Digital Leadership and boondoggles like “Digital Learning Day” are just meaningless word salad. If you were to define it, I’d likely weep at the reality of our shocking low expectations.

While we’re at it, I don’t think “educational leadership” is much of an academic discipline either.

In the absence of a clear and publicly articulated vision for a school or district and a misguided quest for the holy grail of balance, the weeds will always kill the flowers. If you are a school leader with a coherent vision for educational progress, you must articulate your vision clearly and publicly so people will follow. Why make others guess what you want and stand for?

Affluent schools often suffer from this syndrome because they can afford to buy lots of stuff. However, you can’t embrace whole language and Hooked-on-Phonics, the ISTE Standards and the Maker Movement, or the Common Core and student agency. The weeds will kill the flowers!

Bad ideas in education are timeless. Good ones are incredibly fragile.

Any good school leader knows that they can’t keep piling  new mandates on teachers and kids. Yet, few school leaders and policy makers seemingly refuse to lighten the load. Editing is critical. Less is more.

However, there is an even more pressing failure of literacy than never getting around to taking out the curricular trash. While school principals continue to ask more and more of teachers, it is the rare school leader with the courage to tell a teacher to STOP doing something.

Allow me to describe a quite common scenario. A school community decides to invest  in a more progressive, creative, or learner-centered mathematics. Curriculum kits are purchased (even the ancillary materials) and professional development juice is sprinkled on the staff.

Later that school year one cannot notice the presence of arithmetic worksheets being used during class and for homework. The worksheets were not part of the “Big Box ‘o Fun” that came with the school’s math curriculum. The teacher purchased them behind the local laundromat or downloaded them off the Web.

You ask “Why are you using all of these awful math worksheets when our school has embraced a different vision of mathematics education?” Teachers almost always answer in the same way. “I’m supplementing the curriculum.” Implied is a concern that there will be life-altering gaps in a child’s eleven times table.

Ask the same teacher if she uses the manipulatives, games, or projects that came with the textbook and she’ll reply, “Nah. No time.” There’s always time for Frank Schaffer!”

I have worked in hundreds of schools over my career and I have yet to meet a principal who will go into a classroom and say, “Stop using those worksheets.” You purchased a curriculum because you didn’t believe teachers were clever enough to know what or how to teach. Why allow them to go rogue and make decisions that do violence to children’s learning?

Leadership is not only about subtraction, but having the integrity to tell a teacher to stop doing something.

It seems to me that “school reformer” is not a title one gets to bestow upon herself. Like genius and artist, “reformer,” is a title granted to you by experts familiar with your talent, expertise, knowledge, wisdom, or accomplishment.

As far too many American schools become obsessed with time-on-task, achievement, and beating the rest of the world in long division, play, recess, and even socializing over lunch fade into memory. Kids in schools lucky enough to still have art, drama, or music programs often have to wake before dawn to attend “zero period” or stay at school until dark, followed by an obscene quantity of homework. Stress levels are up, childhood obesity increases, school shootings have become commonplace and somehow still, the Dickensian shopkeepers tyrannically shaping education policy wish to extend the school day, lengthen the school year, and speed up the conveyor belt they mistakenly confuse for a learning environment.

swingit is worth noting that many of the nations “beating” the USA academically (as if learning were a zero-sum game of winners and losers), have more recess than the United States. K-12 schools in my second home of Australia have a 20-30 minute late “morning tea” and an hour for lunch and recess – through graduation.
My favorite school in the whole world is Spensley Street Primary School in Melbourne, Australia. It’s my happy place. Spensley Street is a joyful K-6 public school of approximately 300 students that for decades has been based on open education (the real kind, not the open-source software nonsense). Everywhere you look, kids are doing things, making things, singing, playing, performing… Every two years, 6th graders go camping and compose a musical that the entire school then performs in.

P1070556 - 2014-06-12 at 19-33-09

When the Australian government mandated standardized testing in order to rank schools from A-F, the Spensley Street community politely and quietly said, “No thank you.” They are not freedom fighters. Just parents and educators who know what is best for the children in their care. If you want your child tested, write a letter requesting it. Last year, I believe that 14% did.
A few years ago, the community built a spectacular garden-like playground, complete with working vegetable garden, and wood-fired pizza oven. It is on the playground where the real joy of childhood is in full bloom. One day, I walked around the garden, ball field, and school yard observing the plethora of joyful ways these lucky kids were allowed to be kids. A five year-old girl escorted me at intermittent intervals.
Playground (likely the first and last public poem by Gary Stager)

