CMK Founder Gary Stager, Ph.D. gave a presentation in November 2012 about the philosophy and practice of Constructing Modern Knowledge. The following video is a recording of that presentation about the institute.
Constructing Modern Knowledge may be the most important work of my career. For five years, we have demonstrated the competence and creativity of educators who spend four days of their summer vacation learning to learn in the digital age. I marvel at the complexity, sophistication and ingenuity illustrated by the educator’s projects created at Constructing Modern Knowledge. It is not an exaggeration to say that several of the projects created at CMK 2012 would have earned the creator(s) a TED Talk two years ago and an MIT Ph.D. five years ago.
CMK remains committed to creating a space where educators remake themselves by engaging in personally meaningful projects and learn through firsthand experience. It is NOT a conference. It is a samba school, laboratory, playground, library, maker space, film studio, atelier or workshop filled with people and objects to think with.
Constructing Modern Knowledge is a reflection of each participant. Some alums will say that CMK is about being at the forefront of the Maker movement, or about the Reggio Emilia approach, or about creativity, or robotics or filmmaking, or history, or school reform, or about S.T.E.M., or music composition or collaboration or visiting the MIT Media Lab. CMK is all of those things and what each participant makes of the experience.
Our remarkable faculty supports the learning of each participant and our guest speakers share a daily dose of inspiration. Given the diversity of the participants and the enormous range of projects created, CMK means different things to different people. So, what is CMK about?
Constructing Modern Knowledge is about:
- Jamming on a cupcake
- Looking up
- Looking in
- Cool tools
- Floating above the classroom
- Bringing Edison back to life
- Reinventing yourself
- Painting a piano
- Programming random Shakespearean insults
- Giving Lego a ukulele lesson
- Teaching a robot to use Twitter
- Becoming the next great YouTube filmmaker
- Getting lost in the flow
- Learning to solder
- Scoring a cartoon
- Snapping lots of photos
- Creating an animation
- Having lunch with your hero
- Sneaking around the MIT media lab
- Feeling smart
- Time lapse photography
- Laughing really hard
- Charging your iPhone by peddling a bike
- Being a historian
- Working alone
- Working in teams
- Cool tools
- Aluminum foil
- Understanding astrophysics through dance
- Being silly
- Being serious
- A digital butler keeping your beer cold
- Secret ice cream
- Measuring your whiffle bat swing
- Manch Vegas
- Brightening a Rwandan child’s day
- Fixing the future with air-curing rubber
- Makey Makey
- Conquering the geometry of islamic tiles
- Conductive paint
- Mathematical thinking
- Designing a video game
- Making friends
- Expanding your personal learning network
- Feeling smart
- Feeling foolish
- Finding science in your art and electronics in your peanut butter
- Learning to learn
- Bursting balloons
- The Reggio Emilia Approach
- Turning trash into treasure
- Computer graphics
- The 100 languages of children
- Chatting with Marvin Minsky
- Choreographed t-shirts
- Turtle Art
- Coffee with a legend
- Progressive education
- Creativity unleashed
- An amazing faculty
- Powerful ideas
- Changing the world
- A smile-controlled robot
- Exploring linguistic patterns of the 1940s
- Challenging yourself
- Sounding like Eleanor Roosevelt
- Brazilian churascaria
- Wearable computing
- Never finding the pool
- Raising standards
- Blowing your mind
- Re-imagining education
- Expanding your comfort zone
- Being super awesome
- Taking off your teacher hat
- Putting on your learner hat
Join the learning adventure with us July 9-12, 2013 in Manchester, NH!
Download a printable brochure for Constructing Modern Knowledge 2013
Larry Ferlazzo invited me to share a vision of computers in education for inclusion in his Classroom Q&A Feature in Education Week. The text of that article is below.
You may also enjoy two articles I published in 2008:
Technology is Not Neutral
Educational computing requires a clear and consistent stance
Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.
There are three competing visions of educational computing. Each bestows agency on an actor in the educational enterprise. We can use classroom computers to benefit the system, the teacher or the student. Data collection, drill-and-practice test-prep, computerized assessment or monitoring Common Core compliance are examples of the computer benefitting the system. “Interactive” white boards, presenting information or managing whole-class simulations are examples of computing for the teacher. In this scenario, the teacher is the actor, the classroom a theatre, the students the audience and the computer is a prop.
