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Make your own lunch, fire up a colortini, and watch the pictures as they fly through the air!

Conrad Wolfram’s TED Talk

Teaching kids real math with computers

Kamii Videos

Double-Column Addition

Multiplication of Two-digit Numbers

Multidigit Division

Making Change – The difficulty of constructing “tens” solidly

Constance Kamii Direct vs Indirect Ways of Teaching Number Concepts at Ages 4-6
A comprehensive lecture explaining Piagetian ideas showing that although number concepts cannot be taught directly, they can be taught indirectly by encouraging children to think.

Kamii Games

Videos Suggesting a Potential MicroWorlds Activity for Constructing Understanding of Fractions

“Debbie” from the research of Idit Harel

Minds-in-Play from the research of Yasmin Kafai.

Math in the World

The Beauty of Math in Coral and Crochet by Margaret Wertheim at TED.

Stephen Wolfran’s Introduction to Wolfram Language

Stephen Wolfram’s Introduction to the Wolfram Language

Student voice is good. We should take the needs, interests, concerns, talent, curiosity, discomfort, and joy of children seriously. (pretty courageous statement, eh?)

However, if one is truly committed to making the world better for kids, “voice,” is nice, but inadequate. “Voice” absent of power is often little more than propaganda or exploitation.

While I’ve been on a brief social media “skunk at the garden party” hiatus, Dean Shareski has generously filled-in by sharing his queasiness over the “viralGoldieblox video being passed around the Web. Señor Shareski set his BS detector  on high and has provided evidence that the “amazing” Rube Goldberg machine “made by girls” is merely a commercial for a new toy called, Goldieblox.

I am shocked! Shocked!

Anyone who knows me knows that I love toys. I find buying them irresistible. I’ve been seeing Goldieblox at Maker Faires for more than a year, but have not bought a set because I think they lack extended play value (a term LEGO uses internally). I’m not one to get all outraged that a toy for girls is pink. Goldieblox just hasn’t seemed very interesting to me or the girls I work with. It’s not part of my workshop road show sweeping the globe, “Invent To Learn.”

It just doesn’t seem that Goldieblox has any chance of measuring up to the self-promotion and hype of its creator that her box of ribbon and spools is “building women engineers.” I applaud the sentiment, but if we are truly serious about improving the education of girls, it will take a lot more work than a trip to Toys R Us.

I could be wrong. I’ve recently been upgrading my initial assessment of littleBits, based on my observations of children playing with the new toy/electronics construction kit. So, perhaps I will soon fall in love with Goldieblox, but I doubt it.

Back to Monsignor Shareski…

In his post critical of the Goldidblox video, Fake and Real Student Voice, Professori Shareski awakened several repressed social media memories I had long forgotten.

I took a lot of “brown porridge” when I called BS on the very same videos of yesteryear.

There was Dalton Sherman, the “amazing” 5th grader who was coached all summer-long to give a condescending speech, written by the Dallas Schools PR department  to Dallas teachers, right before laying off 400 of them.  I smelled a rat the second I saw the video. Was called a big fat poo-poo head by teachers on social media and was right. BTW: Dalton Sherman seems to have disappeared just like those teacher jobs. So much for being the voice of school reform.

Then there was Michael Wesch (who is an important scholar) made famous by the hostage film he created in which college students decried the state of education.

Fantastic. A college class with far too many students in it (200) attempts to revolutionize the educational system by whining in a five minute web video.

I’m sorry, but count me unimpressed!

Perhaps a student should hold up a sign saying, “My professor is wasting my time and money by making me participate in a piece of exploitative propaganda in which I get to insult either my generation or the one before me just to get on YouTube.”

How did bashing our own profession become such a popular sport? What possible value could demeaning educators have in a professional development setting? Are we desperate for moving pictures or are they merely a substitute for actual ideas?

From Hey Mom! Look What I Made in College (November 2007)

Aside from their lack of authenticity, what these three AMAZING viral videos of is how children and claims of “student voice” exploit children for propaganda purposes. The Goldieblox video is a commercial selling a toy. We don’t tweet Sir Grapefellow commercials (my preferred boyhood breakfast treat) as AMAZING examples of student voice, so why the wishful thinking about Goldieblox?

Señor Shareski rightfully cites my colleague Super-Awesome Sylvia (read Super-Awesome Sylvia in the Not So Awesome Land of Schooling) as a counter example to the fake Goldieblox commercial. I have worked closely with Sylvia over the past couple of years and made her part of the Constructing Modern Knowledge faculty, not because she is cute (she is), but because she is accomplished. She knows stuff. She has skills. She has a great work ethic and  is a terrific teacher (at 12).

