July 21, 2024

This is What I Do

Last week, I delivered the opening keynote address at a Bulgarian S.T.E.A.M. Conference, participated in a panel discussion, led two-days of hands-on workshops with Sylvia Martinez. Last, but not least, we led an enormously satisfying day-long engineering workshop for kids.

My most successful school partners/clients accept my invitation to teach not only teachers, but classes of children as well. When teachers see through the eyes, hands, and screens of their children, what is possible, they express interest in personal and professional progress. I have been known to teach eight classes of kids in multiple subjects, at a range of grade levels, all in the same day. This is an attempt to inspire models of possibility for teachers to consider, discuss, and pursue when I am not on site. Mentoring teachers in their classrooms with their students expands the imaginations, confidence, and competence of educators. It produces action, not rhetoric. [read details below the graphics]

In all of my work (not just when I don’t speak the local language) I try to keep instruction to a bare minimum because as Piaget teaches us, “knowledge is a consequence of experience.” I model constructionism and my favorite adage, “less us, more them.” So imagine a room full of 40 kids ranging from second to eighth grade, most of whom do not speak English, and none of whom have ever seen the Hummingbird Robotics Kit, being asked to work in teams – in many cases with kids they do not know, to create an interactive physical computing invention based on a simple open-ended prompt. Experience lends me great confidence in the process of letting go and creating a productive context for learning in which I am largely invisible.

One local Bulgarian educator, Ivan Petrov, participated in the teacher workshop and observed the student workshop day. Here is his review of the student workshop. (Note: The automatic translation may be responsible for proclaiming me the most important progressive educator in the world, but I’ve been called worse. Thanks algorithm!👍)

I wanted to write this post on Tuesday, but I caught the flu and I’ve been lying on the couch for a few days 🙂

This past weekend I attended a conference at Българско школо – Oфициална страница that was dedicated to STEAM education. I saw and heard quite progressive ideas that education in Bulgaria needs.

Personally, the culmination of the event was a two-day workshop for teachers organized by Gary S. Stager . Many things to be said about Gary, I’ll just say two. Firstly, this is one of the people who inspires me to continually think how to reach every child and secondly, Gary is the most read author of progressive education worldwide. Well, it is a real privilege for a teacher to have the opportunity to participate in his workshop.

Several teachers had the opportunity to observe Gary work with students on the last day. I admit, I haven’t seen anything like this until now. The purpose of the task for the children was to “resurrect” a monster, ghost or something similar, using programming and any handy materials. Until that point, the children had not programmed with the gadgets provided to them.

What did I just witness? For 4 astronomical hours, the children did not stop working, did not ask for recess, toilet or water. They were extremely engaged and concentrated throughout. They asked very meaningful questions all the time. They didn’t have a plan, but it was obvious that the job was going and in their heads anything was possible. One of the groups had 4 kids – one 8th grader, two 6th grader and one 2nd grader – they all worked hard and did super well. What was most interesting to me was that in order to make their inventions, children had to use knowledge of all subjects, incl. mathematics. In the end, each child was a “winner” and each child was proud of what they had accomplished. Sharing some pictures of the whole process and hope you can feel the vibes.

Ivan V. Petrov
“She’s the brains of the operation,” said one of the adolescent boys about their 2nd grade collaborator

A Prompt is Worth a Thousand Words

In honor of Halloween, the engineering prompt was to bring a monster, ghost, or goblin to life using the Hummingbird Robotics Kit, arts and craft supplies, a laptop, and the SNAP! programming language. The teachers were challenged with the same prompt two days earlier. I used the same prompt in both cases so that teachers could compare and contrast their experiences with those of the children. Part of me wishes that I had offered a more challenging and computationally richer prompt to the kids, because they were up to the task. In a perfect world, it would have been great for the teachers to spend another day in a similar project setting based on their own recent experience and their observations of the children.

Teacher notes

This playful engineering and computer science project is distinguished by what it lacked, including an absence of instruction, age segregation, rubrics, assigned groups, gender bias, reflection rituals, assessment, behavioral issues, unreasonable time constraints, restriction of movement, and many other common elements of classroom practice. The students returned to work on their projects before I or the other “teachers” finished lunch.

Reach Out. I’ll Be There!

I would love to work with your school to expand the range of the possible and help your teachers grow. Contact me at gary [at] stager.org for more information about how we might collaborate to change the world!