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.
Treat yourself or the other makers in your life to these incredible new (or old favorite) materials and sources of inspiration for future learning adventures.
Be sure to click on the links at the bottom of this list for additional materials you’ll want under the tree.
All of the recommended products are affordable and may be purchased online with one-click!
Read out latest newsletter for creative educators. There you will find other book reviews and recommendations for stimulating learning adventures!
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Girls and Technology – Overcoming Myths and Malpractice1
Presented at the 2002 Alliance For Girl Schools
Girls and Technology Conference
© May 2002 Gary S. Stager
It is indeed an honor to speak at this conference and share my experiences and expectations with such an august audience. My qualifications for this conference could be based on my two decades of work with technology and kids, the work I did in the early days of school laptop computing right here in Australia or the fact that I am the parent of two teenage girls. I originally suggested that this talk be titled, “I’m not sure why Dale Spender hates me,” based on my experience as Ms. Spender’s human piñata at an MLC dinner and the ironic fact that she went on to quote me extensively in one of her books.
The theme of this conference, girls and technology, implies a problem. Neither girls nor technology are the problem. If a problem does exist, it is with the men and women commonly identified as educators and to a lesser extent, parents. It is the intellectual timidity, professional indolence, imagination gap and what Seymour Papert calls, idea aversion that prevents us from meeting the needs of all digital age children. The greatest number of victims of such idea aversion may be girls since for reasons real and imagined. The prevailing myths that girls don’t like computers; girls need different technology; girls should learn to criticize technology; girls have adequate access and ample role models; school leaders are qualified to make technological decisions; and schools should be used as social sieves lead to the creation of pedagogical decisions ultimately detrimental to girls themselves.
Microcomputers and the global information infrastructure offer unprecedented opportunities for expanding the learning community and for children to engage with powerful ideas. The choice is between an increasingly irrelevant system of schooling or the realization of John Dewey’s dream for a learning environment in which children can achieve their full creative and intellectual potential. Computational and communication technology may be used as an intellectual laboratory and vehicle for self-expression or as a tool for oppression. The first option makes schools better places for teachers and kids to learn, the second will hasten the demise of school’s monopoly on education.
It would be a shame if we missed the chance to revolutionize the learning environment if we were simply ignorant. It would be a sin to ignore the remarkable possibilities demonstrated right under our noses in order to preserve some quaint notion of 19th century education. We know how the combination of elevated expectations, respect for epistemological pluralism, a dash of creativity and ubiquitous can produce a learning renaissance because we’ve seen it in schools a tram-ride away.
The most important educational technology innovation in the past two decades began at Methodist Ladies’ College in 1989 when David Loader, a giant in girls’ education, committed his school to the proposition that every child should own a personal laptop computer. This was never intended as a stunt, experiment or project. David noticed that computers were getting more portable and affordable while anticipating that such a bold investment would pay great dividends for educators concerned with making schools what James Britton would describe as, “more hospitable to the intentions of children.”
Six years before the World Wide Web, Loader shared these provocative thoughts with his school community.
Apparently the sun cannot rise in present schools…
Unlike David Suzuki who dismisses computers as information processors, we see knowledge not so much as being processed but as being constructed in the classroom. John Dewey’s observation that the content of the lesson is the less important thing about learning, is relevant (here). – David Loader
Almost every child, on the first day he sets foot in a school building, is smarter, more curious, less afraid of what he doesn’t know, better at finding and figuring things out, more confident, resourceful, persistent and independent, than he will ever be again in his schooling – John Holt
This was the shot heard ‘round the world. Soon after laptops were delivered to MLC, impressive student LogoWriter projects inspired teachers to rethink their notions of curriculum, assessment, scheduling and most importantly, the under-appreciated learning abilities of their students. Humanities teachers demanded long uninterrupted blocks of time to accomplish interdisciplinary collaborative projects. French teachers ventured into the uncharted waters of maths classrooms, boatloads of educators from around the world visited Kew and the idea of Marshmead was born.
Steve Costa, was patient zero – the first teacher in history to teach a class of girls each equipped with a laptop. Steve’s extraordinary teaching abilities coupled and willingness to share his talents with colleagues has made his classroom one of the most visited in the world. Not only did Steve Costa possess the confidence and courage to invent the future, he has demonstrated a remarkable focus over the past thirteen years. He has not been seduced by the latest technological fad or gimmick, but has continued to help students maximize the potential of their minds and computers by remaining committed to the hard fun of programming in Logo (MicroWorlds). Steve’s work continues to inspire me. What he and his girls have accomplished is remarkable. If there were any justice, Mr. Costa would appear on an Australian postage stamp. He is arguably one of the most important teachers in this nation’s history.
I am delighted that Steve Costa and David Loader will keynote a conference in Maine, USA this August between Alan Kay, the inventor of the personal computer, and Seymour Papert, the educator who predicted thirty-five years ago that every child would have a personal computer. Maine has built upon the foundation laid by these educational giants by passing a law requiring the provision of an iBook computer and 24/7 net access for every seventh and eighth grade student in the state.