However, talent and achievement  did not made Sylvia immune from cynical exploitation by Rupert Murdoch and Joel Klein’s education cabal as documented in an article I wrote for the Huffington Post, Shameless Shape Shifters.

So the moral of our story is…

Three lessons…

  1. As a young blogger in 1971, The Brady Bunch taught me an important lesson relevant here, caveat emptor – buyer beware. Users of social media need to “follow the money,” have a highly-tuned BS Detector, and know when and what they are being sold.
  2. Calling everything amazing or everyone a genius is lazy and counterproductive.
  3. Student voice without what Seymour Papert calls “kid power” is worse than empty rhetoric, it is a lie. Escapism is not the same as freedom.  Too much of what is offered as “student voice” offers a false sense of agency, power, or freedom to the powerless. It is what Martin Luther King, Jr. called, “the intoxicating drug of gradualism.”

Those educators fortunate enough to attend Constructing Modern Knowledge 2013 will be greeted by an amazing faculty, world-class guest speakers, a mountain of LEGO, a plethora of electronics, piles of art supplies, a fully stocked library, assorted toys, tools and countless other objects to think with.

The goal is to have anything a learner might need within reach of every CMK participant.

In addition to ordering tons of microcontrollers, electronics kits and components from Sparkfun, Adafruit Industries, and Chinese LED sellers, the following is a sampling of the “stuff” one will find at the greatest professional learning event of the year.

It’s not too late to register!

Invent To Learn – Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroomby Sylvia Martinez and Gary S. Stager. 

The first book to capture the tools and energy of the maker movement for K-12 classrooms. (Kindle & print editions)

Afinia 3D Printer H-Series
$1,599This entry-level 3D printer has received stellar reviews.

Books by CMK 2013 Guest Speaker Deborah Meier

Books by CMK 2013 Guest Speaker Eleanor Duckworth

I Walked With Giants: The Autobiography of Jimmy Heath


The autobiography of our legendary Guest Speaker, NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath

Brotherly Jazz(DVD) $18.99A musical documentary on Jimmy Heath & The Heath Brothers




The most recent recording by the Heath Brothers

Jazz Master Class Series from NYU: Jimmy and Percy Heath DVD

In The Element
$16.98CD or MP3 

The debut recording by CMK 2013 Guest Speaker Emmet Cohen

The KnowHow Book of Spycraft
$6Lots of secret codes, tricks and disguises!

Visible Learners: Promoting Reggio-Inspired Approaches in All Schools

The New American High School by Ted Sizer, Nancy Faust Sizer and Deborah Meier
$17.98″The late Theodore Sizer’s vision for a truly democratic public high school system.”

SunFounder 37 modules Arduino Sensor Kit for Arduino
$69.99This new 37 Modules Sensor Kit provides all kinds of funny and completed moduels for Arduino fans. These modules will output valuable signals directly by connecting Arduino boards. It is extremely easy for Arduino fancier to control and use these modules. This kit will help you control the physical world with sensors.

Ultrasonic Module HC-SR04 Distance Sensor For Arduino $5.18

Zoom Q2HD Handy HD Video Recorder

Kodak PlaySport (Zx5) HD Waterproof Pocket Video Camera
$129I’ve lost several of these, one of my favorite cameras for little kids and shooting an hour of video on a charge.

GoPro HERO3: Black Edition
$399.99Gotta have it to capture all the fast-paced action!

Wacom Bamboo Splash Pen Tablet
$64Great low-cost drawing/painting tablet.

Akai Pro LPK25 25-Key Ultra-Portable USB MIDI Keyboard Controller for Laptops

Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema, and the Transformative Power of Music
$13.50One of the best books about teaching and education reform I’ve read in many years!

microtivity IL185 5mm Assorted Diffused LED w/ Resistors (5 Colors, Pack of 50)
$8.99You can never have too many LEDs. We have thousands of them for all sorts of uses in Constructing Modern Knowledge and our new Invent To Learn workshops!

Post-it Self-Stick Easel Pad, 25 x 30.5 Inches, 30-Sheet Pad (2 Pack) $44.88

Hacking Electronics: An Illustrated DIY Guide for Makers and Hobbyists
$23.86The reference tool I’ve been waiting for!

Beaglebone Black Devkit
$45The new competitor to the Raspberry Pi in the sub-$50 computer market.

Raspberry Pi Model B Revision 2.0
$43.99The latest version of the Raspberry Pi computer.

Edimax EW-7811Un 150 Mbps Wireless 11n Nano Size USB Adapter with EZmax Setup Wizard
$10.97WiFi for the Beaglebone or Raspberry Pi

The Unofficial LEGO Builder’s Guide (Now in Color!)

microtivity IM255 Assorted Switches (Pack of 15)

101 Things I Learned in Film School
$11.26An amazing little book!

Extech MN35 Digital Mini MultiMeter
$19.43You need a multimeter if electronics projects are underway.