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Drinking, shrieking
Yelling, screaming, running
Picking flowers
Turning tree branches into magic wands
Piggybackingphoto 5
Flopping on the ground (“because you’re supposed to”)
Holding hands
Trying on a cape
Wearing funny glasses
Studying a leaf
Cuddling a stuffed stingray
Driving an invisible car
Shouting pow pow pow while waving an imaginary weaponP1070561 - 2014-06-12 at 19-43-05
Tickling a furby
Tree climbing
Dressing like a fairy princess
Making new friends
Wrapping a scarf around your friend’s face
Kicking a pal down a slide Shooting hoops
Hissing at classmates
Smooshing a flower into your hand and then licking the resulting pollen
             - Explaining to the visitor, that’s “my special talent.”
BouncingP1070568 - 2014-06-12 at 19-44-51
Hiding under the stairs
Tying your feet together and walking around “for no reason”
Wearing my shirt inside-out and backwards
Discovering that your snack box is covered in pesto
Faking tears
Cleaning up litter
Being “stealthy”
"Being stealthy"

“Being stealthy”

Dr. Gary S. Stager“Some people think outside of the box. Gary is unaware of the box’s existence.”
- Futurist, Dr. David Thornburg

About Gary Stager

I’ve spent more than three decades helping teachers across the globe make the world a better place for kids. My work is dedicated to the proposition that things need not be as they seem.

A Wise Investment

Dr. Stager contributes to a successful conference or professional learning event by:

  • Modeling exemplary teaching practices with students and teachers
  • Offering a “Conversation with Gary Stager” session following the keynote
  • Presenting additional breakout sessions or participate in panel discussions
  • Leading hands-on workshops
  • Participate in planning sessions, brainstorming or executive briefings
  • Collaborating with students
  • Communicating with parents or the community
  • Media availability
  • Family workshops


Short Bio

Gary Stager is one of the world’s leading experts and advocates for computer programming, robotics and learning-by-doing in classrooms. In 1990, Dr. Stager led professional development in the world’s first laptop schools and played a major role in the early days of online education. In addition to being a popular keynote speaker at some of the world’s most prestigious education conferences, Gary is a journalist, teacher educator, consultant, professor, software developer, publisher, and school STEM. Director. An elementary teacher by training, he has taught students from preschool through doctoral studies. Gary is the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute for educators. Dr. Stager’s latest book, Invent To Learn – Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom was published in May 2013 by Constructing Modern Knowledge Press. The book brings the excitement and revolutionary game-changing technologies (3D printing/of the maker movement fabrication, computer science and physical computing) to K-12 classrooms.

Long Bio

Since 1982, Gary Stager, an internationally recognized educator, speaker and consultant, has helped learners of all ages on six continents embrace the power of computers as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression. He led professional development in the world’s first laptop schools (1990), has designed online graduate school programs since the mid-90s, was a collaborator in the MIT Media Lab’s Future of Learning Group and a member of the One Laptop Per Child Foundation’s Learning Team.

When Jean Piaget wanted to better understand how children learn mathematics, he hired Seymour Papert. When Dr. Papert wanted to create a high-tech alternative learning environment for incarcerated at-risk teens, he hired Gary Stager. This work was the basis for Gary’s doctoral dissertation and documented Papert’s most-recent institutional research project.

Gary’s recent work has included teaching and mentoring “troubled” public schools, launching 1:1 computing in a Korean International School beginning from 1st grade up, media appearances in Peru and serving as a school S.T.E.M. Director. He was a Visiting Professor at Pepperdine University and Senior Editor of District Administration Magazine. His advocacy on behalf of creativity, computing and children led to the creation of the Constructivist Consortium and the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute.

In 1999, Converge Magazine named Gary a “shaper of our future and inventor of our destiny.” The National School Boards Association recognized Dr. Stager with the distinction of “20 Leaders to Watch” in 2007. The June 2010 issue of Tech & Learning Magazine named Gary Stager as “one of today’s leaders who are changing the landscape of edtech through innovation and leadership.” CUE presented Gary with its 2012 Technology in Learning Leadership Award. A popular speaker, Dr. Stager was a keynote speaker at the 2009 National Educational Computing Conference and at major conferences around the world. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the University of Melbourne’s Trinity College on several occasions.

Gary was the new media producer for The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project – Simpatíco, 2007 Grammy Award Winner for Best Latin Jazz Album of the Year. Dr. Stager is also a contributor to The Huffington Post and a Senior S.T.E.M. and Education Consultant to leading school architecture firm, Fielding Nair International. Gary also works with teachers and students as S.T.E.M. Director at The Oaks School in Hollywood, California and is the Publisher and co-founder of  Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.


Gary has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chronicle of High Education, Parade Magazine, Wired, The Huffington Post, Edutopia, Scholastic Administrator, District Administration,  Technology and Learning, California School Business Magazine, Educational Leadership, Learning and Leading with Technology, Technology and Learning, ASCD Education Update, Converge, The Age (Melbourne Australia), Crikey (Australia), as well as public radio (US), the ABC (Australia) and Peruvian television.