The third vision is a progressive one. The personal computer is used to amplify human potential. It is an intellectual laboratory and vehicle for self-expression that allows each child to not only learn what we’ve always taught, perhaps with greater efficacy, efficiency or comprehension. The computer makes it possible for students to learn and do in ways unimaginable just a few years ago. This vision of computing democratizes educational opportunity and supports what Papert and Turkle call epistemological pluralism. The learner is at the center of the educational experience and learns in their own way.
Too many educators make the mistake of assuming a false equivalence between “technology” and its use. Technology is not neutral. It is always designed to influence behavior. Sure, you might point to an anecdote in which a clever teacher figures out a way to use a white board in a learner-centered fashion or a teacher finds the diagnostic data collected by the management system useful. These are the exception to the rule.
While flexible high-quality hardware is critical, educational computing is about software because software determines what you can do and what you do determines what you can learn. In my opinion the lowest ROI comes from granting agency to the system and the most from empowering each learner. You might think of the a continuum that runs from drill/testing at the bottom; through information access, productivity, simulation and modeling; with the computer as a computational material for knowledge construction representing not only the greatest ROI, but the most potential benefit for the learner.
Piaget reminds us ,“To understand is to invent,” while our mutual colleague Seymour Papert said, “If you can use technology to make things, you can make more interesting things and you can learn a lot more by making them.”
Some people view the computer as a way of increasing efficiency. Heck, there are schools with fancy-sounding names popping-up where you put 200 kids in a room with computer terminals and an armed security guard. The computer quizzes kids endlessly on prior knowledge and generates a tsunami of data for the system. This may be cheap and efficient, but it does little to empower the learner or take advantage of the computer’s potential as the protean device for knowledge construction.
School concoctions like information literacy, digital citizenship or making PowerPoint presentations represent at best a form of “Computer Appreciation.” The Conservative UK Government just abandoned their national ICT curriculum on the basis of it being “harmful and dull” and is calling for computer science to be taught K-12. I could not agree more.
My work with children, teachers and computers over the past thirty years has been focused on increasing opportunity and replacing “quick and easy” with deep and meaningful experiences. When I began working with schools where every student had a laptop in 1990, project-based learning was supercharged and Dewey’s theories were realized in ways he had only imagined. The computer was a radical instrument for school reform, not a way of enforcing the top-down status quo.
Now, kindergarteners could build, program and choreograph their own robot ballerinas by utilizing mathematical concepts and engineering principles never before accessible to young children. Kids express themselves through filmmaking, animation, music composition and collaborations with peers or experts across the globe. 5th graders write computer programs to represent fractions in a variety of ways while understanding not only fractions, but also a host of other mathematics and computer science concepts used in service of that understanding. An incarcerated 17 year-old dropout saddled with a host of learning disabilities is able to use computer programming and robotics to create “gopher-cam,” an intelligent vehicle for exploring beneath the earth, or launch his own probe into space for aerial reconnaissance. Little boys and girls can now make and program wearable computers with circuitry sewn with conductive thread while 10th grade English students can bring Lady Macbeth to life by composing a symphony. Soon, you be able to email and print a bicycle. Computing as a verb is the game-changer.
Used well, the computer extends the breadth, depth and complexity of potential projects. This in turn affords kids with the opportunity to, in the words of David Perkins, “play the whole game.” Thanks to the computer, children today have the opportunity to be mathematicians, novelists, engineers, composers, geneticists, composers, filmmakers, etc… But, only if our vision of computing is sufficiently imaginative.
1) Kids need real computers capable of programming, video editing, music composition and controlling external peripherals, such as probes or robotics. Since the lifespan of school computers is long, they need to do all of the things adults expect today and support ingenuity for years to come.
2) Look for ways to use computers to provide experiences not addressed by the curriculum. Writing, communicating and looking stuff up are obvious uses that require little instruction and few resources.
3) Every student deserves computer science experiences during their K-12 education. Educators would be wise to consider programming environments designed to support learning and progressive education such as MicroWorlds EX and Scratch.
Come see Gary Stager speak at the forthcoming events!
