Bob Tinker at CMK 2008

The world lost a remarkable educator on June 22, 2017 when Dr. Robert Tinker passed away at the age of 75.

If your students have ever worked on a collaborative online project, taken a virtual class, used a science probe, played The Zoombinis, or used any terrific materials created by TERC or The Concord Consortium, Bob is the reason why.

A gifted scientist, Bob was brilliant, kind, patient, joyous, and generous. Like our mutual friend, Seymour Papert, Bob spent his life helping others to learn and love science and math just as much as he did. He possessed the rare empathy that allowed him to wonder why others might not learn this or that as naturally or easily as he did. Rather than blame or shame learners, Bob designed tools not to teach, but for learning. At Seymour Papert’s memorial celebration, Tod Machover quoted Papert as saying, “Everyone needs a prosthetic.” Bob Tinker was in the business of creating remarkable prosthetics useful for embracing the wonders of scientific inquiry.

I just learned that Bob fought on the front lines of the civil rights movement in Alabama, just as Papert did in South Africa. This news came as no surprise.

“My Dad was the probably the smartest man I knew (MIT PhD), and he decided to pass on earning a big salary with a Defense Contractor in order to positively impact change. With my mom at his side, during the civil rights movement they moved to the South to teach at a University that could hardly afford textbooks. They marched in dangerous areas. They worked to expose climate change. They personally funded the arts and those less fortunate. They then built the two largest science/match educational non-profits in the USA. The two NGOs employ hundreds, have trained thousands of teachers, and have educated millions of kids.” (Bob’s daughter, Facebook, June 22)

A life well lived… Online, Bob’s friends remember him as a mensch.

Long before politicians and hucksters began alarming the citizenry about the need to teach Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S.T.E.M.) subjects as a vulgar ticket to careers, real or imagined, Bob Tinker created tools and technology that not only raised the standards for student participation in those fields, but did so in a progressive constructivist context. Not only didn’t his approach to S.T.E.M. exceed empty rhetoric and vocabulary acquisition, Bob’s work brought a broad spectrum of modern scientific domains to life in classrooms. Biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, earth science, electronics, engineering, and computational thinking were all in the mix.

Dr. Tinker delighting in a teacher’s scientific discovery

One could make a compelling argument that Bob Tinker is the father of S.T.E.M. However, I think of him as the Thomas Edison of S.T.E.M. Beyond his remarkable academic preparation, Bob was not resigned to a life of writing pretentious papers to be published in overpriced conference proceedings read by six colleagues. While there was nobody better at writing successful grant proposals, Bob and his colleagues had a stunning track record of “commercializing” their ideas. At both TERC, where he was Director of Educational Technology and The Concord Consortium he founded, Bob Tinker personified Edison’s notion of research AND development. An idea could be tested, refined, manufactured, and distributed in a reasonable timeframe. Unlike so many researchers cloistered in university departments and think tanks, Bob and his colleagues turned ideas into actual products enjoyed by millions of students around the world. Like Edison, Dr. Tinker didn’t work alone. He assembled and led an incredibly competent band of “muckers” who could bring impossible ideas to life.

Those products were sound, timely, reliable, open-ended, fun and teachable without succumbing to “teacher proofing” or dumbing down the science. There was never anything condescending about Dr. Tinker’s prolific work. Bob’s considerable charm and passion undoubtedly played a role in the creation of public/private partnerships, including with The National Geographic and Broderbund, required to successfully distribute his inventions to classrooms and homes everywhere. Bob was also a pioneer in making powerful software tools freely available online. He also preceded the DIY ethos of the maker movement by advocating for the creation of one’s own science probes in 2007!

In Bob’s world, there was no reason to add an A for Arts to S.T.E.M., since the doing of science and mathematics was itself, beautiful, wondrous, playful, creative, and relevant. Papert and Tinker shared a desire for children to be mathematicians and scientists, rather than being taught math or science. They both worked to make complexity possible by making the frontiers of mathematics and science accessible and usable by children. Bob went a step further and created programs where students could collaborate with scientists online as colleagues back in 1989, two years before the World Wide Web was released to the public. My fourth grade class participated in the National Geographic Kids Network Acid Rain project back in 1990.

In an interview Bob said:

“I became inspired to teach by tutoring two kids for two years in a black college in the South. It was the best education (for me!) anyone could design because it showed me exactly how science education could reach far more learners. I’ve dedicated my life to realizing that dream and it’s been wonderful working with smart people who share that dedication. There’s always been a sense of mission. We make important advances that will affect kids all over the world and—this was my initial motivation—bring cutting-edge educational resources to under-resourced kids.”

On a personal note

I do not remember exactly when I first met Bob Tinker, but it was at a conference approximately thirty years ago. Back then, the smartest people in the world spoke at educational computing conferences. I was familiar with his work prior to meeting him. In fact, I was a big fan of The Science Toolkit, distributed by home recreational software publisher, Broderbund. The Science Toolkit was a low-cost ($79 master module with two probes and $39 add-on sets) software package with external sensors that plugged into the joystick port of a microcomputer to allow children to conduct, measure, and record science experiments at home. This was an example of what Bob pioneered and called Micro-Based Labs (MBL).