IOGEAR 12-in-1 USB 2.0 Pocket Flash Memory Card Reader/Writer GFR209 (Green)

Avantree Pluto Air Mini Portable Rechargeable Bluetooth Speaker for Mobile/Tablet with Carrying Pouch

On Stage CM01 Video Camera/Digital Recorder Adapter $9.95Turn a mic stand into a tripod!

ePhoto T69green/bag Continuous Lighting Green Screen Studio Kit with Carrying Bag with 6×9 Feet Chroma key Green Screen, 2 7 Foot Light Stands with 45W 5500k Bulbs and 2 32-Inch White Umbrellas
$129.99A complete inexpensive green screen studio in a bag!

Lexar Professional 400x 32GB SDHC UHS-I Flash Memory Card
$32.95My #1 camera needs some really big fast RAM.

Moby Dick: A BabyLit Ocean Primer [Board Book]
$8.99Moby Dick for pre-readers! 

Be sure to check out the rest of the series of “board books for brilliant babies!

SanDisk SDSDU-064G-A11 64GB Ultra SDXC UHS-I Card 30MB/s
$38My Raspberry Pi or Beaglebone projects might need a lot of RAM

Playful Learning: Develop Your Child’s Sense of Joy and Wonder

Photo Tent Table Top Studio Light Photography Soft Box Kit – Size 19.5-Inch Cube
$31Essential for stop-action animation projects and close-up photography. 

Everything folds up into a carrying case!

Behringer Ultravoice Xm8500 Dynamic Cardioid Vocal Microphone
$24.99A good quality all-purpose microphone.

Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion Project DVD
$15.85One genius controls an entire robot orchestra with a guitar!

The Little Rascals: The Complete Collection
$44.17Kids have always made stuff. The difference between the Little Rascals and the maker movement is computation.

Arduino Wearables $26.27

ProtoSnap – LilyPad Development Board
$59A brilliant way to get started with e-textiles! 

This set contains everything you need for simple wearable computing projects.

Epson POWERLITE 93 Plus 2600 Lumens XGA LCD Projector  

CMK needed a new projector!

Roland Cube Monitor / PA
$195A fantastic portable amplifier and mixer.

Bare Conductive ink Greeting Card Kit
$24.95Make interactive electronic greeting cards out of paper! A classroom set for 30 kids is available for $90.

Bare Conductive Paint and Conductive Paint Pens  

Paint and markers for paper-based circuits.

Copper Foil Tape (Conductive Adhesive): 1/4 in. x 36 yds
$17.91Conductive tape for all sorts of projects

Lots of inexpensive bulk LEDs 

50 PCS Blue LED Electronics 5mm $4.77


50 PCS White LED Electronics 5mm Ultra Bright $4.77


5mm Assorted Clear LED w/ Resistors (6 Colors, Pack of 60) $6.21


50 pcs RGB Full Multi color Flashing 5 mm LEDs $5.77

Makedo FreePlay Kit For One
$15.30 (larger sets are also available)

Wicked cool reusable connectors, hinges and child-safe saws for building cardboard constructions.

Rolobox Reuseable Wheel Kit for Boxes $13.95Wheel sets for cardboard boxes. You need these with Makedo!

Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun
$15.67A zillion high and low-tech project ideas and suggestions for amusing yourself.

Super Scratch Programming Adventure!: Learn to Program By Making Cool Games
$13.92A full-color project book for learning Scratch programming. It even includes a chapter on using the external Picoboard!

The Big Book of Hacks: 264 Amazing DIY Tech Projects
$16.25Really cool and beautifully photographed tech projects ideas for kids and adults alike.

Geek Mom: Projects, Tips, and Adventures for Moms and Their 21st-Century Families $13.59 

The latest addition to the three book Geek Dad series for girls, their moms (plus teachers, brothers and fathers)

The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide
$18.97A new full-color guide to building machines out of LEGO Technic! Mechanical principles are explained clearly.

Make: LEGO and Arduino Projects: Projects for extending MINDSTORMS NXT with open-source electronics

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution$13.98 

This recent book about the Maker revolution is by the former editor of Wired Magazine.


However, Neil Gershenfeld’s seminal book, Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication, does a better job of covering the “maker” revolution despite having been published in 2005.

Big Trak
$60 – 70My late friend, Steve Ocko, invented this programmable floor turtle (robot) for Milton Bradley in 1979. There has never been a more powerful easy-to-use robot available for kids since.The good news is that some lunatic bought the rights to the Big Trak and is manufacturing new ones 30+ years later.Kids from 5+ will play and learn with Big Trak for ages.