This however is not an all-male history lesson. Many female teachers at MLC and Coombabah State Primary School in Queensland helped the world rethink the role of computers in schools. Merle Atherton, a quiet humanities teacher two years from retirement, embraced Logo and laptops with enormous enthusiasm and inspired countless colleagues to enjoy thinking about thinking. She was given an “in-school sabbatical” so she could work in classrooms alongside her colleagues.
Joan Taylor’s world-class Community Education department played an enormous role in the organization of holiday computer camps, global conferences and professional opportunities for teaching staff. The holiday computer camps provided parents with a creative child-care service and benefited the school in two important ways. The first benefit of the camp was as a “strongly suggested” prerequisite to attending the school as a new student. Four days of project-based computer use, the arts and a bit of sport provided adequate preparation for new children to succeed when they joined existing classrooms. Another benefit of the camps was that members of the teaching staff served as counselors. More “expert” teachers would lead robotics or Logo classes and less experienced teachers would apprentice. The casual nature of the camp allowed teachers to gain new knowledge and develop increased levels of consequence. Apprentices often replaced the experts in subsequent camps.
Community education also provided a venue for teachers interested in learning basic computing skills or finding out how to use computers for administrative tasks. This way the school could dedicate its professional development resources to using computers in ways that reformed education and benefited kids.
Merle and Joan are unsung heroes in the history of school computing.
I remember bringing some student projects back to the USA from MLC. When I shared them with one of America’s most accomplished computing-using teachers he remarked, “Oh, that’s what it looks like when the kids have time.” The ability to learn and work anywhere anytime is an obvious, yet important rationale for laptop use.
MLC was a magical place during the early nineties. Every aspect of schooling was open for discussion and reconsideration. I spent as long as three months at a time at the school with a brief to do anything I thought would contribute to educational excellence. I worked with teachers and kids in classrooms, consulted with staff, created the holiday computer camps, built a LogoExpress system to facilitate telecommunications from home and within school and had constant access to the principal. When I expressed concern over the gap between classroom reality and the rhetoric proclaiming the school’s commitment to constructionism, the principal supported my desire to take dozens of teachers away for intensive residential professional development sessions, fondly remembered as pyjama parties. After all, constructionism is something you DO as well as believe. You cannot be a constructionist who subcontracts the construction. “Do as I say, not as I do,” will no longer cut it.
Not all was perfect, even during these halcyon days. I remember needing a small bit of electronic tinkering done while at MLC and saying, “I’ll just get a girl to solder this for me.” My colleagues looked nervously around the room before someone said, “our girls don’t solder.” Concern for gender equity apparently ended at the point where students use tools, learn about electronics or perform actual service to the school community. The school musical theatre production hired professional musicians to provide accompaniment rather than utilizing talented student musicians. Ted Sizer, Deborah Meier and others write elegantly about the benefits of students assuming more responsibility for sustaining the intellectual culture and accepting responsibility for the operation of their school. We need to work harder
Soon after the pioneering efforts of MLC, two other groups of laptop schools emerged. The “marketeers” were schools more concerned with the marketing and publicity benefits of “doing laptops” than with reforming schools while nearly every other school found laptops in its future by inertia. The “marketers” and their “neighbours “ lacked the vision of the pioneer schools and found that they could differentiate themselves by embracing less empowering uses of computers and cynical assessment schemes like the International Baccalaureate. Some principals became more concerned with schmoozing hardware vendors and rising software version numbers than with educational innovation.
I am most disappointed at how little impact the laptop volcano has had on the structure of schooling. I assumed ten years ago that any educator with common sense would recognize the need for new school environments incorporating multiage, learner-centred, interdisciplinary learning. The creation of fantastic alternative learning environments at Marshmead and Clunes are evidence of a failure to bring about substantive school reform in traditional schools. The need for a school to build a new campus in order to be more learner-friendly suggests the institution’s incapacity for self-correction.
Perhaps I was naïve, but in the early nineties I had the following expectations for today’s schools.