Clients include


Apple, LEGO, Toshiba, Microsoft, Disney, Universal Studios, Logo Computer Systems, Inc., Tom Snyder Productions, Claris, ICT Qatar, Generation YES, Victoria Department of Education,  New South Wales Department of Education, Queensland Department of Education, Australian Capital Territory Department of Education, Compaq, One Laptop Per Child.

Contact Info

Websites: | |
Twitter: @garystager

Sample Presentation Topics

Making, Love, and Learning
Learning outside of school is being transformed by the trends of tinkering, maker culture and personal fabrication. Educators need to be mindful of this major shift in digital learning, married to craft traditions, and student agency to create productive contexts for learning.

The Maker ethos of constructionism, or learning-by-making through first-hand experience will be explored in the context of projects using a range of analog and digital “construction” materials. Children can now use technology to create and solve their own problems. Affordable tools and materials, such as 3-D printers, laser cutters, Arduino microntrollers, MaKey MaKey construction kits, conductive paint and wearable computing components allow students to go farther than was imagined just a few years ago. Junk, high-tech gear, art supplies and engineering principles collide to expand human potential.

Art and science converge and are amplified by computing. When the artificial boundaries between subject areas are blurred and every student requires the same process skills and tools, the distinction between vocational and academic education are obliterated. In order for schools to seize the opportunities afforded by this “Maker” spirit, educators need more than awareness that the world is changing. They need to develop new skills and redesign classroom environments to support learner-centered practices in order to prepare kids to solve problems their teachers never anticipated..

Making School Reform
Gary Podium ProfileThe social and technological revolution known as the maker movement offers unprecedented opportunities to learn and amplify human potential. Making inspires education reform and schools require substantive change in order to maximize the affordances of learning through firsthand experience. Examples of making, tinkering and engineering, in and out of the classroom, will be shared in order to address five critical areas of focus for those interested in leveraging the maker movement to make schools more productive contexts for learning.

The five big ideas include:

  1. Elevated expectations for literacy
  2. A new mathematical diet for children
  3. Shaping the learning environment
  4. Kid power
  5. Continuous teacher growth

The Learning Revolution You Can’t Afford to Miss
Learning outside of school is being transformed by several trends based on learning by firsthand experience. Several technological game changers are reanimating active learning, tinkering and apprenticeship. Hundreds of thousands and children and adults are coming together to celebrate creativity, ingenuity and invention in the context of projects using a range of analog and digital “construction” materials. For school leaders, the immediate challenge is to create productive contexts for learning where there are greater opportunities for inquiry, project-based learning and student leadership, regardless of gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status. When the artificial boundaries between subject areas are blurred and every student requires the same process skills and access to tools, the distinction between vocational and academic education must be obliterated.

In order for schools to seize the opportunities afforded by rapidly expanding “maker” movement, educators need more than awareness that the world is changing. They need to develop new skills and redesign classroom environments to support learner-centered practices. New curricular diets may need to be created. School only serves 21st Century learners when it prepares them to solve problems that their teachers have yet to anticipate.

In this provocative keynote, Dr. Stager will provide examples innovative classroom practices and examples of students learning by doing with active knowledge construction. Advice for how schools may join the maker movement will be shared as well.

The Best Educational Ideas in the World – Tickets to Constructing Modern Knowledge
Program Abstract: There are places where the desires, talent and competence of children are nurtured, celebrated and respected. This presentation will take you on an expedition to some of the world’s best educational ideas. Each stop on the tour shares inspiration from learning contexts built upon young people’s remarkable capacity for intensity. These ideas provide a foundation for meeting the needs of each child, technology integration, increased teacher quality or the fuel for sustaining innovation. While viewed in isolation, these ideas might inspire incremental solutions to specific problems. Combined, they represent educational transformation.

Session Description: Stand on the shoulders of giants as you tour the best educational ideas in the world! Along the way you’ll explore Reggio Emilia, Fab Labs, El Sistema, 826 Valencia and more. Each “idea” shares common principles of natural learning, creativity, child competence, collaboration,, apprenticeship, authentic tools , relevance, serendipity, beauty, respect and technology used to amplify human potential. Lessons learned en-route create productive contexts for learning where students construct the knowledge required for a rewarding life. Principles of effective project-based learning will be shared.

Schooling has always been shaped by contemporary technology. Digital technology creates opportunities to learn what we have always expected of children, perhaps with greater efficacy, efficiency or comprehension. However, the real power lies in using the computers to learn new things in new ways that may have never been possible.

The challenge for even the most imaginative schools is to sustain innovation. While the technology may catalyze changes in practice, ideas bigger than the technology create a productive context for sustaining innovative practice. This presentation will explore some of the best educational ideas in the world and demonstrate how they may support or require transformational computing activities.

The big ideas include:

  • Reggio Emilia
  • The Big Picture
  • One Laptop Per Child
  • Constructionism
  • The Venezuelan Youth and Children’s Orchestra
  • The Maker Movement
  • Generation YES
  • 826 Valencia

My Hope for Schools

From imagine it project on Vimeo.