Check out the video clip from the Christmas 1983 episode of the PBS show Computer Chronicles. Note how clean and simple the software it is and compare it some of the probeware software sold to schools today.

Prior to meeting Bob, I owned my own Science Toolkit. I was especially pleased with myself for figuring out how to program LogoWriter to read data from the kit’s probes without using the accompanying software. I could now write my own programs for collecting data, graphing it, and controlling my own experiments. I nailed using the light sensor, but my temperature data I received wasn’t particularly accurate. I eventually rationalized this as being the fault of the sensor or based on the limitations of the Science Toolkit, despite the fact that the probe worked just fine with the software provided. 

Not much time passed before I ran into Bob Tinker in one of those “V.I.P.” receptions, in the crummy “suite” of the conference chair in the forgettable hotel where the conference was being held. As I told Bob about my struggles with temperature data, he grabbed a napkin and wrote calculus formulas across all of the quadrants of the unfolded napkin. Bob mentioned that reading the temperature data was non-linear, a concept this C- science student could vaguely comprehend. While I never figured out how to translate the napkin math to a working LogoWriter program, Bob’s good cheer, gentle mentoring, and generosity reminded meow something I wrote in an essay a couple of years ago, “Math teachers often made me feel stupid; mathematicians never did.”

Maria Knee & Bob Tinker at CMK 2008

When I started the Constructing Modern Knowledge institute for educators ten years ago, Bob was the first speaker I secured. He had agreed  to return in a few weeks to help us celebrate our 10th anniversary this July.

I will never forget the joy he brought to kindergarten teacher extraordinaire, Maria Knee, who was euphoric while manipulating molecules in software Bob created (The Molecular Workbench). He and his colleagues made the impossible accessible to generations of teachers and children.

I am gutted by Bob’s passing. Losing Bob, Seymour Papert, Marvin Minsky, and Edith Ackermann within an 18-month period is almost too painful to bear. They were fountains of powerful ideas extinguished in anti-intellectual age hostile to science, even wonder. The education community does not enjoy a proud record of honoring the contributions of its pioneers or standing on their shoulders. Instead we continuously rediscover that which already exists, without attribution and with diminished expectations.

More than twenty-five years ago, Seymour Papert and Bob Tinker led a crazy or courageous session at the National Educational Computing Conference in Boston. If memory serves me, the presentation had a title along the lines of “Enemies of Constructionism.” I remember them taking turns placing acetates on the overhead projector proclaiming the name and photo of one of their enemies, including their NSF project manager who happened to be in the audience. This session had to be Seymour’s idea because Bob was too nice, but I suspect that Bob wrote the proposal.

I considered Bob a friend and dear colleague, even though we never really hung out or worked together formally. We often discussed collaborating on an elementary school project of some sort even though Bob modestly claimed not to know anything about little kids. Less than a year ago, Bob introduced me to a colleague and recommended that I be an advisor for an NSF proposal. I was honored to be asked and the grant* has been funded. While searching my email database, I found another proposal Bob himself included me in eleven years ago. I am humbled by his faith in me and respect for my work.

I wonder if ISTE will honor Bob in any way or if they even know who he is? I still await even a tweet about the passing of Dr. Papert. Like Papert, Bob Tinker was never invited to be a keynote speaker at ISTE or its predecessor, NECC.

Rest-in-power Bob. We will miss you forever and the struggle against ignorance continues!

Seminal articles by Robert Tinker, Ph.D.

Read more by searching for Tinker.

The Concord Consortium is assembling a collection of tributes to Bob Tinker here.

Read Bob Tinker’s Wikipedia page.


* Read the text of the funded NSF proposal, Science and Engineering Education for Infrastructure Transformation.


I engage frequently in conversations such as the one below. These interactions take place online and face-to-face.

Well-intentioned educator: We need to teach children to make mistakes.

Me: Really? We need to teach mistake making?

Educator: Well, we need to teach them to embrace failure.

Me: There is nothing virtuous about failure. You cannot possibly motivate children with the same force you use to punish them. Besides, Papert teaches us that the best projects push up against the persistence of reality. Overcoming obstacles is natural. Failure is the imposition of judgment by others.

Educator: What I mean is that kids should be risk-takers.

Me: It doesn’t seem like a good idea for adults to be encouraging children to take risks. Learning has nothing to do with risk. Risk is potentially dangerous.

Educator: We should encourage tinkering and experimentation.

Me: Why didn’t you say that?

There are aspects of the “art of teaching” I have long taken for granted, but are apparently no longer taught in preservice education programs. Classroom centers is one such critical topic. Since I cannot find the seminal book(s) or papers on the importance or creation of centers, I created the following document for the school I work for.

Thoughts on Classroom Centers (v 1.0)
Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.
April 2015


Centers are clearly delineated areas in the classroom where students may work independently or in small groups on purposeful activities without direct or persistent teacher involvement. Centers may be designed by the teacher or co-constructed with students. Deliberate materials are presented in a center to scaffold a child’s learning, or nurture creativity. Such materials may be utilized in both a predictable and serendipitous fashion. Centers afford students with the necessary time to take pride in one’s work, overcome a significant challenge, develop a new talent, or deepen a relationship (with a person or knowledge domain).