The easy stuff
Schools would feature:
Basic productivity tool fluency
Electronic publishing of student work
Electronically-mediated parent/teacher communication
Teachers using the computer for personal productivity/school paperwork
Every child and teacher would have a personal computer
We would stop referring to computers as technology
I.T. would cease to exist as a school subject
The hard stuff
Kids would be:
All laptop owners
Writing powerful computer programs
Freely communicating online
Conducting scientific investigations with probeware
Publishing in a variety of convergent media
|The hard stuff
School leaders would be:
Using computers in personally powerful ways
Supporting the imaginative use of emerging technology
Participating in the professional development they impose on teachers
No longer using computers to quiz or test students
The really hard stuff
Principals would no longer be able to get their photo in the newspaper just for standing next to a kid and a computer
School would be learner-centered and educators would be able to articulate what that means
School leaders would spend less time making computer deals and more time collaborating with other learners
Students would be able to program and construct their own software tools
The supremacy of curriculum would be abandoned & no one would speak of delivery
School leaders would join the community of practice
Kids would collaborate with other kids and experts around the world
|The really really hard stuff
Multi-age interdisciplinary “classrooms” would be widespread
External forms of assessment would be replaced by more effective humane forms of authentic assessment
Kids would spend less time in school
Schools would stop viewing the needs of children as an impediment to the enterprise
There would be far fewer technology coordinators in schools
The advent of the World Wide Web in the mid-nineties allowed schools never particularly committed to constructionism to embrace a vehicle for reinforcing the primacy of curriculum and instruction. Despite the unrivaled power of the net to democratize publishing and offer unprecedented opportunities for collaboration, it has been assimilated by schools in the name of curriculum delivery and the status quo. Throw in the incredible expense of networking and the disasters caused by the unprecedented authority given to the non-educators running school technology infrastructures and the results were bound to be disappointing. It seems to many that the golden days of Australian school computing may be sadly behind us.
I invented Murray’s Law to describe the current state of school computing. Murray’s Law combine’s Moore’s Law and Murphy’s Law to state that every 18 months schools will purchase computers with twice the processor power of today and do things twice as trivial with those computers. Things need not be, as they seem. I will share glimpses of the opportunities some of your schools may be missing during this presentation.
MLC was clearly on the right side of history. Rather than give long-winded educational rationales for portable computers I suggest that the reason your school should provide laptops is because it’s training wheels for the adults in the school. It is inevitable that every kid will have her own full-featured portable computer, although it may not look like a laptop. Embracing laptops gives your teachers a few years to prepare for that eventuality on their terms.
I am not a cyber-utopian. I want children to have the widest possible range of high-quality experiences regardless of the medium. However, computers do offer new things to know and new ways to know new things. They can be intellectual prosthetic devices that enable people to learn and express themselves in unprecedented ways. For at-risk students the computer may provide the first opportunity to experience the satisfaction of having a wonderful idea.
For girls’ schools, the computer offers rare opportunities for young women to invent their futures. Such schools will be successful only when they embrace constructionism, computers and put the needs of learners ahead of those held by curriculum designers. The women charged with the education of girls need to model the most fearless, creative and intellectually-rich use of computers if they are to inspire girls to be their very best.
Myths We Need to Overcome
#1 Girls Don’t Like Computers
Girls use computers in all sorts of ways ignored by schools. They use the technology to sustain and establish relationships via instant messaging, a technology needlessly prohibited by many schools. They publish web pages about bands and television shows they love. They share music and rip MP3s. Girls even play video games when those games are more playful and less violent.
We need to look for opportunities to build software environments and computer activities that engage girls. Many more peer-to-peer products need to be developed.
#2 Children Use Computers in School
Some of your schools have gone to great expense in order to produce glossy brochures exclaiming, “We have computers!” What may been news in 1979 is no longer newsworthy. That race has been won. What do your girls DO with those computers?
It is not your job to sort children, to decide which ones will have certain opportunities. It is your job to ensure that all children are exposed to the widest possible range of possibilities within a supportive caring environment.
Unless every girl has the opportunity to explore robotics, programming, MIDI composition, digital filmmaking, multimedia web publishing in a culture that values these activities, we cheat them of a thorough and efficient education. While computers should be transparent across all disciplines, it is outrageous how few comprehensive secondary schools offer computer science as a serious course of study. Few girls even know that this is an option as avocation or vocation. IT or ICT classes are just dressed-up computer literacy and outdated business studies courses. They lack rigor and don’t reflect the state of computing.
According to a recent study conducted by the Australian government, 44% of all children spend less than 40 minutes per week and 66% of all children spend less than one hour per week using a computer in school.2 Similar levels of inadequate access would be found in the USA as well. The major implication of this limited access is that many girls will just not use computers at all. Scarcity is a major obstacle to use. It is just not worth it for a girl to fight for an extra few minutes of computer time. 1:1 laptop computing certainly helps overcome this problem.
#3 Girls Need Different Technology
The myth that girls that girls need “pink” technology is unfounded. They need more imaginative examples of how computers and related technology might be used. Girls don’t dislike LEGO robotics and programming. It is just that their mothers and grandmothers do not buy LEGO for them. Their mothers don’t buy much software either.
Girls don’t need purple bricks. They do need project ideas that don’t result in trucks. Time and time again we have seen that girls are quite imaginative competent programmers and engineers when inspired to engage in such activities.
Girls play computer games in ways that attempt to push the boundaries of the rules – to manipulate them. Boys study the rules and try using them to get ahead, to vanquish opponents. I have seen many young girls “play” with the genre of Expanded Books by clicking on words in silly sequences in order to get the computer to say funny things. Their willingness and desire to manipulate systems should make girls the best computer users, not the most at-risk.
Since it is increasingly difficult for companies to earn a profit producing software for children, even less is created for girls. That which is created for girls insults their intelligence and merely pretties up either trivial tasks like coloring or is related to petty chores like storing addresses or diary entries.