Electrifying Children’s Mathematics (Gary Stager Keynote, Workshop or Online Course)
There may be no greater gap between a discipline and the teaching done in its name than when the beauty, power and mystery of mathematics become math instruction. One can only begin to address the systemic challenges of math education by understanding the nature of mathematics and the power of computing. Nearly 100 years of efforts to increase achievement with unchanged curricular content continues to fail spectacularly; yet, we do not change course. Surely, the widespread availability of computational technology demands new pedagogical approaches and a new diet of mathematics.

This keynote/workshop moves beyond the goal of making math instruction engaging for children by providing educators with authentic mathematical thinking experiences. Such experiences acknowledge the role computers play in mathematics and society’s increasing demand for computational thinking. Project-based approaches with mathematics at the center of the activity will be explored. Traditional concepts such as numeracy, geometry, probability and graphing will be investigated in addition to exciting new branches of mathematics rarely found in the primary grades.

This keynote/workshop is designed for teachers of grades K-8. It may also be offered as an ongoing course with a greater emphasis on curriculum development and action research.

Strategies for Hands-on Learning

Digital Reggio: Where Tinkering & Engineering Meet Progressive Education (keynote or workshop)

Participants will learn how the use of computational and constructive technology may be used in a fashion consistent with the principles of the Reggio Emilia approach Participants will explore how computers and robotics elements may be combined with traditional materials for inquiry-based knowledge construction by young children. Such digital materials expand the “hundred languages of learners.” Participants will expand their notions of what is possible with technology and young children as a means to construct knowledge, express creativity and amplify the potential of each young learner.

Ten Things to Do with a Laptop – Learning & Powerful Ideas
Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon wrote a paper in 1971 called, “Twenty Things to Do with a Computer.” Few of today’s schools, with or without laptops, satisfy the goals of that thirty-five year-old document. This keynote invokes the challenging vision of the earlier document, updates it and presents ideas for using laptops in ways that offer unprecedented learning adventures across K-12 and various subject areas. The broader vision of using computers as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression is equally appropriate for educators with one or thirty computers in their classroom.

Ten Things To Do With a Laptop (keynote in Iowa)

20 Lessons from 25 Years of 1:1 Computing
No educator has more experience leading professional development in as many 1:1 schools as Dr. Gary Stager. During this keynote, Gary will reflect upon lessons learned in the twenty years since he worked with the world’s first laptop schools (1990). Twenty pivotal lessons will be shared with video-based examples and recommendations for sustaining innovation. This session is ideally suited for policy-makers, but touches on teaching, learning, curriculum, planning, policy, leadership and implementation issues.

Learning Adventures – A New Approach for Transforming Real and Virtual Classroom Environments
The emphasis of the learning adventures is on the learning process while traditional assignments focus on product. My students provide constant formative assessment, expertise and assistance to their classmates since they are in the same virtual space around-the-clock and because their work is public. The teacher’s role shifts from one of judgment to one of supporting each learner. Even face-to-face classes benefit from non-coercive open-ended transparent learning adventures. Critical factors of learning adventures will be presented as well as their theoretical foundations.

Young Tom Edison and the Ballerina’s Gopher
A new one-man show perfect for a keynote address

Veteran educator Gary Stager leads a tour through the type of learning adventures only possible with abundant access to constructive technology. Realizing the educational potential of all students requires radically different learning environments that in your heart you know are correct, but you may lack the courage to create. Gary will inspire us to imagine computing without PowerPoint, schools without losers and the possibility that reality television represents a positive educational trend.

Digital Democracy – High-tech Activities and Policies Essential for Modern Citizenship
This session explores high-tech activities designed to inspire student political participation at a variety of grade levels. The Internet has changed politics and what it means to be a modern citizen. In an age when candidates host online discussions, political organization depends on and elections are won or lost on YouTube, it is vital that students master the tools and media techniques of their age, including: data analysis, simulation building, polling and propaganda creation.

In addition to mastery of the tools and techniques essential for civic participation, this session will explore the network and democratic policies required if students are to develop as productive citizens.

The computer, Internet and constructivist software will be used to address:

  • The mathematics of polling
  • Making sense of data
  • Effective communication
  • Propaganda creation
  • Online community building
  • Civic participation
  • Changing the world

Rethinking At-Risk Education: Successful Learner-Centered Alternatives to Conventional Practice
(Alternate title: The Adventures of Gopher-cam and Other Amazing Tales of At-Risk Kids & Technology)

Imagine a joyful research-based environment where teenage students, previously sorted by pathology, become engineers, poets, composers, computer scientists, broadcasters, astronomers or luthiers. Constructionist learning theory, ubiquitous computing and strategies associated with the Reggio Emilia approach guided the creation a multi-age environment in which severely at-risk learners developed sophisticated habits of mind by engaging in the construction of long-term personally meaningful projects. Research and video examples provide remarkable evidence of sophisticated student learning and three years without a discipline incident.