“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, [and] 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 pleasures of learning.” (Reggio Children, 2010)


  • Minimize direct instruction (lecture)
  • Recognize that students learn differently and at different rates
  • Reduce coercion
  • Honor student choice
  • Increase student agency
  • Make classrooms more democratic
  • Enhance student creativity
  • Build student competence and independence
  • Employ more flexible uses of instructional time
  • Inspire cross-curricular explorations
  • Develop the classroom as the “3rd teacher”
  • Encourage more student-centered classrooms
  • Respect the centrality of the learner in learning
  • Create more productive contexts for learning
  • Supports the Hundred Languages of Children
  • Match a child’s remarkable capacity for intensity
  • Provide opportunities for teachers to sit alongside students
  • Make learning visible
  • Shift the teacher’s role from lecturer to research responsible for making private thinking public – invisible thinking visible
  • Team teaching in the best collegial sense


  • Increased self-reliance, self-regulation and personal responsibility
  • Shift in agency from teacher to student
  • Development of project-management skill
  • Supports project-based learning
  • Opportunities for “flow” experiences (Csikszentmihalyi, 1991)
  • Intensify learning experiences
  • Encourage focus
  • Expand opportunities for:
    • Creative play
    • Informal collaboration
    • Experimentation
    • Appropriation of powerful ideas
  • Acknowledges the curious, creative, social and active nature of children
  • Matches the individual attention spans of students
  • Reduces boredom
  • Increases student engagement
  • Teachers get to know each student (better)
  • Recognition that quality work takes time
  • Acknowledges the centrality of the learner in knowledge construction
  • Thoughtful documentation of student learning by teachers
  • Minimize misbehavior


Experimentation/laboratory center
A place for experimentation 

Project center
An area where a long-term project may be undertaken and securely stored

Game center
A place where students play games that helps develop specific concepts, logic, or problem-solving skills

Studio center
An art center where children sculpt, paint, animate, draw, etc… with sufficient light and appropriate materials.

Creative play center

  • Dress-up area
  • Puppet theatre
  • Blocks/LEGO/Construction with found materials

Classroom library
A comfortable well-lit area, stocked with a variety of high-interest reading material

Pet center
The class pet to observe, care for, and in some cases, play with

Plant center
Classroom garden to care for

Listening center
A setting where students can listen to recordings or watch a video with headphones


  • Learning centers should neither be chores or Stations of the Cross. Flexibility, student choice, and actions that do not disturb classmates are hallmarks of the centers approach.
  • Centers should not be managed with a stopwatch. “Fairness” is not a priority, except if there are scarce materials.
  • Learning center use should not be used as a reward or punishment.


  • Create clear and concise prompts, questions to ponder or project ideas. Place these prompts on index cards, a single sheet of paper, or in a binder.
  • Less is more! Do not clutter up a center or overwhelm a learner with too many options.
  • Keep prompts simple and not overly prescriptive. Allow for serendipity.
  • Rotate out “stale” materials – things that students no longer show interest in
  • Assign classroom roles for tidying-up centers
  • Place louder centers away from quieter areas in the classroom.
  • Provide safety materials and instruction when appropriate at centers



Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1991). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Reprint ed.). NY: Harper Perennial.

Reggio Children. (2010). Indications – Preschools and infant toddler centres of the municipality of Reggio Emilia (L. Morrow, Trans.). In Infant toddler centers and preschools of Instituzione of the municipality of Reggio Emilia (Ed.): Reggio Children.

New Trends, New Learning Opportunities

As we approach the new millenium, technology – and its use in schools – continues to evolve
© 1998 Gary S. Stager
Published in Upgrade, The Magazine of the Software Publisher’s Association

As the cost of computing decreases rapidly, children continue to enjoy increasing access to computers and the Internet . However, lower cost is not the only trend in learning with computers and communications technology. A few of the trends may seem quite obvious. Others are more provocative and will change the nature of teaching, learning and software development. The trends include:

  1. Lower cost hardware and software
  2. The locus of technological innovation shifting from school to home
  3. The Internet
  4. A sea-change from software predicated on passive instruction and entertainment to an expectation to use computers as vehicles for intellectual construction
  5. Miniaturization/Mobility

Many of these trends are interdependent and support one another. The overlap reinforces the changes taking place.

Lower cost hardware and software

Moore’s Law continues to hold and the educational promise of the Internet has caused millions of new computers to be purchased by families, while schools rush to “get wired.” There is an enormous demand for sub-$1,000 computers and the success of Apple’s iMac provide evidence of the increasing availability of low-cost, powerful, “Internet-ready” computers. The couple of years will see computers approach the price of a few pairs of Air Jordans.

This phenomena will cause more homes to own personal computers and allow for more telecommuting and learning outside of school than has been possible in the past. Schools will find that the level of access demanded by students, coupled with reduction in cost of computing will have a profound impact on the nature of teaching and learning. At the simplest level, ubiquitous computing will move computers out of specialized labs and in contact with every aspect of schooling.

Equity will improve as the cost of computer ownership drops. Several studies already conclude that socioeconomic status no longer determines a child’s level of computer literacy – at least the modest level desired by traditional school computing curricula.