Makey Makey
$49.95 – $59.95There’s no adequate way to explain Makey Makey, “the invention kit for everyone,” but you need to own at least one of them!Learn more here.

$129.95An early-childhood robotics construction kit that may be controlled via Scratch.

various pricesMiraculous shapeable air-cured rubber, because “the future needs fixing!

Amazing book!Highly recommended! The Cryptoclub: Using Mathematics to Make and Break Secret Codes
$36.24 (and worth it!)This fantastic book makes real mathematics come alive for kids (and teachers) grades 5 and up through the exploration of cryptography. There is plenty to keep you busy for years within this book.

New York Street Games
$14.83A star-studded documentary chronicling the dizzying variety of street games invented and played in New York City, as well as the life lessons learned playing them.This DVD should inspire a great deal of play and creative “research” projects among young people.

The book New York City Street Games
$14.95A terrific print guide to playing classic games including: Kings, Skellzies, Potsie, Stick Ball and Hit the Penny.The book even comes with bottlecaps, sidewalk chalk and a “spaldeen.”

Photojojo!: Insanely Great Photo Projects and DIY Ideas
$14.66This book is filled with insanely creative ways to turn your photographs into amazing products and crazy ways to capture photographs you won’t believe. Fun for the whole family!
Check out the exciting description of projects and photo techniques included in this unique book.

I love love love these LEGO construction books! Yoshihito Isogawa’s three magnifcent wordless books of LEGO Technic project ideas are like the holy books of LEGO construction. There are enough ideas contained within to keep you building for years!The LEGO Technic Idea Book – Fantastic Contraptions 

The LEGO Technic Idea Book – Wheeled Wonders


The LEGO Technic Idea Book – Simple Machines


$12-14 each

Painting Chinese: A Lifelong Teacher Gains the Wisdom of Youth
$7.98Legendary educator and education author, Herb Kohl’s beautiful meditation on life, teaching, learning, art and aging. 

This is one of my all-time favorite books. It makes a lovely inspirational gift for the artist or educator in your life.

For grown-ups

I’m in this book, along with Phillip-Seymour Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie Perez, Bill T. Jones, Bill Ayers, Deborah Meiers, Lisa Delpit, Maxine Greene, Diane Ravitch and many others. The Muses Go to School: Inspiring Stories About the Importance of Arts in Education
$20.06Herb Kohl & Tom Oppenheim interviewed some of today’s most prominent artists about the educational experiences that led them to their creativity and then leading educators responded to each interview.

Surely, You’re Joking Mr. Feynman (Adventures of a Curious Character)
$10.85The first magnificent memoir by this Nobel-Prize winning physicist, raconteur and tinkerer. This is a must-read for anyone over twelve years of age. 




A fine biography in graphic-novel format. Appropriate for teens.

Books by and about the ultimate tinkerer and scientist

For the frustrated parents of young tinkerers Not With Our Kids You Don’t! Ten Strategies to Save Our Schools
$18.69Parent activist Juanita Doyon offers practical advice for protecting your kids from destructive school policies like standardized testing.

Read out latest newsletter for creative educators. There you will find other book reviews and recommendations for stimulating learning adventures!

Add your email address to our mailing list for updates on CMK and for information on the forthcoming Los Angeles Education Speaker Series!


Almost daily, a colleague I respect posts a link to some amazing tale of classroom innovation, stupendous new education product or article intended to improve teaching practice. Perhaps it is naive to assume that the content has been vetted. However, once I click on the Twitter or Facebook link, I am met by one of the following:

  1. A gee-whiz tale of a teacher doing something obvious once, accompanied by breathless commentary about their personal courage/discovery/innovation/genius and followed by a steam of comments applauding the teacher’s courage/discovery/innovation/genius. Even when the activity is fine, it is often the sort of thing taught to first-semester student teachers.
  2. An article discovering an idea that millions of educators have known for decades, but this time with diminished expectations
  3. An ad for some test-prep snake oil or handful of magic beans
  4. An “app” designed for kids to perform some trivial task, because “it’s so much fun, they won’t know they’re learning.” Thanks to sites like Kickstarter we can now invest in the development of bad software too!
  5. A terrible idea detrimental to teachers, students or public education
  6. An attempt to redefine a sound progressive education idea in order to justify the status quo

I don’t just click on a random link from a stranger, I follow the directions set by a trusted colleague – often a person in a position of authority. When I ask them, “Did you read that article you posted the link to?” the answer is often, “I just re-read it and you’re right. It’s not good.” Or “I’m not endorsing the content at the end of the link, “I’m just passing it along to my PLN.”