There have been a few notable attempts to produce software for girls, but these efforts have borne little fruit. In the late 1980s, SEGA assembled all of their female engineers, artists, authors, programmers and game designers in one building in the hopes that all of this “girl power” would inspire the creation of hit videogame software for girls. It did not.
Brenda Laurel’s company, Purple Moon, was dedicated to producing software for girls and spent unprecedented funds on research into gender play patterns. The problem was that by the end of the research there was no money left to make quality software that offered compelling experiences for girls. I remember my daughter calling Purple Moon technical support to complain that her interactive adventure game crashed. She was informed that it didn’t crash, it just didn’t really have an ending. The last hope of Purple Moon was actually based on a terrific concept, a sports game for girls. The company recognized the rise in popularity in soccer among girls and had an opportunity to develop a soccer computer game for girls. Unfortunately, their soccer program told the story of getting ready for the big match, but never actually let the girls play soccer.
All is not bleak. Innovative examples of game software, such as Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) for the Sony PlayStation,allows players to dance on a physical pad and interact with the screen. Girls love DDR and play it until they lose weight and their dance pads wear-out. They just do so at home with friends. The arcade DDR machines are played primarily by boys who engage in a less playful, more competitive version of the activity.
Perhaps the least understood development in software for girls was the enormous late ‘90s success of Mattel’s Barbie Fashion Designer software. Regardless of how you feel about Barbie, this software title sold more copies than any other piece of “girls” software ever. The industry observed the breakthrough sales of this product and wrongly attributed its success to the fact that Barbie was on the box. This simply is not true.
There has been unsuccessful Barbie software on the market for nearly twenty years and there were other Barbie titles next to Fashion Designer. So, why did FD sell so well? I would argue that its commercial success had far less to do with Barbie than with constructionism. Barbie Fashion Designer allowed girls an opportunity to use their computers to make something cool – in this case clothes you could design, print and dress your doll in. Constructionism trumps even Barbie. This is a lesson we would do well to heed.
#4 There is More to Technology than Notebook Computers
It would be a great mistake to suggest that the latest PDA gizmo or thin-client is superior to a full-featured notebook computer. Many of these devices are intended for professionals with a specific job to do. Kids need better computers than most executives. I am quite unimpressed with those who can turn word processing and web surfing into a nine-year scope and sequence chart.
School computers may be used to do work and to learn. Work consists of writing, calculating, researching and presenting information. Learning consists of being immersed in the constructive processes with a reasonable chance of leading to the construction of a larger theory or bigger question. Microsoft Office is OK for doing work. MicroWorlds Pro is superior for learning.
“These days, computers are popularly thought of as multimedia devices, capable of incorporating and combining all previous forms of media – text, graphics, moving pictures, sound. I think this point of view leads to an underestimation of the computer’s potential. It is certainly true that a computer can incorporate and manipulate all other media, but the true power of the computer is that it is capable of manipulating not just the expression of ideas but also the ideas themselves. The amazing thing to me is not that a computer can hold the contents of all the books in a library but that it can notice relationships between the concepts described in the books – not that it can display a picture of a bird in flight or a galaxy spinning but that it can imagine and predict the consequences of the physical laws that create these wonders. The computer is not just an advanced calculator or camera or paintbrush; rather, it is a device that accelerates and extends our processes of thought. It is an imagination machine, which starts with the ideas we put into it and takes them farther than we ever could have taken them on our own.”3
Those who make claims that schools should use such devices rather than notebooks probably have little experience using computers in creative ways and are probably more concerned with cost than benefit to children. We learn by constructing knowledge in a social context. Such construction is dependent on full-featured computers capable of making all sorts of wondrous things and sharing those things with others. Serendipity should be the goal. It is arrogant and misguided to put too much stock in what we think kids might do with technology. I embrace the wondrous inventions that enliven classrooms and stimulate even greater inquiry.
Software is another cause of confusion. Some educators are impressed by false complexity, software loaded with confusing features, tools and menus. The logic suggests that hard-to-use, expensive, or corporate software must be superior to the silly stuff developed specifically for kids. New need not mean better and pretty need not mean deep. We should endeavor to use as few software packages as possible, if of course those packages are sufficiently flexible, so that students may develop fluency. MicroWorlds use pays dividends after students have ample time to allow the software to become second nature. Jumping from software package to software package may impress adults, but it will cheat students of the benefits paid by fluency.
#5 We Have Good Role Models for Girls
One of the most effective ways to learn is through apprenticeship. Children learn a great deal, with little effort, from spending quality time engaged in authentic activities with adults. These adults inspire, teach and motivate through their example. It makes sense that if we want girls to be competent engaged computer users, then the women in their lives need to be competent engaged computer users. Most of the women known to children are teachers and yet they are among the weakest users of computers in society.