November 5, 2012
16th Annual Innovative Learning Institute
November 6, 2012
Workshop Leader – Digital Reggio
NAEYC Annual Conference
November 7, 2012
ISACS Annual Conference
November 14, 2012
Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference
November 28, 2012
Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference
Manchester, New Hampshire
November 29, 2012
Illinois Educational Technology Conference
December 6, 2012
RCAC 2012 Conference
January 9, 2013
New keynote = The Creative Technology Revolution You Can’t Afford to Miss
Technology Leadership Institute
Briarcliff Manor, NY
January 27-28, 2013
Late May – Early June 2013
Constructing Modern Knowledge
July 9-12, 2013
If you wish to have Gary Stager lead PD at your school or speak at your event, contact him here
A list of workshop and keynote address topic may be found here.
Few authors, activists, intellectuals or teachers move me like Jonathan Kozol. For nearly a half century, Kozol has given voice to the optimistic, playful, scared, sad and hungry children in our society. He spends time with the children most of us never think about and confronts us with our spiritual beliefs and the policies that most acutely affect the least of us in society. To meet a man with the greatness, humility, decency and literary genius of Kozol would be a miracle. To be able to work with him is a rare gift. To have him introduce me at Constructing Modern Knowledge 2011 as “one of my oldest friends in education” was a blessing I will never forget. Watch his CMK11 talk.
After far too long of a hiatus, Jonathan’s latest book, “Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America,” is out today! I have read the galleys and the book is riveting, profound, tragic, hopeful and beautifully written. You should read it AND buy a copy for a friend or colleague. Click to buy from Amazon.com.
This school year, Constructing Modern Knowledge will expand beyond its unique summer institute (July 9-12, 2013 – Manchester, NH) to offer some exciting new learning opportunities for learners and parents. The first event by Constructing Modern Knowledge Productions is in collaboration with my colleagues at the Willows Community School in Culver City, California.
On September 10th at 7:00 PM, The Willows Community School will host An Evening with Jonathan Kozol, Acclaimed Author and Educational Activist. Due to the generosity and public mindedness of the school, the event is free and open to the public! Reservations are required via the web site.
At this event, Kozol will speak and sign his new book, Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America. I hope you will join us for this very special evening!
Imagine a place where a diverse population learns more in a few days than they otherwise would in years. Imagine a space where tinkering is encouraged and personally meaningful project development is supported by an expert faculty. Imagine a learning environment filled with books, art supplies, robotics materials, electronics, computers, cameras, musical instruments and creativity software. Imagine learners having the luxury of time required to realize their objectives and opportunities to work with some of the world’s most creative thinkers. Imagine learners making films, programming computers, building simulations, constructing robots, sewing wearable computers, creating animations and designing video games. Imagine a once-in-a-lifetime field trip to a see the future.
Now, imagine that these learners are professional teachers. This is not a fantasy. It’s called Constructing Modern Knowledge, a summer institute for educators celebrating its fifth anniversary this July 9-12 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Educators from China, Costa Rica and Australia join Americans from across the USA at next month’s event.
Constructing Modern Knowledge is built upon the simple proposition that you cannot adequately teach in the 21st Century, if you have not learned in this Century with the modern materials and technology that amplify human potential. How is a teacher or school administrator supposed to resource a classroom or teach in a way that takes advantage of the rich opportunities beyond the classroom walls without awareness and personal knowledge of what it feels like to learn with the tools of their age? Constructing Modern Knowledge participants are encouraged to take off their teacher hat and become reacquainted with their learner hat.
Even the most creative educators need a spa day for their mind where their passion, curiosity and ambition can be reignited. Constructing Modern Knowledge not only creates a fantastic laboratory for tinkering, inventing and creating, but it offers opportunities for educators to learn with their heroes. Constructing Modern Knowledge is a chance for educators to reinvent themselves.
In addition to an amazing faculty of gifted educators and pioneers, Constructing Modern Knowledge features remarkable guest speakers who spend time learning with and mentoring participants.
This year’s guest speakers include:
- Casey Neistat - award-winning DIY filmmaker with millions of Web views and star of his own HBO series, The Neistat Brothers.
- Mark Frauenfelder – Editor-in-Chief of Make Magazine, Founder of BoingBoing.net and author of Made By Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World. Frauenfelder is at the forefront of the maker movement sweeping the globe.