First of all, when you tell me to look at something, that is an endorsement. Second, you are responsible for the quality, veracity and ideological bias of the information you distribute. Third, if you arenot taking responsibility for the information you pass along, your PLN is really just a gossip mill.

If you provide a link accompanied by a message, “Look at the revolutionary work my students/colleagues/I did,” the work should be good and in a reasonable state of completion. If not, warn me before I click. Don’t throw around terms like genius, transformative or revolutionary when you’re linking to a kid burping into Voicethread!! If you do waste my time looking at terrible work, don’t blame me for pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.

Just today, two pieces of dreck were shared with me by people I respect.

1) Before a number of my Facebook friends shared this article, I had already read it in the ASCD daily “Smart” Brief. Several colleagues posted or tweeted links to the article because they yearn for schools to be better – more learner-centered, engaging and meaningful.

One means to those ends is project-based learning.  I’ve been studying, teaching and speaking about project-based learning for 31 years. I’m a fan. I too would like to help every teacher on the planet create the context for kids to engage in personally meaningful projects.

However, sharing the article, Busting myths about project-based learning, will NOT improve education or make classrooms more project-based. In fact, this article so completely perverts project-based learning that it spreads ignorance and will make classroom learning worse, not better.

This hideous article uses PBL, which the author lectures us isn’t just about projects (meaningless word soup), as a compliment to direct instruction, worksheets and tricking students into test-prep they won’t mind as much. That’s right. PBL is best friends with standardized testing and worksheets (perhaps on Planet Dummy). There is no need to abandon the terrible practices that squeeze authentic learning out of the school day. We can just pretend to bring relevance to the classroom by appropriating the once-proud term, project-based learning.

Embedding test-prep into projects as the author suggests demonstrates that the author really has no idea what he is talking about. Forcing distractions into a student’s project work robs them of agency and reduces the activity’s learning potential. The author is also pretty slippery in his use of the term, “scaffolding.” Some of the article doesn’t even make grammatical sense.

Use testing stems as formative assessments and quizzes.

The  article was written by a gentleman who leads professional development for the Buck Institute, an organization that touts itself as a champion of project-based learning, as long as those projects work backwards from dubious testing requirements. This article does not represent innovation. It is a Potemkin Village preserving the status quo while allowing educators to delude themselves into feeling they are doing the right thing.

ASCD should be ashamed of themselves for publishing such trash. My colleagues, many with advanced degrees and in positions where they teach project-based learning, should know better!

If you are interested in effective project-based learning, I’m happy to share these five articles with you.

2) Another colleague urged all of their STEM and computer science-interested friends to explore a site raising money to develop “Fun and Creative Computer Science Curriculum.” Whenever you see fun and creative in the title of an education product, run for the hills! The site is a fund-raising venture to get kids interested in computer science. This is something I advocate every day. What could be so bad?

Thinkersmith teaches computer science with passion and creativity. Right now, we have 20 lessons created, but only 3 packaged. Help us finish by summer!

My experience in education suggests that once you package something, it dies. Ok Stager, I know you’re suspicious of the site and the product searching for micro-investors, but watch the video they produced. It has cute kids in it!

So, I watched the video…

Guess what? Thinkersmith teaches computer science with passion and creativity – and best of all? YOU DON’T EVEN NEED A COMPUTER!!!!!!

Fantastic! Computer science instruction without computers! This is like piano lessons with a piano worksheet. Yes siree ladies and gentleman, there will be no computing in this computer science instruction.

A visitor to the site also has no idea who is writing this groundbreaking fake curriculum or their qualifications to waste kids’ time.

Here we take one of the jewels of human ingenuity, computer science, a field impacting every other discipline and rather than make a serious attempt to bring it to children with the time and attention it deserves, chuckleheads create cup stacking activities and simplistic games.

There are any number of new “apps” on the market promising to teach kids about computer science and programming while we should be teaching children to be computer scientists and programmers.

At the root of this anti-intellectualism is a deep-seated belief that teachers are lazy or incompetent. Yet, I have taught thousands of teachers to teach programming to children and in the 1980s, perhaps a million teachers taught programming in some form to children. The software is better. The hardware is more abundant, reliable and accessible. And yet, the best we can do is sing songs, stack cups and color in 2013?

What really makes me want to scream is that the folks cooking up all of these “amazing” ideas seem incapable of using the Google or reading a book. There is a great deal of collected wisdom on teaching computer science to children, created by committed experts and rooted in decades worth of experience.

If you want to learn how to teach computer science to children, ask me, attend my institute, take a course. I’ll gladly provide advice, share resources, recommend expert colleagues and even help debug student programs. If you put forth some effort, I’m happy to match it.