What Others are Saying

“Any conference seeking a keynote speaker to provoke its attendees to think deeply about authentic learning and inspired teaching should get in line to request Dr. Gary Stager. He sees through the No Child Left Behind fog with laser vision with eye-opening suggestions on how to truly engage and challenge learners. Having seen Gary work with children around the world, I can attest that Gary is a true champion of children.” – Peter H. Reynolds, award-winning author, illustrator, and animator.


“Gary is a well informed educational reform thinker. He brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to his speaking engagements and challenges people to think about the best possible learning environments we can create for students to be successful in their lives. Gary has been well received by audiences around the world.”
- Holly Jobe –[past] President of the International Society for Technology in Education

“Gary Stager is a unique speaker who never fails to entertain, inform, and inspire. Gary’s offers a unique combination of intellect and wit that provokes conversation and smiles alike. He is a committed educator who comes to a conference ready to roll up his sleeves and work. Gary can have audiences on their feet cheering at a keynote and a half hour later be fielding questions and presenting his latest ideas in a breakout session or at a conference reception. He is straight talking, fearless, and a visionary educational leader who ‘tells it as it is’. Gary’s presence has always brought our conference to another, higher, level.”
- Pete Reilly, [past] President New York State Association for Computers & Technology in Education

The great thing about Gary is that he never gives up. He was there at the beginning of the great transformation of learning via the medium of portable computers, at the first school to implement laptops, Methodist Ladies College, Melbourne, in 1990. Fifteen years later, Gary’s still at the forefront, still showing the way, still walking the walk in his inimitable style. His work – particularly among the most challenged students, like the juvenile offenders incarcerated at the Maine Youth Center — provides conclusive proof that kids can learn better through the intelligent use of technology.

- Bob Johnstone, author of Never Mind the Laptops: Kids, Computers and the Transformation of Learning, the premiere history of laptops in education


Book: Invent To Learn – Making, Tinkering, Engineering in the Classroom

Book (contributor): The Muses Go to School: Inspiring Stories About the Importance of Arts in Education

A book chronicling the history of 1:1 computing, of which Gary played a major role – Never Mind the Laptops: Kids, Computers, and the Transformation of Learning

Grammy Award-winning CD (new media producer): Simpático – The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project

sitting with kids at Kings

A Selection of Previous Engagements

Keynote: 2009 National Educational Computing Conference. Washington, D.C. (5,000 attendance in hall)
Keynote: 2010 International Middle Years of Schooling Conference. Adelaide, Australia.
Keynote: (2012, 2013, 2014) Edutech, Australia’s largest education conference (4000 attendance)
Keynote: Stanford University FabLearn 2013 Conference
Spotlight Speaker: International Conference on Teaching and Learning with Technology. Singapore.
Keynote: (2013) 21st Century Learning Conference. Hong Kong
Keynote Speaker: (2014) Expanded Learning Horizons and Schooltech Conference. Lorne, Australia (4th time keynoting)
Keynote Speaker: (2014) Northwest Conference on Computers in Education (NCCE)
Keynote Speaker: (2010) The 3rd Annual ICT in Education Conference. Doha, Qatar.
Keynote Speaker: (2010) The European Laptop Institute. The Hague, Netherlands.
Featured Speaker (2012 & 2014): ASB Unplugged. Mumbai, India
Featured Speaker: (2014) National School Boards Association Conference
Featured Speaker: 2013 NY World Maker Faire & 2014 Bay Area Maker Faire (countless other Maker Faire presentations since 2012)

Gary keynotes a dozen or more conferences per year and has lead popular sessions at conferences including: NAEYC, ASCD, NSBA, NASSP, WCCE, ACCE, NCTM, the Laptop Institute, NYSCATE, CUE, Educon, and regional and national conferences around the world.

Booking Enquiries

Contact Gary [at]


Following my presentation at the March ASCD National Conference, Sarah McKibben of ASCD interviewed me for an article, If You Build It: Tinkering with the Maker Mind-Set, published in the June 2014 issue of ASCD Education Update.

As is often the case, just a few of my comments made it into the final publication. Since I responded to a number of interview questions via email, I am publishing my full interview here.  The questions posed are in green.

How would you define making? I talked to Steve Davee at the Maker Education Initiative, and he says that making is more of a mind-set. “Where things that are created by people are recognized, celebrated, and there’s a common interdisciplinary thread.”  Would you agree?

I like to say that the best makerspace is between your ears. I agree that it’s a stance that prepares learners to solve problems their teachers could never have predicted with a strong sense of confidence and competence, even if only to discover that there is much more to learn.

Seymour Papert calls the learning theory underlying the current interest in “making,” constructionism. He asserts that learn best occurs when the learner is engaged in the process of constructing something shareable.

In our book, we argue that my friend and mentor Papert, is the father the maker movement as well as educational computing.