- Dr. Leah Beuchley – MIT Media Lab professor and Lilypad Arudino (wearable computing construction kits) inventor
- Dr. Lilian Katz – Veteran educational researcher, early childhood specialist and proponent of “the project approach” to learning
- Super Awesome Sylvia – Ten year-old Web phenom, maker, tinkerer, learner, teacher and role model
Our “field trip” to Boston will begin with a reception at the world-famous MIT Media Lab, where much of the future is being invented.
On top of all that, Dr. Marvin Minsky, one of the world’s greatest living scientists, inventors and provocateurs will lead his fifth annual “fireside chat.” This year, Dr. Minsky will also be a participant in Constructing Modern Knowledge!
According to Wikipedia…
Participants will have the opportunity to work on projects with or alongside of Marvin Minsky and our other distinguished guests! Previous CMK speakers have included Jonathan Kozol, Alfie Kohn, Deborah Meier, Derrick Pitts, Lella Gandini, James Loewen and Mitchel Resnick.
Constructing Modern Knowledge is by its very nature an intimate professional learning event, but registration is still possible. Parents and citizens can certainly send their favorite teacher to “camp” this summer too. They’ll come back to school with a new bag of tricks and inspired to help students invent their futures.
Check out the learning stories from last year’s institute, teacher resources and videos at This is What Learning Looks Like!
The Creative Educator has published my fifth article in a series on effective project-based learning, A Good Prompt is Worth 1,000 Words. The text of this article is below. PDFs of the entire series may be downloaded and shared.
I hope you and your colleagues enjoy it!
Previous articles in the series:
- What Makes a Good Project?
- Developing Projects That Endure
- The Genius of Print
- Less Us, More Them!
- A Good Prompt is Worth 1,000 Words.
A Good Prompt is Worth 1,000 Words
© June 2012 – Gary S. Stager
Over the past thirty years I have written curricula and taught curriculum writing. During the course of my career, I have seen curriculum used as a weapon and as a security blanket. Curriculum is often arbitrary, created far away from the students subjected to it.
Seymour Papert used to ask why, if we understand that at best the curriculum covers a billionth of a percent of the knowledge in the universe, do we spend so much time quibbling over which billionth of a percent is so important?
A Good Prompt
I know that much is expected of today’s teachers and students. I also know that the richest learning experiences and greatest demonstrations of student mastery have emerged from situations where maximum flexibility is exercised. If deep learning is the goal, then when it comes to curriculum, less is more!
For years, I have watched kids in my classes do remarkable work without being taught to do so. I marveled at how participants in the Constructing Modern Knowledge institute could write a crazy project idea on the wall and then accomplish it within a matter of hours or days. I watched as graduate students told 10th grade English students to use their computers to compose a piece of instrumental music telling the story of Lady Macbeth; and regardless of the student’s range of expertise, they nailed it.
During my doctoral research I formed a pedagogical hypothesis which I believe answers the question of how a learner is able to accomplish more, often in a short period of time, than they could have ever achieved following a traditional curricular scope and sequence. I call this hypothesis A Good Prompt is Worth 1,000 Words!
With the following four variables in place, a learner can exceed expectations.
1. A good prompt, motivating challenge, or thoughtful question
2. Appropriate materials
3. Sufficient time
4. Supportive culture, including a range of expertise
The genius of this approach is that it is self-evident. If you lack one of the four elements, it is obvious what needs to be done.
Us or Them?
In my article “Less Us, More Them,” I argue that anytime an adult feels it necessary to intervene in an educational transaction, they should take a deep breath and ask, “Is there some way I can do less and grant more authority, responsibility, or agency to the learner?”
The same is true for prompt setting. The best prompts emerge from a learner’s curiosity, experience, discovery, wonder, challenge, or dilemma. However, all too often teachers design prompts for student inquiry or projects.
If you absolutely must design a prompt for students, here are three tips you should follow.
1. Brevity. The best prompts fit on a Post-It! Note. They are clear, concise, and self-evident.
2. Ambiguity. The learner should be free to satisfy the prompt in their own voice, perhaps even employing strategies you never imagined.
3. Immunity to assessment. The best projects push up against the persistence of reality. What is a B+ poem or musical composition? How does an engineering project earn an 87? Most mindful work succeeds or fails. Students will want to do the best job possible when they care about their work and know that you put them ahead of a grade. If students are collaborating and regularly engaged in peer review or editing, then the judgment of an adult is really unnecessary. Worst of all, it is coercive and often punitive.