Increased access to powerful, less expensive technology is also creating new ways of learning and expressing oneself. MIDI keyboards and software allow fifth graders to compose and perform original musicals while $50 drawing tablets and digital cameras provide children with new palettes for expressing their artistic talents. Such technology is welcome news in an age where art and music education is in serious jeopardy.

Challenges to the profitability of the software industry

One concern for software developers is the public’s demand for products with higher production values at lower prices. Many customers no longer perceive the value of software priced at $499, but they don’t understand why it costs forty-nine dollars when a home video of Titanic costs $9.95.

Whether due to high-volume licensing or the availability of increasingly powerful shareware/freeware on the web, the price of software increasingly approaches zero.

The home

Increasing access to powerful computers, expressive software and the Internet has shifted the locus of technological innovation from school to the home. There is no way for schools to catch-up. They are likely to have less powerful computers and connectivity than some of their students have at home. This presents educators with a challenge and opportunity to view the home more as a learning resource than a place where kids do trivial homework assignments and stop learning until they return to school.

While parents will continue to purchase software designed to drill their children in specific skills, kids are likely to ignore these tasks in favor of controlling the computer to achieve more personal and complex objectives. Just as shooting down math problems are less interesting to kids than “surfing or chatting,” making things to share with the world will consume more computer time.

The net

Much has been said about how the Internet offers learners of all ages with unprecedented access to information. This fact alone has revolutionized learning, however the greatest impact of the net lies in its ability to democratize publishing and expand opportunities for collaboration.

While schools assimilate the Internet by using it as a way to find discrete facts or deliver information to sometimes unwilling students, kids at home are beginning to use their personal computers to create web sites, collaborate in online communities of practice and express themselves in new ways. This should come as no surprise as schools struggle against the clock, irrational fear of Internet abduction and the institutional expense of providing students with sufficient access. The home provides learners with a level of freedom, contemplative time and computer access necessary to construct knowledge.

Even when schools begin to discuss online learning, the reflexive response is to scan everything they have ever used in a traditional classroom in preparation for “pouring the information down the pipe” and into the computer of the online students. A “push” mentality permeates the discussion, rather than viewing learning as the act of “pulling and shaping understanding” in the mind of each individual learner. You can lead a school to the I-Way, but you can’t make it think.

The Concord Consortium ( is dedicated to creating rich online environments for learning math and science by doing. Their collaborative projects include Haze-Span, a project in which children are collecting and analyzing important scientific data and sharing that data with interested scientists, and the Virtual High School in which students explore areas of mathematics and science in ways beyond the school curriculum.

Pepperdine University ( is perhaps the first university to offer accredited online graduate programs in educational technology, based on constructionist principles of learning. Educators enrolled in the Pepperdine master’s and doctoral programs use a combination of synchronous and asynchronous technologies to build community and construct knowledge within a personal context. Guest speakers, faculty members and even other classes of students join discussions of powerful ideas in virtual settings in which every member of the community is a learner. Access to classmates and faculty members is available virtually around the clock. Pepperdine is working to invent the future of learning and teaching without relying on an old correspondence school model.

Mamamedia ( is a unique Internet start-up designed to provide children with a safe, creative and intellectually stimulating place on the web. Mamamedia extends the traditional notion of the 3-Rs, by adding the three Xs, “Exploration, Expression and Exchange” as the design philosophy of their site. Mamamedia founder Idit Harel’s goal is to “sell learning to kids” in an environment they will wish to return to over and over again. Anything children can use may also be collected, created or manipulated by the child. The future development of the net has to not only include faster bit delivery, but greater opportunities for users to construct things online.

Educast ( provides educators with a free screensaver that is updated with timely news, views, resources and teaching ideas based on a push technology similar to Point-Cast. The system is optimized to make the best of slow or infrequent net connections.

Every Internet user is depending on software and hardware engineers to increase bandwidth and more intuitive tools for web publishing. Web design still requires too much “monkey work” and “two percent” of users understand the process of uploading a page to a web server.

Learners of all ages have the unprecedented opportunity to not only “look things up,” but use the Internet to publish their ideas in all sorts of ways – from dancing poetry, special-interest groups and TV/radio broadcasts. The web is full of places where you can publish your work for free and powerful tools for expressing your ideas. As the courts and educators are discovering, school know longer has sole jurisdiction over what goes on in a kids’ bedroom, personal computer or head. For an increasing number of kids, “high-tech means my tech.” (Idit Harel)

From passive to constructive computing

Recent research demonstrates that computer use is most effective for learning when students use it to “problem solve.” Inside and outside of school, the thing computers do best is provide learners with an intellectual laboratory and vehicle for self expression. Children need better, more open-ended, computationally rich tools than their parents in order to sustain their interest and leverage the potential of computers for making connections between powerful ideas.

Five year-olds ought to be able to see themselves as software developers by using MicroWorlds to design a video game. Children should be able to collect data, perform experiments and discuss their conclusions with other children and experts. Kids who build and program LEGO robots may use physics, measurement, feedback and perhaps even calculus in a meaningful context. Seymour Papert and others point out that children who have had such deep learning experiences will demand much more of school.