In a webinar on your website, Sylvia Martinez said that with making, assessment is intrinsic within the materials.” That it’s more “organic, formative, and internally motivated.” If you’re working with a material like cardboard, without any technology involved (and you can’t base success on something lighting up), how do you assess learning?

First of all, it would be best to take a deep breath and not worry about assessing everything. All assessment interrupts the learning process. Even just asking, “Hey, whatcha doing?” interrupts the learning process. It is up to reasonable adults to determine an acceptable degree of interruption. Perhaps building stuff out of cardboard is just fun.

The best problems and projects push up against the persistence of reality. One could observe a student’s habits of mind. Speak with them about her goals and what she has accomplished. One could imagine thinking about the understanding of physics involved in building a structure, understanding of history in their cardboard Trojan horse, or storytelling ability.

There isn’t anything magical about technology when it comes to a teacher understanding the thinking of each student. That said, we find over and over again that in productive learning environments, kids may combine media, like cardboard, lights, and microcontrollers in interesting and unpredictable ways. The computer is part of an expansive continuum of constructive material.

It seems that there’s a wide gamut of materials in making. From cardboard to Arduinos to expensive laser cutters. You mentioned in a presentation, something about “low threshold, high-ceiling materials.” Can you describe what you mean?

Sure, Tinkering and engineering requires a dialogue with materials in which it is possible for young or inexperienced users to enjoy immediate feedback so they continue to grow as fluency increases. Think of paint and brushes in that context or programming languages, such as Scratch or MicroWorlds. Like with LEGO, simple elements or tools may be used to create infinite complexity and expressiveness.

Can you give me an example of how, for instance, a high school English teacher might bring making into the classroom?

Making real things that matter with a real potential audience. Kids should write plays, poems, newspaper articles, petitions, manuals, plus make films, compose music, etc…  We need to stop forcing kids to make PowerPoint presentations on topics they don’t care about for audiences they will never encounter. Kids have stories to tell. They should act, write, sing, dance, film those stories AND learn to write the sort of scientific, technical and persuasive writing that nearly every career demands.

At our Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute, middle school humanities teacher, Kate Tabor of Chicago, used MicroWorlds to “make” the computer generate random Elizabethan insults. Teachers have used versions of Logo for decades to explore grammatical structure and conjugation rules by writing computer programs to generate random poetry or create the plural possessive form of a word.

Steve Davee also mentioned that a key to successful making in schools is to empower students to become the experts–to learn how to use a 3d printer on their own, for example, and to share that knowledge with others. He said that when a teacher has to be involved with a technology or material, it creates a “creative bottleneck.” On the other hand, you’ve mentioned that teachers need to tap into their own expertise to guide students. Can these two approaches coexist peacefully?

Kids are competent. I believe that teachers are competent too. I find it unfortunate that so many educators behave as if teachers are incapable of adapting to modernity.

There is a fundamental difference in stance between assuming that as a teacher I know everything as a fountain of knowledge and that the kids are smarter than me. There may be a “creative bottleneck,” but giving up on teachers or schools is an unacceptable capitulation.

Great things are possible when the teacher gets out of the way, but even greater possibilities exist when the teacher is knowledgeable and has experience they can call upon to help a kid solve a tough problem, connect with an expert, or toss in a well-timed obstacle that will cause the student encounter a powerful idea at just the right teachable moment.

Each year, teachers at Constructing Modern Knowledge construct projects that two years ago would have earned them a TED Talk and five years ago, a Ph.D. in engineering, and yet so much teacher PD is focused on compliance, textbook page turning or learning to “use the Google.”

How does making align with Piaget’s understanding, as you’ve mentioned, that knowledge is a consequence of experience?

Piaget said that knowledge is a consequence of experience. Papert said, “If you can make things with computers, then you can make a lot more interesting things and you can learn more by making them.” Both ideas serve as strong justification for making.

In a webinar, Sylvia Martinez mentioned that instead of looking at standards and creating projects around them, teachers might work backward by creating an educational experience, then filling in the standards. Do you agree with this approach? How would this look with making?

I agree with Papert that at best school teaches a billionth of a percent of the knowledge in the universe yet our entire educational system is hell-bent on arguing endlessly over which 1 billionth of a percent is important. As an educator, my primary responsibility is create a productive context for learning that democratizes access to experience and expertise while doing everything I can to make private thinking public in order to ready the environment for the student’s next intellectual development. Making is wholly consistent with this view.

As we have mechanized and standardized teaching over the past generation, teachers have been deprived of experience in thinking about thinking. Their agency has been robbed by scripted curricula, test-prep, the Common Core, and other nonsense I believe to be on the wrong side of history. As a result, they can’t help but become less thoughtful in their practice. My work is concerned with creating experiences during which teachers become reacquainted with learning in order to become more sensitive to the individual needs, passions, talents, and expertise of each student. The emerging tools of the Maker Movement provide an exciting basis for such experiences.

