For decades, many schools gave old hand-me-down computers to their youngest students. The implicit logic  is that little kids don’t need the best computers. Today, many school districts provide iPads for its youngest students. Both practices are built on faulty logic.

Sure, the iPad is light, easy to use and has a good battery life, but of all the students in a school or district, younger children need the most computing power for speech, graphics and video.

Since most high schools steadfastly refuse to change in any way shape or form, note-taking, looking stuff up and word processing are about all one might expect computers are used for.

Therefore, wouldn’t it make more sense to give the less powerful computers to the older students in a school and the real computers to the little kids?

Although I’m only 48, I have been working in educational computing for thirty years. When I started, we taught children to program. We also taught tens of thousands of teachers to teach computer science to learners of all ages. In many cases, this experience represented the most complex thinking about thinking that teachers ever experienced and their students gained benefit from observing teachers learning to think symbolically, solve problems and debug. There was once a time in the not so distant path when educators were on the frontiers of scientific reasoning and technological progress. Curriculum was transformed by computing. School computers were used less often to “do school” and more often to do the impossible.

Don’t believe me? My mentor, Dan Watt, sold over 100,000 copies of a book entitled, Learning with Logo in the 1980s when much fewer teachers and children had access to a personal computer.

Things sped downhill when we removed “computing” from our lexicon and replaced it with “technology” (like a Pez dispenser or Thermos). We quickly degraded that meaningless term, technology, further by modifying it with IT and ICT. Once computing was officially erased from the education of young people, teachers could focus on keyboarding, chatting, looking stuff up, labeling the parts of the computer and making PowerPoint presentations about topics you don’t care about for an audience you will never meet. The over-reliance on the Internet and the unreliability of school networks ensures that you can spend half of each class period just logging-in.

Teachers with post-graduate degrees are being compelled to receive iPad training. My 95 year-old grandmother figured it out all by herself. No tax dollars were harmed in the process. Apparently, we also need to provide teachers with interactive white board training so they may hung unused in their classroom, just like all of their peers.

We have National Educational Technology Standards published by the International Society for TECHNOLOGY in Education that are so vague pedestrian that no computing is needed to meet them. In fact, it’s likely one can satisfy the NETs without the actual use of a computer. Despite standards and district tech plans that are a cross between a shopping list and a desperate plea for teachers to consider modernity, most school kids are powerless over the technology so central to their lives. Nobody even bothers to ask the question Seymour Papert first posed 45 years ago, “Does the child program the computer or does the computer program the child?” This is a tragedy.

What kids do get to do with computers tends to be trivial and inservice of the educational status quo. Gone are the days when educational computing conference programs were home to the most progressive thinkers and revolutionary ideas in education. Teachers were considered thought leaders and scholars who were required to write peer-reviewed papers in order to present at such events.  Today one merely has to promise 75 quick and easy things to do in 37 minutes with the hottest product being peddled to schools. Another popular topic is incessantly about how your colleagues won’t or can’t use the latest fad.

I am sorry, but social media is not a school subject. There are conference workshops on using Twitter and masters degrees in educational technology that culminate in a rap about hashtags.  If social media is any damned good, it needs to be as complex and reliable as a dial-tone.  PLN, PLC, PLP, etc… are just fancy alphabet soup for having someone to talk with. We should not need an National Science Foundation grant to make friends.

I had an educator approach me at a conference recently to volunteer that “Our school is not ready for Google Docs.” Set aside whatever you happen to think about Google Docs; it’s a word processor in a Web browser, right? I told the tech director, “Congratulations, your school district has apparently managed to employ the last breathing mammals in the solar system incapable of using a word processor.” Isn’t it odd that technology directors are not held accountable for such failure over three decades? Could they possibly be enabling co-dependent behavior and helplessness in the teachers they are meant to lead?

If the percentage of teachers using computers remains constant over time, regardless of how we lower expectations, shouldn’t we ask a great deal more of them and set our sights higher?