Miniaturization and mobility

Computers are not only getting cheaper and more powerful, they are getting smaller. I have enjoyed working with Australian schools in which every child has a laptop for more than eight years. Approximately 50,000 Australian children have had personal laptop computers and the number of American school districts embracing truly personal computing is growing as well. The Australian pioneers viewed laptops as a way to make learning more personal and as a catalyst with which teachers could rethink the nature of teaching and learning. The ability to use the computer as your own portable laboratory and studio has had a tremendous impact on the social, cognitive and artistic development of children. Learning can not only occur anytime and anywhere, but new deeper forms of learning have become possible.

Students with laptops need two essentially two pieces of software, an integrated package for doing work and environment for messing about with powerful ideas and learning. This is why so many schools use ClarisWorks or Office for writing, calculating and publishing and MicroWorlds ( for designing interactive multimedia projects that may be run over the web. The software requirements for laptop schools include: being open-ended, non-grade specific, inexpensive and have a life-span of at least three years. Developers need to begin thinking about how they will distribute and license software to schools in which every student has a personal laptop.

High schools have been embracing low-cost graphing calculators for several years. These devices cost less than one hundred dollars and have been used to help students visualize mathematics that was previously abstract. A new innovation, calculator-based labs (CBL), allows students to connect scientific probes to the graphing calculator and collect experimental data. This data may then be analyzed and shared in ways never before possible. These probes place students in the center of their own learning and enriches mathematics education by making tangible connections to science.

Nicholas Negroponte once joked that we need to “melt crayolas down into Crays.” He meant that toys would become more and more computationally rich. The recent Tamagotchi craze offered creative teachers with a tool for connecting student toys to curriculum topics like: senses, life-cycle, probability and artificial life. New twelve dollar HotWheels cars have computers in them capable of measuring velocity and distance traveled. Perhaps the most exciting new product is the LEGO Mindstorms programmable brick set that allows children to construct autonomous robots of their own design.

These trends provide parents, educators, developers and children to enter into a new discussion of the nature of learning. If we trust the natural learning inclinations of children, provide them with rich open-ended tools and don’t do too much to get in their way, we will witness an explosion of learning in the very near future.

Gary S. Stager is a contributing editor for Curriculum Administrator Magazine and editor-in-chief of Logo Exchange. He has consulted with LEGO, Disney, LCSI, Compaq, Tom Snyder Productions, Netschools, Universal Studios and Microsoft. Gary is an adjunct professor of education at Pepperdine University, a frequent speaker at conferences and has spent the past seventeen years helping educators around the world find constructive ways to use computers to enhance the learning process. Gary may be reached at

As you are probably aware, I have been working in schools with a laptop per child since I led professional development at the world’s first laptop schools back in 1990. Recently, I helped an international school launch 1:1 computing from first through eighth grade.

I believe that less is more, but since software was purchased at once, I recommended the following assortment of constructive creative software for student use across the curriculum.


MicroWorlds EX Robotics

Curriculum areas: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (S.T.E.M.), Language Arts, Social Studies, Computer Science, Art

MicroWorlds EX is a multimedia version of the Logo programming language. It is designed to have “no threshold and no ceiling” and to be used to create personally meaningful projects and solve problems. MicroWorlds may be used across the curriculum to bring stories to life through art, text, sound and animation; concretize formal mathematical thinking; and creative interactive programs, including video games. MicroWorlds does not publish as nicely on the Web as Scratch, but it holds much more power and functionality as a programming language.

MicroWorlds is a general purpose programming environment that grows with the learner and offers a level of challenge regardless of expertise. Computational thinking and problem solving skills are developed while expressing even artistic ideas with mathematical language.

MicroWorlds EX is based on the work of Seymour Papert, the “father of educational computing,” and colleague of Jean Piaget. In the mid-1960s, Papert began writing about every child having a personal computer. MicroWorlds EX is a software embodiment of his theory of “constructionism.”

MicroWorlds EX contains built-in Help, Vocabulary Reference, Tutorials, Annotated Samples & Techniques.

Recommended Reading



Curriculum areas: Language Arts, Social Studies, Art

Pixie is a graphics and image manipulation program designed for young children. It contains lots of templates and tools to inspire storytelling and visual creativity. Photos and other graphic files may be imported into Pixie for all sorts of manipulation.

The products of Pixie may be exported in a variety of formats for insertion into other programs, including MicroWorlds, ImageBlender, Animation-ish, Pages, Keynote and Comic Life. It is also integrated with the safe and free image library by and for children, Pics4Learning. Pixie is intended for K-2 students at the school.

imageblender icon


Curriculum areas: Language Arts, Social Studies, Art

ImageBlender is a more grown-up graphics and image manipulation program than Pixie, but carefully designed for children (and their teachers). You might think of it as PhotoShop for kids. ImageBlender contains lots of templates and tools to inspire storytelling and visual creativity. Photos and other graphic files may be imported into ImageBlender for all sorts of manipulation.

The products of ImageBlender may be exported in a variety of formats for insertion into other programs, including MicroWorlds, ImageBlender, Animation-ish, Pages, Keynote and Comic Life. It is also integrated with the safe and free image library by and for children, Pics4Learning. Pixie should be used by students from grades 3 and up.

ImageBlender 3 Users Guide

Tech4Learning’s Online Teacher Community – Connect (You should join!)