As I said at ASCD, you can’t teach 21st Century learners, if you haven’t learned this century.

The future viability of public education is dependent on a system of creative competent educators trusted to provide rich learning experiences for children.

Available Now!

Available Now!

I’m enormously pleased that our publishing company, Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, has just released The Invent To Learn Guide to 3D Printing in the Classroom – Recipes for Success. The book is currently available in print and Kindle formats from

The following is the text of the Foreword I wrote for the book. I hope you enjoy it.

3D printers are hot. They’re so hot that even schools are buying them. Although, schools are thought to be late adopters of emerging technology, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many already own 3D printers.

Investing in a school’s first 3D printer may be a down payment on the future of education; a future in which learning to learn with one’s head, heart, and hands will be equally critical. Making things is a great way to learn and an ability to make the things you need is an important 21st Century skill. The confidence and competence required to solve problems that the school curriculum or your teachers never anticipated will be the mark of a life well lived.

That said, once a school gets their 3D printer working reliably enough for each seventh grader to print an identical Yoda keychain, many educators are at a loss for next steps. That’s where this book comes in. David, Norma, and Sara share 18 projects designed to help teachers teach 3D design and enrich multiple curricular subjects.

Once you get the hang of 3D printing, you will realize how simple the hardware is. The real revolution may not be the printer as much as it is the democratization of design and the Z-axis.

For decades, CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing) software was too complicated and expensive for more than a few students to use. It was relegated to drafting classes and vocational settings. Now affordable and accessible software like Tinkercad make design child’s play. The ease of use associated with this new generation software does not mean that the design process has become any less rigorous. Design is where the mathematical reasoning, artistic sensibility, and engineering processes come to the fore.

We were all taught about the X- and Y-axes in school math class. Some of us may even use that coordinate system from time-to-time. However, with the exception of the occasional SAT question about the volume of a cylinder, you might conclude that we live in a 2D world. 3D printing and its design software bring us the Z-axis and provide an authentic context for using and understanding three-dimensional space. This book makes the conscious pedagogical decision to transition from 2D design to 3D artifact.

A common trope in educational discussions is, “Technology changes constantly.” Oh, if only that were true. If your school has spent two decades teaching kids to make PowerPoint presentations on subjects they don’t care about for an audience that doesn’t exist, then “technology” hasn’t changed much for you or your students (in school) since Alf went off the air.

In rare instances, there are revolutionary advances in technology that impact classroom practice. The technologies most closely associated with the maker movement, including: laser cutters, open-source microcontrollers like Arduino, and new ways to embed circuitry in everyday objects may indeed represent a paradigm shift in educational technology.

Since affordable and accessible 3D design is in its infancy, the authors provide you with experience exploring a variety of different software environments. You will also need to adapt instructions for the proclivities of your specific printer. Through this experience, you should be able to decide which software best meets the needs of you and your students. The hardware and software will change. Some of the companies producing your favorite software or printer may not last a school year. As a pioneer, you will need to remain flexible and on the lookout for better solutions. Once you find a software solution (or two) that works for you, use it. You don’t need to jump on every bandwagon or pretend that your students are learning something valuable because you keep changing software. Understanding which tools you choose to use and why is important.

In 1985, I flew cross-country to attend one of my first educational computing conferences. At the opening reception, I stumbled upon two gentlemen engaged in a mind-blowing discussion of Ada Lovelace’s work. One of the combatants was Brian Silverman and the other, David Thornburg. Over the past four decades, Brian and David have contributed as much as anyone in the world to what children are able to do with computers.

As I eavesdropped on the fascinating conversation, I silently vowed to spend the rest of my life in the company of smart people like the Lady Ada fans at that party. Fortunately for me, both men have become great friends and close colleagues. Prior to meeting David, I was familiar with his work through his many articles and the fantastic Logo books he authored. I had also taught with the Koala Pad, an affordable and reliable drawing tablet he had designed. David was already an accomplished mathematician, computer scientist, engineer, and designer with Xerox PARC and Stanford on his CV by the time I met him. Since then, David has been a great friend, collaborator, and trusted advisor.

David Thornburg has a knack for anticipating hot trends and getting educators excited about the future just around the corner. His presentations and countless books have inspired two genera- tions of teachers to use technology in a playful, deep, and constructive fashion.

3D printing and David fit each other like a hand and virtual reality glove. David is a renaissance man – part mathematician, part computer scientist, part engineer, part educator, part designer, part musician, part humorist, and full-time tinkerer.

My longtime colleagues in the Thornburg Center, Norma Thornburg and Sara Armstrong joined David in bringing this volume to life. They too have made indelible contributions to the field of education.

It seemed natural that Constructing Modern Knowledge Press would publish a book by David, Norma and Sara, which situates the 3D printing revolution in a classroom context. I commend you, brave pioneer, as you and your students design the future together.