I’m so old that I knew the guy responsible for “Guide on the side, sage on the stage” (Chris Held) and “Ask three before me,” (Leslie Thyberg) I even knew the gentleman responsible for “computer literacy.” (originally called computing literacy) His name was Arthur Luehrmann. I often find myself mumbling, “I knew Arthur Luehrmann. Arthur Luehrmann was a friend of mine. You sir are no Arhur Luehrmann.”

When Luerhmann coined the term, “computer literacy,” he intended it to mean computer programming the intellectual pursuit of agency over the computer and a means for solving problems.

Don’t believe me? Read this 1980 paper transcribed  from a 1972 talk.

I know what some of you are thinking. Not every kid needs to learn programming. You don’t have to be able to fix a transmission to drive a car, blah blah blah…

First of all, the educational technology community and schools seem to have decided that no kids should learn to program. I’d be happy with the same nine-week programming class I was required to take in 1975.

Second, computer programming is not like fixing a car. It’s much more like designing the car, making sure all of its systems work in an integrated fashion, mitigating the environmental impact of cars and imagining their impact on society. Computer science is a legitimate science that has profound implications for learning all sorts of other powerful ideas, working in diverse fields and making sense of the world. You just would not know this if you go to school.

Why would it even occur to educators to deprive children of such rich learning opportunities?

If you have the audacity to speak of digital literacy or technology literacy and do not teach computer science, then this is the first time in the history of education when the functional definition of “literacy” has been so devalued, diminished and degraded. All other expectations for literacy increase over time.

There you go Stager, you radical crank. How dare you ask teachers to develop new knowledge and empower students? You’re just some stupid utopian who happened to have a great 7th grade computer programming teacher 35 years ago. Well, I’m not alone.

In January, I was in London to keynote at BETT. At the same event, the Secretary of State Michael Gove announced that the UK government was scrapping the “harmful and dull” national ICT curriculum and replacing it with computer science at all grade levels. He called the current curriculum a mess and wondered aloud why schools bother to teach Excel or PowerPoint to bored students? Coincidentally, I wondered in 1996 why we were investing so heavenly in ensuring that we create a generation of fifth graders with terrific secretarial skills?

When a conservative politician and I agree on education policy, who could possibly be on the other side?


Related reading:

What’s a Computer For? Part 2

Computer science is the new basic skill

Originally published in the July 2008 issue of District Administration Magazine – Read part 1 of this article

In an educational setting, granting agency to the learner represents the wisest allocation of resources with the greatest potential return on investment. When used as material, the computer can help a student learn what we have always valued with greater efficacy, efficiency or comprehension. Yet the real power emerges when a student is able to learn new things that were previously not learnable, and in new ways. The power of the computer lies in its ability to be used to create a wider, deeper range of personally meaningful projects.

A teacher’s technological fluency and awareness of computers’ potential predicts what students can do. Despite popular myths and a few exceptions, children rarely know more about computers and their applications than adults.

If mathematics is a way of making sense of the world, computing is a way of making mathematics.

Teachers who lack technological fluency may still value the computer as an instrument for project-based learning. In their classrooms, kids can make a five-slide PowerPoint presentation about frogs, write a five-paragraph essay on a blog, publish a book report via a wiki, or use iMovie to report on a summer vacation. These are hardly transformational activities, but they grant some agency to the learner.

Bad Standards

According to renowned computer scientist Alan Kay, the computer revolution hasn’t happened yet. Look at the average American student’s twelve-year course of study and you will be hard-pressed to find any study of computer science. MIT mathematician Seymour Papert suggests that an impartial observer might conclude that we have enacted a conscious policy of depriving children of understanding the very technologies central to their lives, which seems antithetical to education.

Don’t believe me? ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards and groups such as the Partnership for 21st Century Skills don’t mention programming or computer science once in their educational visions for the future. One of the AP computer science tests has just been dropped, and few students have any meaningful computer science experiences during their K12 careers.

Computer science matters for several reasons: (1) mastering the machine, (2) addressing economic imperatives, and (3) understanding the world.

Mastery of the computer leads students to understand the strengths, weaknesses and appropriate use of technology. It places them in a position where they are empowered to make informed decisions, explore powerful ideas, and express themselves in ways we have yet to imagine.