The Creative Educator Magazine (free)

Pics4Learning free photo library for education




Curriculum areas: Language Arts, Social Studies, Art, Mathematics, Science

Animation-ish is a three-level tutorial based animation program that is deceptively easy to use and incredibly powerful. It was created by best-selling children’s author and illustrator, Peter Reynolds (The Dot, Ish, The North Star, Judy Moody, Stink…).

Be sure to take advantage of the online tutorials and built-in video inspiration!

Complex ideas from across the curriculum and engaging stories may be created with a remarkbale clarity and level of sophistication. Animation-ish, like Pixie and ImageBlender work great with the Wacom drawing tablets.

Animation-ish exports its animations in Flash, QuickTime and other formats that may be published on the web or imported into most of the authoring programs being used by teachers and students.

comic life icon

Comic Life

Curriculum areas: Language Arts & Social Studies

Comic Life allows you to design and print stories and newsletters in the form of comic books or graphic novels. Photos and other static graphics may be imported. This is a great vehicle for supporting the writing process.




Curriculum areas: Social Studies, Mathematics

InspireData is a tool for visualizing data. It’s a hybrid spreadsheet, database and survey tool that allows learners to interrogate data and test hypotheses. It may be used to conduct surveys on one computer or online. Students can then download that data or any tab/comma-delimited file found on the Web for use within InspireData.

InspireData allows for multiple visual representations of data – Venn diagrams, histograms, pie charts, scatter plots and more. Most importantly, its flexibility and ease-of-use allows students to make sense of when one representation would be more suitable than another. InspireData contains mathematical tools for performing calculations and the ability to assemble views of the data for a visual presentation.

The program comes with a large collection of interdisciplinary activities which may stand alone or inspire other inquiry.

  • InspireData Teacher’s Guide, lesson plans & sample databases
  • InspireData web site




Curriculum areas: S.T.E.M.

PicoBlocks is a visual form of the Logo programming language, created by the same person responsible for MicroWorlds EX Robotics, but limited to the control of the Pico Cricket robotics system. The block programming screen metaphor is similar to the way in which LEGO and the Cricket elements are assembled. This is intended for grades 3 and up at the school and may be used to bring a variety of curricular topics to life.

Further Reading

PicoCrickets are based on research from the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab. Here are some resources for learning more about the ideas underlying PicoCrickets.

  1. New Pathways into Robotics discusses strategies for educators to broaden participation in robotics activities.
  2. Computer as Paintbrush discusses how new technologies, such as PicoCrickets, can support the development of creative thinking.
microworlds jr. icon

MicroWorlds Jr.

Curriculum areas: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (S.T.E.M.), Language Arts, Social Studies, Computer Science, Art

MicroWorlds Jr. is a version of MicroWorlds EX, with fully-compatible syntax, but designed for younger children with lower literacy levels than required by MicroWorlds EX.

The reading skills of this school’s students makes this less of an issue, but children without the the problem-solving abilities of their more advanced classmates might do well to have the option of working in MicroWorlds Jr. At younger ages the same projects may be adjusted for use of either environment.

  • MicroWorlds web site
  • MicroWorlds Jr. Teacher’s Guide (PDF)
  • See other MicroWorlds resources above
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Curriculum areas: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (S.T.E.M.), Language Arts, Social Studies, Computer Science, Art

Designed at the MIT Media Lab, Scratch is literally a cousin of MicroWorlds designed by many of the same people. It’s a graphical version of Logo intended for storytelling and video games developed for publication on the World Wide Web. The software is free and does several things brilliantly. However, it lacks the range of possibilities and power afforded by MicroWorlds EX.

The Scratch web site is a rich place for children to share their projects and collaborate with others. Scratch programs may be created in countless languages, yet worked on locally due to ingenius translation abilities within the software.

Scratch is used to program and control the WeDo robotics materials at the lower primary levels. When the WeDo interface is plugged into the laptop, extra programming blocks appear within Scratch.

  • Scratch web site for users – publish, learn and collaborate
  • ScratchED, the online community of Scratch-using educators – ideas, help, collaboration.
  • Add higher-level computer science funcionality to Scratch with Build Your Own Blocks extensions (free).atomiclearning


Curriculum areas: All

Pages is Apple’s very fine word processing and desktop publishing program that should be the basis for all written work at the school. It can also export its files in Microsoft Word and PDF formats.

The best thing about Pages are the built-in templates that turn anyone into a polished graphic designer. The Web is full of free and low-cost additional templates if you wish to expand your output options.

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Curriculum areas: All

Keynote is Apple’s visual presentation program filled with more powerful features and simpler functionality than PowerPoint. Keynote includes presenter notes, the ability to record narrration timed to slides, animation, powerful graphic tools and the ability to export in PowerPoint, QuickTime and PDF formats for use in other programs.

You may search the Web for other Keynote templates – free and low-cost.

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Curriculum areas: All

Make and edit video for interdisciplinary projects and for sharing information in specific subjects. Exports for publsihing on the Web, CD, DVD and YouTube.

My (admittedly old) collection of podcasting or iMovie/multimedia resources are a place to start for technical and pedagogical information. Of course, you may also use “The Google.”