There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.
-Sir Joshua Reynolds

Don’t lecture me about the power of social media, the genius of your PLN, the imperative for media literacy or information curation if you are unwilling to edit what you share. I share plenty of terrible articles via Twitter and Facebook, but I always make clear that I am doing so for purposes or warning or parody. The junk is always clearly labeled.

Please filter the impurities out of your social media stream.You have a responsibility to your audience.

Thank you

* Let the hysterical flaming begin! Comments are now open.

The following is the program description and proposal for my upcoming “conversation” at Educon 2.5 in Philadelphia, January 26th.

You Say You Want Tech Standards?
Here Come the NITS!

Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.
Brian C. Smith
Martin Levins

Program description

The ISTE Nets (tech standards) are approximately a decade old. They’ve produced endless meetings, cliché-laden documents and breathless rhetoric, but no perceptible increase in student computer fluency or teacher competence. Rather than standardizing, it’s time to amplify human potential with computers. A new diet of computing is required for learners.


There are a lot of computers in schools, but not a lot of computing. The ISTE Nets and their state and local spawn offer an imagination-free vision of school technology use that hardly justifies the investment let alone realizes the potential of computers as intellectual laboratories or vehicles for self-expression. The current crop of technology standards form the basis, at best, for a form of “computer appreciation” being taught in school.

If school leaders demand them, we should offer tech standards worthy of our students based on powerful ideas and a commitment to teacher renewal. We must move beyond the trivial and use computers in a fashion consistent with modern knowledge construction. These new “standards” elevate school computing and challenge traditional notions of top-down schooling.

Let’s call them N.I.T.S. – New Intergalactic Technology Standards.

Gary and his virtual friends, Brian Smith in Hong Kong and Martin Levins in Australia, will share their recommendations for raising our standards to the level kids deserve. Educon participants can argue the merits of these goals and add their own. You should have a lot fewer meetings to attend when your superiors are afraid of our new standards.

Everybody wins! Standards, up yours!

Feel free to add your standards suggestions as comments below…

I’m a curious guy who wonders a lot about the forces and rhetoric influencing education. At the risk of kicking a hornet’s nest and incurring the wrath of being flamed, I wish to raise what I honestly believe to be an important issue. If you are unfamiliar with my work, outspoken opposition to the standards movement, commitment to equity or embrace of computers in education, I humbly ask you to consider the questions posed in this blog post in the spirit with which they are intended – to stimulate thoughtful professional dialogue or at least Google my body of work.

A handful of educators have been blogging now for more than a decade. Countless others have fallen in love with social media. They make conference presentations showing viral YouTube videos and lead Twitter workshops. There is more than an air of grandiosity that accompanies the use of the tools known collectively as Web 2.0. This self-importance is manifest in two ways.

  1. Frustration that every educator hasn’t joined the PLN/PLC/social network/Twitterverse/blogopshere, because “if they only knew what I know…”
  2. A few gazillion blog posts and tweets proclaiming the use of Web 2.0 as either already having transformed education or the prediction that it will transform education. A variation on this theme is the threat that social media will destroy, replace or delegitimize formal education.

Don’t shoot the messenger,  but I have a very serious question to ask.

In this era of heightened educational “accountability,” why are there so few, if any, demands being made for evidence of Web 2.0’s efficacy in schools?

I have my own hypotheses, but I would prefer to read some of yours.

I bought my first modem and Compuserve account in 1982 or 83 and was connecting via acoustic coupler to Timeshare systems several years before that. The first online conference I participated in was in late 1985 or early 1986 and I was creating online projects for kids a couple of years later.

During the summer of 1997, I suggested to Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology Associate Dean, the late great Dr. Terry Cannings, that Pepperdine offer our MA in Educational Technology entirely online. If memory serves, Dr. Cannings called me a charlatan.

The university had already embraced a 60% online/40% face-to-face format for it’s edtech doctoral program and was experimenting with other hybrid models, but in mid-1997, Cannings thought that entirely online was a bridge too far.

Around Christmas of that year, Dr. Cannings called me into his office and asked, “Can we discuss that online Masters idea again in January?” A meeting was scheduled at the end of January on the Malibu (main campus) to pitch the idea to the Dean. (much hilarity ensued) I created the attached proposal as a basis for discussion.

Proposal dated January 22, 1998 to create online Masters program

To put things in a historical perspective, this proposal was written the month the Lewinsky scandal broke and before anyone had heard of Ken Starr (former Dean of the Pepperdine Law School)

Great clip-art, eh?

I’m sorry that I can’t locate the cheesy “clip-art-rich”  cover page attached to the document I printed at 3 AM on my kids’ DayGlo colored printer paper, but remarkably my Mac was just able to open the original documents in Appleworks 6 and print a PDF version to share with you. There is crappy clip-art included in the body of the document.

