I wrote the attached paper for the 2017 Interaction Design and Children Conference at Stanford University. It was accepted, but ultimately not published since I could not justify the thousand bucks or so it would cost to attend the conference and then sign over the copyright of my work in order for it to disappear into an obscure journal.

Participating in such academic conferences have a very low return on investment since I am not a tenure track university professor. Nonetheless, I hope this paper makes some sort of contribution to the discussion.


ABSTRACT

The recent death of Seymour Papert is an occasion for grief, celebration, and planning for building upon his enormous contributions to knowledge. This paper is a plea for the IDC community to help preserve and expand upon the enormity of Papert’s powerful ideas.

Read the complete paper here.


On Christmas Eve (2016), the world lost one of its most profound thinkers when learning theorist, Dr. Edith Ackermann, left us at age 70. Anyone blessed with even the most casual encounter with Edith embraced her as a mentor, collaborator, and friend. She bestowed boundless respect upon anyone trying to make the world more beautiful, just, or creative. Edith’s grace danced into a room like a cool breeze awakening its occupants and setting their sights towards what truly matters.

Edith was a giant among learning theorists, even if under-appreciated and a best kept secret. Her work focused on the intersection of play, design, childhood, and technology. She worked closely with Jean Piaget, Seymour Papert, and Ernst von Glasersfeld – three of the most important experts on learning ever. Her insights were invaluable to the LEGO Company, MIT students, architects, and educators around the world.

Edith was always there to help me clarify my thinking and to take an idea one stop past my anticipated exit. She was a pal with whom you could walk arm in arm discussing almost anything, laugh boisterously, and gossip quietly. We disliked many of the same ideas and people, but Edith was just much better at hiding her disdain.

Perhaps, Edith’s remarkable perspective came from being an outsider. Despite the profound impact she had on innumerable students and colleagues, I never got the sense that the testosterone-oozing world of MIT afforded her the respect or security she so richly deserved.

Shamefully, I do not know much about Edith’s history or personal life; yet another painful reminder that we should do everything possible to know our friends better. Therefore, I will share some thoughts about her work and what she meant to me.

CMK Intern Walter explains Pokemon Go to Edith

I don’t remember when I first met Edith. I think it was in 2000 when Seymour Papert sent me to sub for him as the keynote speaker at a conference held at the Piaget Archives in Geneva. Papert failed to tell the organizers that 1) he wasn’t coming or 2) that I was his replacement. The entire story is a hilarious comedy of errors that I’ll share another day.

Edith and I attended many EuroLogo (now Constructionism) Conferences and worked together 15+ years ago in Mexico City leading a workshop as members of the MIT Media Lab’s Future of Learning Group. Several years ago, I invited Edith to be a guest speaker at my 2014 Constructing Modern Knowledge institute. I set aside concerns that her Swiss accent, quiet demeanor, and brilliant intellect would not work in a room full of predominantly American educators. Her unrivaled genius made the risk worthwhile.

Edith’s wisdom, passion, humanity, and generosity of spirit made her an immediate favorite of the very educators who others treat as low-skill labor in need of a 7-step plan for raising achievement. The next year, Edith spent most of the institute with us interacting informally with participants and appearing on a panel discussion with two of my other heroes, David Loader and Deborah Meier. Last summer, despite her ongoing battle with Cancer, Edith Ackermann spent all four days of CMK helping each of us make meaning out of our individual and collective experiences.

Heroes – David Loader, Deborah Meier, & Edith Ackermann

Edith taught us so much.

Making as a way of seeing

One powerful idea she shared was that “Making is a way of seeing.” Edith had a gift for bringing into focus what others miss. She invited us to “lean in,” not in the vulgar career climbing form advocated by Sheryl Sandberg, but as a way of becoming one with nature, the community, ideas, beauty, and one’s soul.

I would like to share three very special memories of Edith Ackermann at Constructing Modern Knowledge.

2016
After nine years of effort, I managed to convince Reggio Children President Carla Rinaldi to participate in Constructing Modern Knowledge. Edith and Carla were old friends who greeted each other with great love and respect. Their mutual affection was truly touching. During the institute, I stole a little time to show Carla and Edith how Tickle (an iOS dialect of Scratch) could be used to bring drones and a variety of robots to life. They appreciated the technological wizardry for a split second and then became preschoolers imagining how the different toys could play, communicate and love one another. Both experts were so in tune with the inner lives of children that they were able to wear the spirit of childhood play with great ease and abundant joy.

Edith and Carla Rinaldi playing

Hard fun!

2015
A tacit theme of Constructing Modern Knowledge involves creating the conditions by which each participating educator may think about how their particular learning experience connects with their own priory experience and future classroom practice. Superficially, our speakers may seem to have nothing to do with one another or the sorts of project work undertaken by CMK attendees. In 2015, I invited two National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters, 86 year-old pianist Barry Harris and 89 year-old saxophonist Jimmy Heath, to perform a masterclass at CMK. Edith not only understood immediately why I invited them to perform at an event about learning and making, but she was thrilled to spend time with Barry Harris whose music she knew. Edith had also watched videos of Barry teaching. Just take a look at the joy with which she approached this encounter.