Curriculum areas: Language Arts, Music

GarageBand is an incredibly powerful tool for recording audio, dubbing audio tracks on movies and loop-based music composition. It may be used anytime audio helps tell a story or set the mood.

My (admittedly old) collection of podcasting or iMovie/multimedia resources are a place to start for technical and pedagogical information. Of course, you may also use “The Google.”

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Curriculum areas: All

iPhoto is the personal image library built into the Mac. It’s where teachers and students should store and touch-up their photographs. However, you’re not just limited to digital photographs. Any image file may be imported or dragged and dropped into iMovie for later retrieval. Garageband, iMovie, Keynote and Pages use this image library for dragging and dropping your images into other multimedia uathoring programs.

iPhoto may also be used to create photo books, picture books, calendars, greeting cards or order professional-quality prints.

For more than basic photo touch-ups, ImageBlender should be used.

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Curriculum areas: Mathematics, Social Studies

Numbers is Apple’s spreadsheet for performing calculations and making mathematical forecasts. Spreadsheets are an incredibly powerful tool across the curriculum.

Search the Web for classroom spreadsheet projects or activities. Anything written for Excel or Numbers will work fine. Excel is MicroSoft’s spreadsheet. Numbers exports in Excel format and opens Excel files with ease.

Additional Resources

Here are some web-based papers and articles you might read if you are interested in learning more about Dr. Seymour Papert’s theory of constructionism.

  1. Constructionism vs. Instructionism by Seymour Papert
  2. Constructivism(s): Shared roots, crossed paths, multiple legacies – a brilliant overview of constructivism and constructionism by Edith Ackermann.
  3. Computer as Material: Messing About With Time by George Franz and Seymour Papert
  4. A Critique of Technocentrism in Thinking About the School of the Future by Seymour Papert
  5. Epistemological Pluralism and the Revaluation of the Concrete – an incredibly powerful paper by Sherry Turkle and Seymour Papert
  6. Computer as Mudpie by Seymour Papert
  7. What’s the Big Idea? Toward a pedagogy of idea power by Seymour Papert (PDF version) from the IBM Systems Journal.
  8. Situating Constructionism – The first chapter in Constructionism, edited by Idit Harel and Seymour Papert (Ablex Publishing Corporation)
  9. Constructionism in Practice: Designing, Thinking, and Learning in A Digital World by Yasmin B. Kafai and Mitchel Resnick
  10. Seymour Papert on Jean Piaget (1999) Seymour Papert remembers Jean Piaget for Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest Thinkers of the 20th Century issue, March 1999.
  11. Climbing to Understanding: Lessons from an Experimental Learning Environment for Adjudicated Youth by Seymour Papert, Gary Stager and David Cavallo
  12. Seymour Papert’s seminal books
  13. The DailyPapert web site
  14. Planet Papert – home of additional Papert articles, videos and resources

The Constructivist Consortium is hosting its 5th annual Constructivist Celebration in Philadelphia, June 26, 2011 – the day before the ISTE Conference begins.

Join colleagues from around the world in a day-long minds-on celebration of creativity, computers and constructivist learning.

The Constructivist Celebration features project-based activities geared towards K-12 educators, administrators & teacher educators.

This year’s theme is HARD FUN! Educators completing a difficult year deserve some HARD FUN!

The day ends with a conversation with Will Richardson.

After a kickoff keynote by Dr. Gary Stager, participants will select challenges using the open-ended creativity software provided by Constructivist Consortium members, including LCSI, Tech4Learning and Inspiration. In addition to your mind and spirit, you body will be nourished by continental breakfast, hot lunch and afternoon snacks courtesy of our Maggiano’s Little Italy! Last year’s participants could not stop raving about the food!

Representatives of Generation YES, LCSI, SchoolKiT and Tech4Learning will lead challenges and support project development.

The day ends with time for project sharing and reflection followed by a conversation, “Digging Deeper,” with Will Richardson and Gary Stager. I am most grateful to Will for his generosity and willingness to participate!

Best of all, the entire day – software, an endles feast and a spa-day for the mind costs only $60!

Register today! Past Constructivist Celebrations have been extremely popular and space is limited.

Click here for more information!

A kinder gentler version of this article will be published in a forthcoming issue of The Creative Educator Magazine.

Once upon a time, an enthusiastic creative teacher much like yourself used ye olde Visa card to buy a personal computer for her classroom. Back in ye days of Reagan, that teacher was excited by how the computer could be used by children to learn and make things never before imagined. The leaders of the village became so excited by what they saw in that pioneering classroom that they pooled their treasure to buy a dozen personal computers.

The elders of the village wondered what to do with these new computers since there weren’t enough to put one in each classroom and few teachers shared the enthusiasm of the early adopter. Thus a decision was made to gather all of the school’s computers in a cave guarded by a computer teacher. A schedule would be carefully made to ensure that every student got to visit the cave at least once per season and the guard was given a curriculum for what to cover during those visits. As the number of computers increased the goals for what children did with them seemed be lowered. No longer did “computer literacy” mean that every child should have the expertise required to program the computer, but that they would be able to bookmark a web page or identify the mouse in a standardized “tech literacy” test. In 2010, schools have actually erected iPod labs so that students get to see such a new-fangled device, are taught to use it during iPod lessons and undoubtedly tested – resulting in some students failing iPod.

