The work of Joey, one of my at-risk students, will be featured again this weekend on public radio’s This American Life!

Last October (2010), I wrote a blog post called, Try Not to Cry, in which I tell the story of Joey, an incarcerated teenager in the alternative learning environment I created with Seymour Papert. For three years, I helped lead The Constructionist Learning Laboratory, inside Maine’s troubled prison for teens, The Maine Youth Center (now Long Creek Youth Development Center). This work is chronicled in my doctoral dissertation, An Investigation of Constructionism in the Maine Youth Center.

In Try Not to Cry I discuss how some students in the Constructionist Learning Laboratory engaged in radio production, including Joey who won a national radio-production award and created deeply poignant, sad and at times hilarious radio programs. You can (and IMHO should) listen to three of Joey’s radio programs and learn more about our learning environment here.

From Try Not to Cry

After my work in Maine ended, my partner came running into the house screaming that one of my “prison kids” was just on This American Life. I refused to believe it! Surely, there was no way that something from “The LEGO Lab” (as the kids called our classroom) could have made it to the best storytelling program on radio. I checked the web site and sure enough, Joey’s piece of Mike Wallace-style investigative journalism, “Who Peed in the Pudding?” was played on Ira Glass’ show from coast-to-coast. You MUST listen to this short piece to be reminded of what kids, all kids, are capable of and to hear Joey remain calm during a stressful situation when all of the adults around him behave badly. Hilarity ensues!

I met Ira Glass, host of This American Life, a few years ago and he told me that Joey’s piece was one of his all-time favorites. This American Life seems to repeat it at least once a year. (including this weekend)

This weekend’s episode of This American Life reruns one of their most popular shows, “20 Acts in 60 Minutes,” Joey’s contribution may be heard at the 13 minute and 33 second mark. I hope his work will inspire you and your students.

If you were ever curious about what I believe or do as an educator, my summer institute, Constructing Modern Knowledge, represents me quite well. The energy, creativity, projects developed and guest speakers at last month’s institute makes CMK 2011 one of the proudest accomplishments of my career. Even when we lost electricity for a couple of hours, project-based learning continued unimpeded!

Educators from across the USA, Costa Rica and Australia came together for four days of project-based learning, collaboration and conversation with some of the greatest thinkers of our age. Registration will open in early September for the 5th Annual Constructing Modern Knowledge institute, July 9-12, 2012 in Manchester, NH. Add your email address to the mailing list for discount registration information as soon as it becomes available.

I’ve done a bit of work documenting a few of the learning stories captured at CMK 2011. I hope you and your colleagues enjoy them!

  • Lessons learned from a creative, collaborative, computationally-rich, non-coercive, constructionist learning environment.
  • Impossible – Documentation of a project blurring the boundaries between science, technology, engineering, mathematics and an insane project idea successfully realized.
  • Serendipitous Learning – Documentation of a project blending S.T.E.M., invention, tinkering, history and linguistics inspired by an unlikely “object to think with.”
  • Constructing Modern Mathematics or is it History? English? – Documentation of a project in which mathematics, computer science, history and art come together in a computationally rich environment.
  • Tinkering Resources – Lots of links, resources and inspiration.
  • CMK 2011 Construction Materials – Interested in downloading a list of the open-ended creativity software and construction materials being used at Constructing Modern Knowledge 2011?
  • A Constructionism Primer
  • Three articles about effective project-based learning
  • What attendees said about Constructing Modern Knowledge 2010 (including Chris Lehmann)

CMK 2011 Participants Made a Video Documenting the Institute on Vimeo.

Created with flickr slideshow.

This is video of Dr. Diane Ravitch’s address to the Save Our Schools March, July 30, 2011 in Washington D.C.

Diane Ravitch speaks at the Save Our Schools March from Gary Stager on Vimeo.


Other posts from the SOS March:

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Here is my wobbly video of NYU Professor and Obama advisor Pedro Noguera’s steadfast address at the Save Our Schools March on Washington D.C., July 30, 2011.

Pedro Noguera at SOS March from Gary Stager on Vimeo.


Other posts from the SOS March:

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“I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents. I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that.” (Academy-Award Winner Matt Damon, March to Save Our Schools, July 30, 2011)

Matt Damon is one of the world’s most popular action-heroes, but you educators do realize that is make-believe. Right?

Saturday, July 30th, thousands of educators from across the country spent many hours in sweltering heat as part of the March to Save Our Schools. Leading educators, Linda Darling-Hammond, Deborah Meier, Jonathan Kozol, Pedro Noguera, Diane Ravitch and fed-up courageous Texas school superintendent John Kuhn inspired the crowd.

The demands of the march were unequivocal:

  1. Equitable funding for all public school communities
  2. An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation
  3. Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies
  4. Curriculum developed for and by local school communities

Matt Damon was the day’s final speaker delivering a barnburner that got the lazy media’s attention. [transcript]

I had a front row perch. Matt Damon is a real mensch. He flew all-night from a film shoot in Vancouver to stand with public school educators on behalf of their jobs, dignity and the critical importance of public schools to a democracy.

That is precisely the problem.

Washington D.C. is less than a day’s drive from hundreds of thousands of teachers. Why was Matt Damon fighting for their profession while they stayed home?

Make no mistake ladies and gentlemen. We no longer engaged in genteel academic debates over differing approaches to spelling instruction.

There are well-funded powerful forces out to destroy public education and deprive educators of their livelihoods. Despite this, most educators remain silent and defenseless. The “bold ones” fantasize about Twitter saving the world while their dignity, expertise, paychecks and pensions are being attacked.

Educators, if you will not stand up and take care of yourselves, how can we count on you to care for other people’s children?

If you will not stand between students and the madness of “the system,” who will?

Matt Damon can’t save you. You need to be the action hero for America’s children!

Matt Damon addresses the Save Our Schools March on D.C. from Gary Stager on Vimeo.


Here is another fabulous video clip of Damon responding forcefully to questions from a Libertarian crackpot at the March.


Check out his comments on charter schools at 1:33