The critical shortage of teachers with demonstrable levels of computer fluency makes it difficult for girls to see the value of computing in their reflection. Carol Gilligan’s research suggests that during the early years of adolescence when girls begin to shape their identity, they also begin to see women marginalized by society. Teachers have a responsibility to be much better high-tech role models, computer clubs for girls need to be created and a public campaign must be waged to attract girls to hobbies and vocations involving computer technology.
#6 Girls Should Study Technology Criticism
Dale Spender once told a room full of educators that schools need to teach girls to criticize technology since for a number of reasons, including that women were being “routinely raped and molested online.” This hysterical proclamation was made prior to the widespread availability of the World Wide Web.
While we should be cautious to ensure the safety of all children, we do not need to raise irrational concerns. Reactionary criticism of “technology” (whatever that means) is like criticizing the weather. You will lead a rather unfulfilling life.
While it may be useful to be knowledgeable of the benefits and consequences of emerging technologies, criticism requires little intimate knowledge of the subject and renders the critic a spectator. Girls cannot afford to remain spectators in the use of the most powerful instruments of science, art and commerce ever invented. If girls wish to lead happy productive lives they will need to learn to cut code, to master the instruments of so much influence. We must move beyond hoping that our daughter will marry Bill Gates to a day in which our daughters compete successfully against him. This is a necessity if computers and software are to ever become more attractive and convivial for the majority gender.
#7 School Administrators are Qualified to Make Important Technology Decisions
School administrators like the marketing benefits associated with standing next to a group of kids and a computer, yet few have ever done anything imaginative with a computer. Unprecedented budgetary and educational discretion have been placed in the hands of technology directors who often have little knowledge of or concern for the learning needs of children. This abdication of responsibility has cost schools billions of dollars and squandered all sorts of good will and opportunity to innovate.
#8 Schools are Designed to Sort Children
American schools are being destroyed by the over-emphasis on higher-meaner-tougher standards and the quest for high-standardized test scores. California spends nearly $2 billion (US) annually on the administration of a testing scheme non-aligned to the curriculum and which can’t even seem to be scored correctly. Teachers are prohibited by law from looking at the test and receive no more than a score reporting on each child’s results yet are expected to improve practice based on this score.
Some schools spend as much as eleven weeks per year in external assessment in addition to the countless wasted hours of test preparation. Recess is being eliminated in some schools. Science, social studies and the arts have disappeared to make way for more literacy and numeracy based on a pedagogy of yelling louder more often. Students are being tortured by this nonsense and great teachers are being driven out of the profession. Schools are deemed failures and susceptible to takeover while children are kept from progressing to the next grade based on norm-reference tests requiring 50% to fail. This is the cruelest of hoaxes perpetrated on children. The publisher of California’s exam includes teacher instructions in the event that a student vomits on her test booklet.
One principal recently committed suicide as a result of her school’s test scores.
These tests serve no productive purpose and are cheating children of a joyous purposeful learning experience. Citizens of conscience must oppose this wholesale deprivation of educational excellence at every opportunity.
Australian independent schools do not have to play this game, yet they do. Complain all you want about the Department of Education, but your schools have the power to reject or at least influence, the trajectory of these accountability schemes.
This is not the case. In the years since I began working with Australian schools, local girls’ schools have not only capitulated to the VCE, but have embraced the odd little International Baccalaureate. Say what you like about American imperialism, but even we don’t have the audacity to dictate your curriculum.
The greatest tragedy is that local independent schools not only lack the courage to fight this scourge, they actively promote their scores in a most cynical attempt to gain market advantage over the competitors.
I spent some time looking at the web sites of local girls’ schools and was sickened by an animation of a cute little girl with text scrolling over her announcing this school’s test scores. Perhaps the advertisement should say things like, “Our school makes more girls cry and nauseous than any other school.” Or “our girls crushed the dumb girls down the street.” How about, “our school wasted more precious resources on cheap marketing stunts than our competition?”
I often feel like the Great Gazoo when I attend educational conferences. If you don’t remember Gazoo, he was the Martian who inexplicably visited Bedrock in the Flintstones. Terms like set tasks, packets of work, VCE scores, marks, CATs, outcomes or league tables are the words of Dickensian shopkeepers, not people who love children.
Girls deserve schools that do everything possible to create nurturing environments capable of honoring their emotional, intellectual, spiritual and creative needs.
If we believe that children are a blessing entrusted to us, then what we do should be self-evident. The choice of educational direction is not related to education party, region or grade level. We must choose between a belief in constructionism, the notion that learners are central to the learning process, or instructionism, the idea that we can improve education by teaching better. Better teachers will undoubtedly create rich environments in which students feel safe to take risks, explore their curiosity and share their knowledge. However, it is impossible to learn for anyone else no matter how hard you try. Constructionism gives agency to the learner, instructionism to the system/curriculum/teacher. Our goal should be “less us, more them.”