The moral of that tale is that the computer lab is a historical accident that need not be preserved in amber. If you happen to be your school’s computer teacher, you might consider the following pieces of advice for bringing greater benefit to students.


Ask yourself each day, “What if what kids did with computers was good?”
Don’t be surprised when kids do extraordinary things. Be surprised when adults are surprised. I expect that children can use computers in deeper more thoughtful ways than school traditionally asks of them. Cute may be a subset of “good,” but is a poor substitute.

Remember that quality work takes time
The average American student touches a computer for less than an hour per week at school. That’s obviously insufficient for any serious learning or creativity to result. Why not adjust the computer lab schedule to make it as open and flexible as a library? If students can come use a computer whenever they need to for as long as necessary, they’ll learn more, the computers will be used to greater benefit and the school will take an important step towards learner-centered school reform.

Shun ‘software du Jour’
Lots of teachers make the mistake of confusing quantity with quality. When you make kids jump from one software application to another you deprive them of any opportunity to develop fluency and reduce the odds they will learn or create something of substance. Afford kids the chance to become good at something. There are countless ways to draw a picture on the computer. You don’t need to teach every one of them.

Avoid false complexity
Memorizing menu options in Microsoft Office is a parlor trick that’s easily tested and has little to do with learning.

Stop using computer time for non-computing activities
Curricular concoctions like “keyboarding” are a waste of scarce computing resources and of questionable value. Digital citizenship and assessing information literacy should be part of the broader curriculum, taught by all, and doesn’t need to tie up your computers.

If a kid is breathing, she has probably surpassed the NETs
The ISTE NETs standards are unimaginative and technocentric. Declare that every child has satisfied them and move on.

Do the real thing
If you are thinking about teaching “digital storytelling,” try teaching writing or filmmaking. Those are serious disciplines with 100 to 1,000 years of tradition and wisdom behind them. Digital storytelling is something invented to fit within a class period. Burping into Voicethread is not storytelling. Kids are capable of engaging in serious filmmaking and writing, but only if we respect the artists who preceded us and commit to the entire writing process, regardless of the medium.

Aspire beyond mash-ups and remixes
If you look hard enough you may find a collage here and there in the world’s great art museums, but in most cases collage is the result of gluing magazine photos to construction paper. Mash-ups and remixes seem like new forms of collage to me. Of course you may reinterpret new ideas or stand on the shoulders of giants, but only en-route to the expression of a higher personal aesthetic.

Stop integrating someone else’s curriculum
It is not your job to invent dopey 37-minute Columbus Day computer activities. You’re enabling your colleagues to continue avoiding computers for a fourth decade. If kids develop computing competence and fluency with you, they will know how to integrate those skills into other subjects.

Not with my computers you don’t!
We are beginning to see movement towards using school computers for standardized testing and test-prep. This will reduce the quality and quantity of creative ways in which computers may be used to construct knowledge while giving a public the false sense of modernity and making school less relevant for children. It’s time to standup and say, “Not with my computers you don’t!”

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Photo credit:
Carey, Chris. ocps008.jpg. . Pics4Learning. 7 Dec 2010 <>

chrislehmann200So, in my mission to change the world, I search for opportunities to preach to the unconverted. That’s why I’m prevailing upon friends, colleagues and complete strangers and begging them to vote for my session at next year’s South-by-Southwest Conference (SXSW). (Read the description of my session, The Best Education Ideas in the World, here) Here are the instructions for voting.

While you’re there, you might consider voting for my tricky little pal, Chris Lehmann’s session at SXSW. He and I share common values and several honors. He’s an excellent urban high school principal who is walking-the-walk 24/7. Vote here for Chris’ session, Building School 2.0 – Creating the Schools We Need. But don’t forget to vote for me too!

The voting deadline is August 25th, so act today!

Constructionism 2010 logoWow! What a week. I’ve taught in Tampa, Seoul and after 25,000 miles, I am now in Paris to be a plenary speaker at the Constructionism 2010 Conference.

It is such an honor to be invited to speak at a conference featuring some of the smartest people in the world and pioneers in thinking about thinking and learning with computers. Two of Logo’s three inventors, Cynthia Solomon and Wally Feurzig, are here. Seymour Papert‘s influence is ubiquitous and in many ways, the conference is a celebration of Papert’s ideas, work, friendship and leadership.

There is a lot of talk these days about personal learning networks and learning communities, but this is a true learning community featuring experts who have been evolving ideas for as long as 40+ years and newbiews. There is serious expertise here! The conference attendees range from 20ish to 80+ years old. In the spirit of Papert’s Samba School metaphor, we get to spend the next five days “dancing together.”

My paper, A Constructionist Approach to Teaching with Robotics, sounds overly dry and specific, but I hope some of you will take a few minutes to read it since robotics is a metaphor for rethinking the nature of teaching and learning. I even briefly explored the severe weakness of what Apple is now promoting as Challenge-based Learning.

I hope to upload some of the slides I’ve created to supplement the presentation at a later time.

Please vote for my session, The Best Educational Ideas in the World, to be included in the South-by-Southwest Conference! I need LOTS of votes!