— Gary Stager, PhD
Publisher, Constructing Modern Knowledge Press

Buy the book now!

©2014 Constructing Modern Knowledge Press - All rights reserved.

All of my friends know I have serious reservations about smarmy self-important libertarianism of TED and loathe speaking in the format – essentially a television program without any of the accoutrements of a television studio. That said, I’ve now performed three of them.

My first TEDx Talk made me ill for months before and weeks following the talk. The pressure was unbearable. You see, I wanted to go viral and become a millionaire – an overnight sensation like that guy who has taken such a courageous stance for creativity. The clock got me and I left half of my prepared thoughts on the cutting room floor. That said, people seem to like the talk anyway. For that I am grateful.

My first TED experience was so unpleasant that I sought an opportunity to try it again. This time, I promised myself that I would not stress out or over plan. That strategy paid off and the experience was a lot less traumatic. The only problem is that the venue audio was a disaster and I’m yelling through the entire talk. Don’t worry. I won’t be yelling when I publish a print anthology of these performances.

In March, I was invited by my longtime client, The American School of Bombay, to do another TEDx Talk. I assembled my vast team of advisors and brainstormed how I could turn this talk into riches beyond my wildest dreams. I quickly abandoned that idea and decided to use the occasion to honor my dear friend, mentor, and colleague, Dr. Seymour Papert in a talk I called, “Seymour Papert – Inventor of Everything*

I hope you enjoy it (or at least learn something before I lose another game of Beat the Clock)! Please share, tweet, reload the page 24/7! I have not yet given up on becoming an overnight sensation.

2014 – Seymour Papert – Inventor of Everything*

2013 – We Know What to Do

2011 – Reform™


I’ve been online since 1983 and my own web site dates back to the first term of the Clinton presidency. Along the way, I may have ruffled a few feathers.

Let me tell you about one of my all-time favorite social media brouhahas.

On December 17, 2008, The Huffington Post published an article I wrote entitled, “Obama Practices Social Promotion.

I began the article…

“A curious cartel of billionaire bullies, power hungry politicians and tough-talking school superintendents wage an eternal battle against social promotion — for the good of our children of course. Social promotion, a divisive political term with no basis in reality, like partial-birth abortion, is one of the most popular talking points among the the most vocal critics of public education. The “end of social promotion” has caused tens of thousands of kids as young as 3rd grade to be left-back, despite overwhelming evidence that this practice harms children and increases the drop-out rate.

However, social promotion is a godsend to urban school superintendents in this age of privatization. It is truly bizarre that the public education system, which at least in-part is dedicated to preparing people for careers and life, would devalue expertise.”

…and went on to say…

“Arne Duncan Fails Upward

Today’s nomination of Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan to be the Barack Obama’s Secretary Education is a spectacular example of social promotion. Duncan, who as been the CEO or Chief of Staff of the Chicago Public Schools for the past ten years has done such a swell job of “reform” that his best friend and basketball buddy, Barack Obama, would not send his own children to the public schools. President-elect Obama is like Eli Broad, Bill Gates and the members of the Business Roundtable who kill public schools with their kindness while turning them into the sort of joyless test-prep sweatshops unworthy of children they love.

Arne Duncan is a darling of the charter school movement, Eli Broad, the right-wing Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, anti-union “Democrats” and I kid you not — Hooked-on-Phonics. President-elect Obama eagerly awaits recommendations on nuclear proliferation from Billy Mays, Ron Popeil and the ShamWow guy.”

All of my assertions (especially the inflammatory ones), contained links to supporting evidence.

Then it happened

A few days later, right around Christmas, my Google Alert started sounding. Soon it was like a bell warning of  four-alarm fire and the alarm sounded for several straight days. What could possibly have caused such sudden popularity for Little ‘ol me?

It seems that the CEO of Hooked-on-Phonics® was so offended by my joke comparing their qualifications to endorse a federal Secreatary of Education to the ShamWow guy that the company paid a public relations firm to issue a global press release condemning me. “Hooked on Phonics(R) CEO Responds to Gary Stager’s Criticism of President-elect Obama’s Choice of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education,” was released in dozens of countries around the world. Every time one of those press releases went public, my Google alert rang again.

What is so golden about that misguided attempt to make me famous is the lengths to which the CEO of Hooked-on-Phonics® went to avoid offending the ShamWow guy (probably a wise idea since he apparently beat up a cannibal hooker).

“Gary Stager is entitled to his opinions regarding President-elect Obama’s selection of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and education policy generally. However, it is unfortunate he has tried to trivialize my views by likening my company and its product — Hooked on Phonics, a product that has helped millions of children learn to read — to a sponge (with all due respect to the folks at ShamWow).”

Read the entire condemnation of me here. I could not be prouder!

My only regret is that the predictions I made about President-Elect Obama’s education policies and his nominee for Secretary of Education turned out to be even worse than I had feared. Read the five and a half year-old article for yourself here.