Good prompts do not burden a learner, but set them free. Add thematic units, interdisciplinary projects, and a classroom well equipped with whimsy, objects-to-think-with, and comfort, and you set the stage for authentic student achievement.
Attend Constructing Modern Knowledge, the world’s premiere project-based learning event!
There is simply no better event or opportunity for educators to reinvent themselves this year!
In addition to learning with one of the great filmmakers of our time, the inventor of wearable computing construction kits, the godmother of project-based learning, the editor of Make Magazine and Super Awesome Sylvia, the remarkable Constructing Modern Knowledge 2012 faculty supports your learning adventures over four glorious days July 9-12, 2012 in Manchester, NH USA.
For the past four years, Marvin Minsky has generously led impromptu “fireside chats” with CMK attendees. Dr. Minsky is widely considered one of the leading scientists and intellectuals of the past half century and he will be at Constructing Modern Knowledge 2012 over two days! Of course, he will lead his annual “fireside chat” where no question is off-limits and his responses may surprise you!
According to Wikipedia…
“Isaac Asimov described Minsky as one of only two people he would admit were more intelligent than he was, the other being Carl Sagan. Patrick Winston has also described Minsky as the smartest person he has ever met. Ray Kurzweil has referred to Minsky as his mentor.”
Seriously, where else can teachers play, tinker, chat and learn with an inventor, scientist, raconteur, composer, pianist, author and educator who also happens to be considered one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence?
There is still time to register for Constructing Modern Knowledge 2012! Don’t miss this rare opportunity to learn with expert learners, makers and creators!
Also from Wikipedia…
Minsky won the Turing Award in 1969, the Japan Prize in 1990, the IJCAI Award for Research Excellence in 1991, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal from the Franklin Institute in 2001. In 2006, he was inducted as a Fellow of the Computer History Museum. In 2011, Minsky was inducted into IEEE Intelligent Systems‘ AI’s Hall of Fame for the “significant contributions to the field of AI and intelligent systems”.
- Highly recommended five recent essays on education by Dr. Minsky ( 1 2 3 4 5 )
- Smart Machines, a brilliant essay about mind, brain and learning by Marvin Minsky
From the TED web site:
Marvin Minsky is one of the great pioneers of artificial intelligence — and using computing metaphors to understand the human mind. His contributions to mathematics, robotics and computational linguistics are legendary and far-reaching.
Constructing Modern Knowledge is back for a 5th year, July 9-12, 2012 in Manchester, NH.
This year’s CMK 2012 promises to be bigger and better than ever before!
Guest speakers include award-winning filmmaker Casey Neistat; MIT Media Lab professor and Lilypad Arudino inventor, Dr. Leah Beuchley; Mark Frauenfelder, Editor-in-Chief of Make Magazine, Founder of BoingBoing.net and author of Made By Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World; Expert educator and advocate for “the project approach,” Dr. Lilian Katz and Web phenom, Super Awesome Sylvia.
The Big Night Out in Boston will begin with a reception at the world-famous MIT Media Lab, hosted by Dr. Leah Buechley.
Fantastic team discounts now available.
Register today! Space is extremely limited!
The International Educator recently published an article I wrote, One-to-One Computing and Teacher Growth.
Feel free to read, share and enjoy the PDF here.
Earlier this week, I had a meeting in Reggio Emilia, Italy where I picked up a pamphlet explaining their awe-inspiring approach to early childhood education. It looks like the sort of document you might see scattered at the DMV or local health clinic, but its contents are profound.
Here is how the infant-toddler centers and preschools of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia define learning:
“Learning as a process of individual and group construction
Each child, like each human being, is an active constructor of knowledge, competencies, and autonomies, by means of original learning processes that take shape with methods and times that are unique and subjective in the relationship with peers, adults and the environment.
The learning process is fostered by strategies of research, comparison of ideas, and co-participation; it makes use of creativity, uncertainty, intuition, curiosity; it is generated in play and in the aesthetic, emotional relational, and spiritual dimensions, which it interweaves and nurtures; it is based on the centrality of motivation and the pleasure of learning.”
Infant-toddler Centers and Preschools Isituzione of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia. (2011). Indications – Preschools and Infant-Toddler Centres of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia. page 11.
Interested in learning more about the Reggio Emilia Approach to education?