The Dean listened politely to Dr. Cannings, Dr. McManus, Dr. Polin and myself and asked when we proposed to start this new program? We replied, “this Spring.” She nervously smiled and sent us on our our merry way. After all, universities move at a glacial pace, right?

The Online Master of Arts in Educational Technology (called OMAET, OMET & MALT over the years) was fully accredited by the end of May and our first cadre of students was on campus for what became known as VirtCamp early that July. There are lots of stories about that first Virtcamp, but I won’t share them here.

My hard drive also contains a copy of the accreditation proposal Dr. McManus and I wrote for WASC (the accrediting body), but I am not sure if it would be proper to share that document publicly (I’ll await a more informed opinion).

The reason for all of this nostalgia is that the 15th cadre of students in that program arrive for Virtcamp this week and are being greeted by an alumni-organized reunion of former students, all to mark the 15th anniversary of the program.

Regrettably, after eighteen years of teaching as an adjunct and full-time Visiting Professor at Pepperdine, I no longer feel welcome on campus. So, I’m going to sit out this week’s activities. However, I hope those students and the rest of my friends in the Blagosphere (Rod Blagojevich is also a Pepperdine alumnus) enjoy this documentary stroll down memory lane.

I think we got a good deal right in trying to create a constructionist collaborative learning environment online before PLNs, PLCs or social networking existed.

Happy Anniversary to all former and future OMAET/OMET/MALT students! I’m proud of you!

Other files found on my hard drive:

I often remind teachers that as educators, their role is to educate everyone – children, parents, administrators, colleagues and the guy sitting next to you at the counter in a diner. Educating, like learning, must be 24/7

Every school, teacher, administrator, graduate student or kid I teach gains from the expertise I developed working with every other school, teacher, administrator or kid over the past thirty years. My experiences and the insights gained from those experiences are my most valuable commodity, one I am happy to share.

Much of my work as an educator is spent helping fellow citizens and educators recognize that even in these dark days, things need not be as they seem.  This is accomplished through the sharing of anecdotes, examples of work, case studies, photographs and video of children learning in productive contexts for learning that may seem alien or impossible when compared with a school setting. This willing suspension of disbelief is dependent on compelling the case I can make. People may only choose from alternatives they have experienced or seen. A large part of my work is spent collecting the evidence necessary to change minds or creating compelling models of what is possible in a teacher’s own classroom. If one can change minds, it may be possible to change professional practice.

Recently, I led a short professional development session at a school where I showed two videos from Reggio Emilia, Italy; Utopi Quoti (Everyday Utopias) and I Tiempi Del Tempo (The Times of Time)

Teachers at the school were able to watch day-in-the-life videos of the extraordinary inquiry-based learner centered environments of Reggio Emilia’s municipal preschools, ask questions and discuss how what they observed might inform or transform their practice in a K-8 setting half a world away. The generosity of the educators, students and parents of Reggio Emilia make such conversations possible, since their videos share models of teaching and learning that may be foreign to us or invisible otherwise.

I have enjoyed some incredibly exciting experiences as an educator this year that remind me of why I teach and of the power computers can play in the construction of knowledge. This feeling of success is confronted by the sense that members of the edtech/ICT community have no idea what I do. I have low expectations for policy-makers and the media, but the edtech/ICT community should know better, right? They should join me in advocating powerful ideas and classroom revolution. Instead, too many seem more concerned with shopping, composing clever platitudes and congratulating each other via social media. It seems that the longer computers are in schools the fewer ideas there are for using them. When my colleagues whine and complain that change isn’t possible, I know in my soul they are wrong.They too could be classroom badasses, if only I could explain what I do and they believed what kids do with me. This inability to have a wider impact makes me feel like such a failure.

Colleagues and friends like to learn about the work I do in classrooms around the world. Sometimes, I even blog about my experiences. Occasionally, I share materials I created for classroom use. Such sharing requires extra work and rarely captures the enthusiasm, joy, social interactions, interventions, epiphanies, powerful ideas or tacit gestures so critical to powerful learning experiences. Perhaps it is so difficult for others to imagine young children programming computers, learning without coercion or being _____ (mathematicians, scientists, engineers, authors, filmmakers, artists, composers…) because they have never seen it with their own eyes.

If a picture is indeed worth 1,000 words, video may be worth a bazillion.