Schools need to do a better job of engaging all learners, listening to them and building upon their natural expertise, knowledge and talent. We need schools in which children are engaged in authentic, personally meaningful tasks in conjunction with adults who can inspire them to greater heights. Abundant computer access and high expectations for the myriad of ways in which computers may be used as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression must be the norm. Adults, particularly women, have a major responsibility as role models who develop and use sophisticated computer users. We need to think less of female students as precious Victorian-era dolls and more as competent citizens who can compute, solder and take responsibility for their own learning. They deserve no less.
1 This is not a scholarly paper. It is intended as a manifesto to accompany a keynote address. This print document cannot reproduce the examples, video clips, anecdotes, humour and passion shared during the conference. The books I love and learned from may be found at http://www.stager.org/books/. A collection of my articles about education may be found at www.stager.org.
2 Real time Computers, Change and Schooling – National sample study of the information technology skills of Australian school students
Merydth, Russel et al.
3 Hillis, Daniel. (1998) The Pattern on the Stone: The Simple Ideas that Make Computers Work.
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.
First, my good friend Chris Lehmann wrote about in “Why I Am Against For Profit Schools,” how the school privatization movement (and I would add the Obama administration) have embraced the rhetoric of personalization and individualization to replace teachers with less expensive drill and practice systems. These integrated “learning” systems reduce education to an endless series of multiple-choice quizzes. (read what I wrote about this idea in 1992, Integrated Learning Systems, The New Slavery) They never have worked and never will.
Since the evidence supporting computerized teaching systems has been weak since WWII, the dystopians and their bankers pushing this idea feel compelled to dress it up in fancy names like “Carpe Diem,” “Flipped Classroom,” “School of One,” “Blast,” “Khan Academy,” etc…. Each of these old wines in new marketing slogans have at their core a desire to reduce the cost of education as low as possible and attempt to do so by replacing qualified educators with 200 terminals, Math Blaster and an armed security guard.
Soon after Chris published his article, our mutual friend Will Richardson wrote “The Thin Value Proposition,” in which he too agrees with Chris and argues that the the value in schooling is the establishment of relationships among teachers and students. I often end my speeches by saying that teachers make memories and when students come back to reminisce, they never speak about the time they raised PISA scores or used all of their spelling words in a sentence, they remember meaningful projects teachers created the context for.
I agree with the arguments made by Chris and Will. They perfectly frame the terms of the conundrum many of us who advocate the use of computers as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression face when more powerful forces wish to use computers as tools of oppression, cost-cutting or antidotes for progressive education. How is it possible to love computers in education and hate the popular implementations of computers in education?
It is questions like this that led me to create The Daily Papert two years ago.
Papert articulated Will’s argument twenty-two years ago.
“It is this freedom of the teacher to decide and, indeed, the freedom of the children to decide, that is most horrifying to the bureaucrats who stand at the head of current education systems. They are worried about how to verify that the teachers are really doing their job properly, how to enforce accountability and maintain quality control. They prefer the kind of curriculum that will lay down, from day to day, from hour to hour, what the teacher should be doing, so that they can keep tabs on it. Of course, every teacher knows this is an illusion. It’s not an effective method of insuring quality. It is only a way to cover ass. Everybody can say, “I did my bit, I did my lesson plan today, I wrote it down in the book.” Nobody can be accused of not doing the job. But this really doesn’t work. What the bureaucrat can verify and measure for quality has nothing to do with getting educational results–those teachers who do good work, who get good results, do it by exercising judgment and doing things in a personal way, often undercover, sometimes even without acknowledging to themselves that they are violating the rules of the system. Of course one must grant that some people employed as teachers do not do a good job. But forcing everyone to teach by the rules does not improve the “bad teachers”– it only hobbles the good ones.”
Papert. S. (1990, July). Perestroika and Epistemological Politics. Speech presented at the World Conference on Computers in Education. Sydney, Australia.
Seymour Papert began giving voice to Chris Lehmann’s concerns as far back as 1968!
“The phrase, “technology and education” usually means inventing new gadgets to teach the same old stuff in a thinly disguised version of the same old way. Moreover, if the gadgets are computers, the same old teaching becomes incredibly more expensive and biased towards its dumbest parts, namely the kind of rote learning in which measurable results can be obtained by treating the children like pigeons in a skinner box.”
Papert S. (1980). Teaching Children Thinking in Taylor, R., Ed., The Computer in School: Tutor, Tool, Tutee. New York: Teachers College Press. pp. 161 -176.
Note: This paper was originally presented in 1970 at the IFIP World Conference on Computers in Education in Amsterdam. The paper was published as an MIT Logo Memo No. 2. Nicholas Negroponte reports that Papert first presented this work in 1968.
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.
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)
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:
- An incredibly crappy 3-fold brochure promoting the Online Masters program
- A one-page flyer advertising the new program (further evidence of my design prowess)
- A document outlining the advantages of pursuing a degree online
- Suggested texts for the new program (1998). I suspect that colleagues contributed, but I honestly cannot remember. Many of the books may have been in use during traditional courses.
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!