Edith with the great Barry Harris

2014
I work all year organizing Constructing Modern Knowledge and try to steal an hour to indulge a passion of mine, taking great friends and colleagues to Cremeland, an “al fresco” roadside stand in Manchester, New Hampshire known for its fabulous fried fish and ice cream. The first year Edith joined the CMK team, I took her and a couple of colleagues for our secret lunch at Cremeland. You order food at one window, eat at picnic tables in the parking lot, and then return to a window at the opposite end of the building for decadent ice cream.

There is always a bit of chaos when a group of people are ordering from an unknown menu through a tiny window, but throw Edith’s Swiss accent into the mix and watch hilarity ensue.

Server: Can I take your order?
Edith: I’ll have the haddock platter.
Server: Hot Dog?
Edith: Haddock
Server: Hot Dog?
Edith: Haddock
Server: Hot Dog?
Edith: NO! Haddock not Hot Dog!

Haddock, not hot dog!

Fried fish & ice cream with great friends

This became a private joke between us and when I gave the CMK faculty and speakers t-shirts with chalkboards printed on them, Edith wrote, “Haddock, not hot dog,” on hers.

Au revoir dear Edith…. We love you and will miss you more than you could ever know.


For further reading…

Exploratorium Talk – The craftsman, The trickster, and the Poet — Conference Art as a way of knowing. San Francisco, 2011

Constructionism 2010 Talk – Constructivism(s): Shared roots, crossed paths, multiple legacies

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 cupcakeIMG_1682
  • 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 filmmakersmiling learners cropped
  • 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
  • Tinkering
  • Being a historian8022636190_3d5593b600_o
  • Working alone
  • Working in teams
  • Cool tools
  • Aluminum foil
  • Understanding astrophysics through dance
  • Being silly
  • Being serious
  • A digital butler keeping your beer cold
  • Engineering
  • Secret ice cream
  • Measuring your whiffle bat swing
  • Manch Vegas
  • Brightening a Rwandan child’s day
  • Flow
  • Fixing the future with air-curing rubber
  • Makey Makey
  • Conquering the geometry of islamic tiles
  • Conductive paint
  • Mathematical thinkingworking on floor cropped
  • Designing a video game
  • Making friends
  • Expanding your personal learning network
  • Feeling smart
  • Feeling foolish
  • Confusion
  • Finding science in your art and electronics in your peanut butter
  • Satisfaction
  • Scratch
  • Learning to learn
  • Bursting balloons
  • The Reggio Emilia Approach8023331155_8565f7ff3f_o
  • Clarity
  • Turning trash into treasure
  • Reading
  • MicroWorlds
  • Constructionism
  • Computer graphics
  • Storytelling
  • The 100 languages of children
  • Chatting with Marvin Minsky
  • Ingenuity
  • Choreographed t-shirtsResnick and Minsky
  • Turtle Art
  • Coffee with a legend
  • Writing
  • Progressive education
  • Creativity unleashed
  • Computing
  • An amazing faculty
  • Powerful ideaspitts2
  • Changing the world
  • A smile-controlled robot
  • Exploring linguistic patterns of the 1940s
  • Challenging yourself
  • Sounding like Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Brazilian churascaria
  • Wearable computing
  • Whimsy
  • Never finding the pool
  • Raising standards
  • Blowing your mind
  • MIDI
  • Conversation
  • Re-imagining educationx 5948920464_208e89e344_o
  • Expanding your comfort zone
  • Being super awesome
  • Taking off your teacher hat
  • Putting on your learner hat
  • Action!

Join the learning adventure with us July 9-12, 2013 in Manchester, NH!

Register today!

Download a printable brochure for Constructing Modern Knowledge 2013

 

 

I am enormously pleased to share some great news.

I am honored to be invited to serve as a Senior Education and S.T.E.M. Consultant with Fielding Nair International. Fielding Nair (FNI) is widely heralded as the best school design and architecture firm in the world. FNI does not just build boxes for children, they view their mission as “Change Agents for Education.”

Three years ago, I met FNI partner Prakash Nair at the first Educon and was blown away by his passion for progress and knowledge of learning theory. I rarely meet education scholars who know as much about the history of school reform or how learning occurs as Prakash does.

I am quite fortunate in that my work takes me to public, private, charter and international schools around the world. I work in hundred year-old buildings and brand new schools. One of my clients is a brand new 500,000 square feet international school. I am often amazed by how new schools continue to be constructed ignoring all of the lessons of the past and doing little to prepare for the future of learning.

Spend some time watching the videos of Fielding Nair’s work or tour some of their design projects and you are sure to be impressed. It’s an honor to join old friends and respected educators, like Dr. Stephen Heppell, on the FNI team. I look forward to helping them change the world for kids.

My (excessively long) bio from the site may be found here.