Trust me
Oh, how I wish you could have seen the 3rd grade class I taught late last week. The kids were programming in Turtle Art, a vision of Logo focused on creating beautiful images resulting from formal mathematical processes. I drew three challenges on the board and then groups of kids, who had used the software a few times before, set off to work collaboratively in figuring out mathematical ways to “teach the turtle” to reproduce the images I shared. I could tell you how the kids demonstrated an understanding of linear measurement, angle, integers, iteration, randomness, optical illusions, naming, procedurality and debugging strategies. However, if video had captured the session, you might have seen the kid who spends half the day getting a drink of water demonstrating impressive mathematical reasoning. You might have seen kids shrieking with joy during a “math” lesson, others high-fiving one another as they conquered each challenge and kids setting more complex challenges for themselves based on their success. You may have also noticed how the classroom teacher joined his students in problem solving – perhaps for the first time, but discovering the role the computer can play in education. Video might have captured how I choreographed the activity with less than a minute of instruction followed by 45 minutes of learner construction.

Alas, there is no such video to share.

I wish you could have seen what happened when I challenged a class of 5th graders to write a computer program in MicroWorlds that would allow the user to enter a fraction and have the computer draw that fraction as slices of a circle. The problem was so challenging that I offered to buy lunch for the first kid or group of kids to write a successful program. The kids worked for days on the one problem.

If I had video, you would have seen students confront variables for the first time by using them. They also employed algebraic reasoning, turtle geometry, angle, radius and speaking mathematically to their collaborators. I wish I could share how I asked the right question at the precise moment required to help a kid understand the problem at hand, how I refused to answer some questions or give too much information and deprive kids of constructing knowledge.

I wish you could have seen how excited the three little girls were when their program performed reliably. I wish you could have seen the non-winners who continued working on their programs regardless of the contest being over. I wish you could have seen the girls showing their program to their teacher and improving it based on aesthetic suggestions. I sure wish I could share a photograph of the 11 year-old female mathematicians arm-in-arm with #1 written on each of their arms held high.

Why should you trust me without evidence? I could post the program they wrote, but it might make as much sense as Swahili to some of you, while others will ask if the students were “gifted.”

My fourth graders are using Pico Crickets as their robotics construction kit. They are currently figuring out ways to bring stuffed animals to life with locomotion, sound, lights and senses. If you could see the class you would immediately appreciate the wide range of expertise and learning styles represented. Some kids have never built anything or played with LEGO while others have lots of experience. There are children very close to programming and reanimating their animal while others are busy building the tallest LEGO tower, giving a stuffed monkey a Mohawk haircut or shaving a teddy bear. Each student is working at their own level in their own way

I wish you could have seen the workshop I whipped together with little notice for seventy high school teachers in an economically challenged region. I wish you could have shared their joy and laughter while engaged in recreating old-time radio broadcasts from the 1930s and 40s. Along the way, they learned to record, edit and enhance digital audio without a bit of instruction. They fanned out in teams across their campus in order to find quiet places to record and discovered a powerful literacy activity they could use with students the next day. They also learned that tech skills could be learned casually in the context of a rich project.

Many schools have an uneasy relationship with photography, video and student identity. Some schools allow photography without the use of student names or the school identified. Others use initials or pseudonyms to indicate student identities. Some schools have prohibitions on publication of photos online. Some schools have no prohibitions whatsoever. Occasionally, I encounter schools that do not allow photography of any sort.

None of this is new to me. The tension over photography often mirrors fears of the Internet My doctoral research was with incarcerated teenagers and required me to take photographs without student faces being visible. I got pretty good at that, but such carefully designed “shots” makes it impossible to show the life of the classroom.

If schools, parents and teachers would embrace photography and video, school would be better for children. I truly believe that.

Here are but a few arguments for classroom photography.

Documents and tells learning stories
Photography and videography may be used to capture learning stories that make thinking visible to teachers, invite other learners to contribute to another student’s thinking, inspire peers to build upon the knowledge or accomplishments of classmates and preserves the intellectual life of the school.

Communicates with parents
Photography and videography provide an authentic way to demonstrate what students know and do for parents.

Honors student work and accomplishments
The publication or even casual sharing of student project-work via media honors their accomplishments without badges, grades or other coercive gimmicks.  Citizens are most likely to support schools that provide evidence of innovation.

Beautifies the school
Photos and video displays of students actively learning sets a tone for a school and reminds inhabitants of what matters.

Shares exemplary practices with fellow educators
Colleagues may learn what’s possible and new pedagogical practices if they are able to visit other classrooms vicariously. A fancy formal term for this is called “lesson study.”

Avoids hypocrisy
Parents should be educated that putting a student’s photo or poem on the Web will not result in alien abduction. They should also be reminded that advocating for a newspaper photo of their kid kicking a goal is of less value than sharing classroom practice as a means to inspire and improve education in their school and beyond.

Photos are useful
In addition to their educational function as documentation that makes thinking visible for teachers planning learner-centered interventions, photos may be used for public relations and school publications.

It’s nice to share
‘nuff said