It is undeniable that knowledge of computer science has great implications for personal career prospects and our nation’s economic development. Curiously absent from the hyperbolic discussions of flat worlds and global competitiveness are concerns over statistics such as those from the Computing Research Association that show that the number of college freshmen who list computer science as a probable major has fallen by 70 percent since 2000, or that computer science remains a rarity in the K12 curriculum.

The Power of Computer Science

I disagree with those who protest that not every child needs to be a programmer. We expect students to have all sorts of learning experiences. Why not explore the most powerful new science of the past century? In 1975, my junior high expected every student to learn programming in a nineweek course between baking a souffl? and making a wooden tie rack. Nobody ever questioned the value of souffl? baking, yet anti-intellectualism or fear of computers makes us question the value of programming. More than three decades later that school’s computer curriculum consists of keyboard instruction. The “Algebra II with Computer Programming” course I took is now part of the fossil record.

If mathematics is a way of making sense of the world, computing is a way of making mathematics. The power of computer science is evident in all of the natural and social sciences, not to mention the arts, commerce and politics. Agency over the computer not only has vocational benefi ts but also is required for understanding the world. The computer should be used transparently across grades and disciplines, but students also need the formal understanding necessary for solving problems unforeseen by the traditional curriculum. Computer science should be taught as a basic skill.


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 (http://www.concord.org) 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 (http://gsep.pepperdine.edu/online/) 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 (http://www.mamamedia.com) 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 (http://www.educast.com/) 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 (http://www.microworlds.com) 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 http://www.stager.org.

The following videos are a good representation of my work as a conference keynote speaker and educational consultant. The production values vary, but my emphasis on creating more productive contexts for learning remains in focus.

  • For information on bringing Dr. Stager to your conference, school or district, click here.
  • For biographical information about Dr. Stager, click here.
  • For a list of new keynote topics and workshops by Dr. Stager, click here
  • For a list of popular and “retired” keynote topics by Dr. Stager, click here.
  • For family workshops, click here.
  • To learn more about the range of educational services offered by Dr. Stager, click here.

View Gary Stager’s three different TEDx Talks from around the world

Gary Stager: My Hope for School from Gary Stager on Vimeo.

2016 short documentary featuring Dr. Stager



Learning to Play in Education: Joining the Maker Movement
A public lecture by Gary Stager at The Steward School, November 2015

Dr. Gary Stager Visits the Steward School, 2015

A Broader Perspective on Maker Education – Interview with Gary Stager in Amsterdam, 2015

 Choosing Hope Over Fear from the 2014 Chicago Education Festival


This is What Learning Looks Like – Strategies for Hands-on Learning, a conversation with Steve Hargadon, Bay Area Maker Faire, 2012.


Gary Stager “This is Our Moment “ – Conferencia Anual 2014 Fundación Omar Dengo (Costa Rica)
San José, Costa Rica. November 2014

 

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Gary Stager – Questions and Answers Section – Annual Lecture 2014 (Costa Rica)
San José, Costa Rica. November 2014

TEDx Talk, “Seymour Papert, Inventor of Everything*


Ten Things to Do with a Laptop – Learning and Powerful Ideas
Keynote Address – ITEC Conference – Des Moines, Iowa – October 2011


Plenary Talk at Construtionism 2014 Conference
Vienna, Austria. August, 2014

 


Children, Computing and Creativity
Address to KERIS – Seoul, South Korea – October 2011

 


Gary Stager’s 2011 TEDxNYED Talk
NY, NY – March 2011

 


Gary Stager Discusses 1:1 Computing with leading Costa Rican educators
University of Costa Rica – San José, Costa Rica – June 2011

 

Progressive Education and The Maker Movement – Symbiosis or Mutually Assured Destruction? (approx 45:00 in)
FabLearn 2014 Paper Presentation
October 2014. Stanford University

Keynote Address: Making School Reform
FabLearn 2013 Conference.
October 2013. Stanford University.

Making, Love, and Learning
February 2014. Marin County Office of Education.


