 of the Toolkit) cultivates learners’ curiosity about how objects and systems work. Look closely at a single object in need of repair while weaving in the design process: after “Noticing” and “Exploring,” “Reflecting” leads to defining and ideating solutions.

Supporting language development: When exploring an object, invite learners to diagram and label the parts with their own language (this also provides an assessment for you), then move learners into researching the accurate names of components and materials to learn new vocabulary.

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Empathy: The Common Core Standards ask learners to consider multiple perspectives and look at one scenario from multiple vantage points. Use the “Parts Perspectives Me” tool (Page 22 of the Toolkit) to support learners to develop perspective taking as a habit.

Creating space for open exploration? Create a repair station by setting up a stack of “Repair Journals” (Page 23 of the Toolkit) near a set of objects in need of fixing (collect these from the school or program and/or have students bring them in from home), tools, and documentation materials (chart paper, markers, pencils, rulers, etc.). Students could also opt into repairing objects for the larger community. Encourage learners to think about different outcomes for repair — are they hoping to bring it back to its original function or do they want to change its function? Do they want to make it more beautiful, more efficient, more environmentally friendly, or other?

Establishing a community repair stance: After you have engaged in repair with your learners, write your own repair stance together. Ask: “What is important about repair?” “How do you think repair can impact our world?” “How can we think about repair as part of our community?” Use our “Repair Stance” (Above; Page 6 of the Toolkit), as well as iFixit’s Repair Manifesto as inspiration.

In the Toolkit, we focus on the repair of physical objects because kids love to get hands-on. But repairing objects sets off a chain reaction that is part of restoring the many systems to which each object is associated, meaning objects and systems are interconnected. Learning to repair a coat zipper is an invitation to consider the labor that sewed it in the first place, the processing of the metals, and the right to access the information needed to fix it. The process of repair cultivates curiosity, systems thinking, problem solving, and many of the 21st century skills that schools focus on.

Repairing objects is a gateway to student agency. Our national public education system still centers on the standardized methods of the industrial revolution. We want to see a system that produces graduates who are ready and excited to tackle the world’s most pressing problems. We think the Toolkit will help. 

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Brooke Toczylowski

Co-Director of Agency by Design Oakland, which works with ecosystems of educators to shift schools from places of compliance to curiosity. She is also a practicing visual artist.

View more articles by Brooke Toczylowski
Aaron Vanderwerff

Director of Learning at Maker Ed, which supports educators to shift their practice to be more libertory through making. He lives in Oakland, CA with his family.

View more articles by Aaron Vanderwerff