In 1990, I had the great opportunity to lead professional development at the world’s first “laptop” schools. Australia’s Methodist Ladies’ College and Coombabah State Primary School were the first schools anywhere to embrace 1:1 computing. MLC is a large independent school that committed to 1:1 computing in 1989. Coombabah is a public school and often overlooked for its place in edtech history. The efforts of the teachers at both schools changed the world and I am enormously proud to have played a major role in that effort.
In the early 1990s, I spent months working at MLC, and then numerous other schools eager to embrace 1:1 and the constructionist principles demonstrated by this pioneering school. In 1993, the MLC faculty and principal wrote a book to share their expertise, philosophy and wisdom with educators in other schools. I hope you find the nearly twenty year-old learning stories, recommendations and tips useful to you. I especially call your attention to the audacity of embracing 1:1 computing more than 20 years ago and the fact that laptops were a way of bringing Papertian constructionism to life.
The book, Reflections of a Learning Community: Views on the Introduction of Laptops at Mlc by Methodist Ladies’ College is long out-of-print and sadly removed from the Web where it resided for several years. As a public service to researchers, educators and historians (and with the help of the Wayback Machine) I am able to share the complete book here. Check out how hip the title of this book is for 1993, since “learning community” has just became all the rage twenty years later!
With any luck (and lots of effort) I will soon be able to publish the first doctoral dissertation evaluating the efficacy of 1:1 computing, originally published in 1992!
You should also read Bob Johnstone’s history of educational computing up to and including the early days of innovation at MLC, Never Mind the Laptops: Kids, Computers, and the Transformation of Learning!
The chapters marked by an * indicate that the text describes some of my specific work at MLC.
Reflections of a Learning Community:
Views on the Introduction of Laptops at MLC
Section one: Computing at MLC
- Reconstructing an Australian School by David Loader, Principal at MLC
- The Promises of Educational Technology by Margaret Fallshaw, Computing Consultant, MLC
- The Audacity of Sunrise by David Loader, Principal at MLC
- A Laptop Revolution An interview with Pam Dettman, Head of Junior School
- Educational Computing: Resourcing the Future by by David Loader, Principal, MLC & Liddy Nevile, Senior Lecturer RMIT.
- A Practitioner’s Viewpoint by Maggie James, JSS (junior secondary school, grades 7-8) History Co-ordinator
- Computers for Kids ..Not Schools by Gary S. Stager *
- Initial Research Report by Helen McDonald
- A Technology School for the Future: A Proposal by Ruth Baker, Jeff Burn and Di Fleming
- Design and Technology: The Next Challenge by Ruth Baker, Head of Junior Secondary School, 20.9.1992
- Using Laptops in Schools: The Administrative Implications by Margaret Fallshaw, Computing Consultant, MLC
- Learning with Laptops: Who Pays? by Roger Dedman, Director of Finance, MLC
- Junior School Computing Curriculum by Steve Costa, Deputy Head, MLC Junior School (K-6)
- Computing and the New Teacher by Alison Brown, Teacher, MLC Junior School
- Holiday Program by Alison Brown, Teacher, MLC Junior School *
- Professional Development at MLC:Requirements for Teachers by David Loader, Principal, MLC
- Computer Pathways: A Model for Change by Di Fleming, Head of Middle School
- MLC Community Education and Technological Developments by Joan Taylor, Head of Community Education MLC
- An Elaborate Pyjama Party by Alison Brown, Teacher, MLC Junior School *
- Teacher Change: Philosophy & Technology by Helen McDonald, secondary English teacher & PhD. student from Monash University *
- Staff Development by Pam Dettman, Head of Junior School, MLC
Section 3 : Appendix
- MLC College Computing Policy
- A Constructionist Environment by Jeff Burn, Di Fleming & Margaret Fallshaw
Many of my readers and colleagues know that I have a knack for questioning deeply held assumptions and myths involving education. I also hold positions that others might find extreme. For example, I think curriculum, in all of its forms – especially heavy-handed nonsense like “Common Core – is a terrible idea. I don’t mean bad curriculum is a bad idea; I mean that curriculum itself is a bad idea. (click here for an explanation)
That said,I do not promote anarchy or even believe that “curriculum-free” pedagogy, such as unschooling, result in irresponsible chaos.
For the past several months, I have been working a few days a week as a S.T.E.M. consultant at a school in Los Angeles. The goal is to improve the quality of teaching in the school and I am doing a lot of modeling in classrooms. A couple of weeks ago, I began using robotics in the 5th grade class. I have lots of objectives for using my favorite robotics materials, Pico Crickets, but here are three big ones. I could list a bazillion sub-skills and affective objectives, but I will spare those details.
- Specific science, engineering, mathematics and programming concepts come to life in a tactile fashion.
- Students develop important habits of mind and inquiry skills by tinkering, invention and complex open-ended project work.
- You can learn an awful lot about individual student learning styles, talents and prior knowledge by working alongside them during problem-solving activities. You also learn a lot about their prior educational experiences.