Gary Stager’s Plenary Address at the Constructionism 2010 Conference
Paris, France – August 2010

 


Gary Stager Excerpts from NECC ’09 Keynote Debate
June 2009 – Washington D.C.

For more information, go to: http://stager.tv/blog/?p=493

 


Dr. Stager interviewed by ICT Qatar
Doha, Qatar – Spring 2010

 


Learning Adventures: Transforming Real and Virtual Learning Environments
NECC 2009 Spotlight Session – Washington, D.C. – June 2009
More information may be found at http://stager.tv/blog/?p=531

 

© 2009-2016 Gary S. Stager – All Rights Reserved Except TEDxNYED & Imagine IT2 clip owned by producers

I recently enjoyed the privilege of being the opening keynote speaker at the annual ITEC Conference in Des Moines, Iowa. The topic of the keynote address was, “Ten Things to Do with a Laptop: Learning and Powerful Ideas.” It is one my most popular keynote addresses.

Despite the video quality, this is one of my best recorded presentations in recent years.


Ten Things to Do with a Laptop – Learning and Powerful Ideas
Keynote Address – ITEC Conference – Des Moines, Iowa – October 2011

For more information, check out stager.org/​shortbios.html, stager.tv/​blog or stager.org/​stagerdifference

Constructing Modern Knowledge 2012 celebrates computing, creativity and children by adding blog, YouTube and MakerFaire sensation, Super Awesome Sylvia as a guest speaker and faculty member at CMK 2012, July 9-12, 2012 in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Sylvia’s enthusiasm, curiosity, ingenuity and passion have inspired hundreds of thousands of children and adults to tinker with cutting-edge technology. Her videos share wisdom and  whimsical ideas for projects. This pint-sized pedagogue also teachers viewers about art, science, engineering and technology with remarkable clarity.

It will be super awesome to have Super Awesome Sylvia as a co-learner at CMK 2012! I can’t wait to see what we make together!

Links


While some people are excited about using computers to teach traditional subjects, perhaps with greater comprehension or efficiency, my work is driven by the exciting realization that computers make it possible for young people to learn and do new things in new ways unimaginable just a few years ago. Over nearly thirty years of helping schools around the world use computers to create more productive contexts for learning, I have observed many myths that derail progress.

Scarcity is a major obstacle to use
Most children in non 1:1 schools use a computer less than an hour per week and we then have the audacity to question whether “computers work” in school. Teachers have little incentive to develop modern teaching techniques when computers are too scarce. Twenty-one years since I led PD in the world’s first laptop schools, the value of 1:1 computing has long been settled.

Technology is not neutral
All technology shapes behavior. Our tech investments tend to grant agency to the system, teachers or learners. I favor laptops because they put maximum power in the hands of the students we are employed to serve.

Computer science is a critical curricular topic
Although we should make computers transparent across the curriculum, too many schools behave as if computers have had zero impact on society and that children should have limited knowledge of how technology central to their lives works. Parents want their kids to make Bill Gates’ money without learning to program.

Computer science is a critically important discipline that all students should be exposed to and some children should study in depth. The problem solving skills developed serve almost any career. Fundamentally, access to computer science experiences allows children to program the computer, rather than the computer programming the child. (Seymour Papert)

90% of school is language arts
And 98% of educational computing is language arts. OK, I made up those statistics, but information access and communication are the low-hanging fruit representing only a tiny fraction of what it means to be educated. S.T.E.M. subjects and the arts can be made accessible and transformed by computing.

All “devices” are not created equal
Electricity alone doesn’t bestow sufficient educational value. What was the last time you walked into an Apple Store or electronics retailer and said, “I’d like to buy a device please?” We only use the term, “device,” when we’re cutting corners for students.

And the children shall lead
Schools should consider powerful models like Generation YES (genyes.com) that channel student technology expertise in service to their school or community through teacher professional development, technical support and peer mentoring.

The network is not the computer
There are a million and one fantastic things that students can make with a computer even without Internet access.