I first introduced the Pico Cricket materials to the kids by quickly showing the special parts in each building kit, asking them to “bunch up” in groups and recreate one of the projects suggested in the pictorial Pico Cricket placemats that come with each building set. After no more than two or three minutes of instruction, I circulate around the room, make suggestions, ask questions, troubleshoot hardware and remind kids to “ask three before me.” I seize the teachable moment and introduce a nugget of information when and where it is needed. Occasionally, I’ll ask one student to pass that along to others or just announce that “Samantha knows how to do X.”
After a session or two of recreating, personalizing and embellishing the project starters, I asked the class to invent new toys. One group built a bowling machine that sent a ball down an alley to knock down pins. Another built a barking walking machine inspired by a book I made available. Two teams approached gumball machine design in different ways, with one even making the machine coin-operated.
Another student was teeming with ideas and enthusiasm, but less accomplished at consensus building with peers. So, I gave him his own building set to work with in an effort to amplify his his strengths while suggesting that he will need to develop greater ability to collaborate. He was the first to program his Pico Crickets and became an asset to other kids who needed to learn to use the Scratch-like programming software.
A motorized car was quickly enhanced by the ability to make it GO and STOP by making a loud noise. One or two sessions of adjusting the sensor tolerance to account for ambient noise and the toy car would stop and start on command! Friction, gearing and stable construction techniques were encountered along the way. Some of the programming needed my help because the software runs much quicker than a loud sound.
After joyfully sharing his invention with anyone he could find, the student had an original new idea!
He changed his computer program so that when a loud noise, such as a clap, was detected, the car would travel forward for exactly one second.
I was busy working with other groups of students and was unaware of the new direction for his project until I saw him lay a meter stick on the ground and grab a clipboard, pen and paper. He decided to measure how far the vehicle traveled (on that surface) in one second.
The kid knew that an average of multiple trials were necessary to ensure accuracy, so he got his TI-15 calculator. I suggested a strip of tape as a starting line and the experiment was underway. After multiple trials, the kid went to average the data and realized that he made a calculation error – without any intervention from a teacher or peer. He tried again and declared, “On average, the car travels 31 inches per second.”
Obviously, the next thing a kid wants to know is how fast the car travels in miles per hour (or kilometers per hour in nations using that silly metric system). Traditionally, this is the point at which all of the fun descends into math class hell.
How many seconds in a minute? How many inches in a foot? Yard? Mile? Seconds in a mile…” Ahhhhhhhhhhh!
That’s when I made my greatest contribution to the learning adventure. I whipped out my laptop, pointed my browser at www.wolframalpha.com and typed 31 inches per second into the calculation field.
A fraction of a second later, the handy web site told us that the car travels an average of 1.76 miles per hour. Not only that, but it provided context by telling us that the average human walks 2.5 miles per hour. Imagine that? Mathematical context!
When simple things, even repetitive calculations, are easy to do, complex things become possible. The student might decide to build a faster or slower car. He might challenge classmates to a robot race or see who can build a vehicle that will climb the steepest incline. These are all invitations to learn about force, speed, mechanical advantage, gear ratios and more. Or the kid may be content with what he has accomplished and embark upon a new learning adventure.
- The project idea belonged to the learner. Occasionally I would ask a question or make a suggestion that would lead to greater experimentation.
- There was no scripted plan or backward design intended to get a kid from point-A to point-B. He achieved his objectives and learned more deeply along the way.
- That new knowledge and expertise is an asset to peers who want to try similar experiments or just integrate this kid’s ideas into their future projects.
- There was no formal show and tell. Kids collaborate and learn from each other naturally when the conditions value freedom, sharing, giddiness, whimsy and movement.
- There is no need to require every student or team of students to reproduce this project now or next year.
- There is almost never a time when more than 2-3 minutes of instruction is necessary before the students do something. If you are engaged in too much full-frontal teaching or whole-class instruction, try lecturing for half as long and shave a bit of time off each day until you get to less us and more them!
- Learning is natural.
- Learning is personal.
- Learning is a consequence of experience.
- Learning takes time, but not as long as it takes to “teach” the same lesson.
- Less is more.
- Kids should be allowed to be themselves and learn in a style that best suits them and a specific task. It is not up to the teacher to determine that comfortable style. Learning styles tend to be a lot more fluid and less confining than even well-meaning teachers believe.
- If you make simple things easy to do, you make complex things possible.
- Computers amplify human potential.
- Computing is the game-changer, not information access or ICT.
- A good prompt is worth 1,000 words!
- Curriculum was unnecessary.
- Teacher expertise and fluency with the materials, based on extensive personal use and experience are critical!
Want more information?
- Attend Constructing Modern Knowledge 2012
- Read 3 articles about effective project-based learning by Gary Stager
- Read Less Us, More Them – Creating learner-centered contexts for learning
- Read This is What Learning Looks Like
- Tinkering resources
- Seymour Papert’s Eight Big Ideas Behind Constructionism
- A Constructionism Primer