If you can make things with computers…
…then you can make more interesting things (Papert). Computers afford opportunities for a greater range of projects to be possible than ever before. Since knowledge is a consequence of experience, interdisciplinary personally meaningful projects create the learning opportunities and memories students need to succeed.

You might begin reconsidering your network personnel budgets
For how many years will you employ network personnel after every student and teacher has Internet access on the person in the form of cell phones or laptops with built-in Wi-Max? In many cases, overzealous network employees turn $1,000 computers into $100 sculpture by the time they finish restricting what may done with them.

Younger kids need better computers
Many schools make the mistake of sending hand-me-down computers to the primary grades when those children benefit most from new multimedia features and processing power. At the same time, the narrow range of assignments given to high school students often requires a whole lot less computational power.

Don’t waste your best teachers on administrative computing
It’s common sense to distinguish between instructional and administrative computing. Wasting talented teachers on attendance or payroll systems is foolhardy.

Computing can be a catalyst for school improvement
When I mentor teachers in classrooms, they not only realize the capabilities of their students through their screens and eyes, but have a context for manipulative use, literature integration, project-based learning, new forms of assessment, learner-centered pedagogical practices, problem solving, collaboration and other broader educational objectives that may have eluded your school.

Internationally renowned educator, speaker & consultant Gary Stager, Ph.D. is Executive Director of the Constructivist Consortium and the Constructing Modern Knowledge Summer Institute. He may be reached at stager.org

Constructing Modern Knowledge 2011 ended just a few days ago and I’m exhausted, but in the words of David Letterman, “It’s a good kind of tired.” CMK 2011 stands as one of the highlights of my career. Not only was I able to create a productive learning environment for approximately 90 educators from Australia to Costa Rica, but they were able to interact with brilliant experts, authors and inventors, including Jonathan Kozol, Derrick Pitts, Lella Gandini, Mitchel Resnick, Brian Silverman, Cynthia Solomon and Marvin Minsky. Some of us toured the wondrous MIT Museum and explored the Boston Freedom Trail. We socialized at a minor league baseball game, over meals and at the MIT Media Lab.

Supported by an amazing faculty, CMK 2011 participants engaged in dozens of hands-on/minds-on projects and expanded their vision of how computers can transform learning. (Specific examples will be shared at constructingmodernknowledge.com in the coming days.)

During the flurry of CMK 2011 activity, I stole away a few minutes to create a presentation intended to wrap-up the four-day institute. While thinking about the lessons of CMK 2011, several words beginning with the letter “C.” In the spirit of the great philosopher Mick Jagger who once said, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing,” I ended up with an absurd number of C-words reflecting the lessons of Constructing Modern Knowledge 2011 in no particular order.

Create
CMK 2011 was all about creating and creativity for six or more hours each day.

Construct
Since knowledge is a consequence of experience, constructing things creates rich contexts for learning..

Collaborate
CMK 2011 participants collaborated with colleagues and new friends met at the institute when such interdependence is mutually beneficial. Participants also sat shared expertise and worked with an expert faculty.

Concrete
Human development progresses from concrete to abstract. Piaget and Papert suggest that every time you learn something new, you return to a level of concreteness. Engineering is a manifestation of concrete experience, yet the only people who get to study engineering are the ones who successfully navigated twelve to fourteen years of abstraction (school math and science). If learners start with engineering projects, a great deal of formal knowledge will be constructed. This was demonstrated numerous times throughout CMK 2011.

Courage
CMK 2011 participants demonstrated courage in myriad ways. They chose to spend four days of their summer at Constructing Modern Knowledge. They jumped in and began working on open-ended projects. They asked for help. They shared their insecurities and triumphs. They helped themselves to unauthorized tours of the MIT Media Lab. They engaged courageously in conversation with brilliant people.

Conversation
Educators at CMK 2011 engaged in constant formal and informal conversations with participants, faculty and guest speakers during project development, presentations and over meals.

Crazy
Some might think that it’s crazy to spend four or five days of summer vacation in Manchester, NH. Others might accuse CMK 2011 participant of being crazy for believing that they can change the educational experiences of their students. Surely, some initial project ideas seemed crazy. Connecting LEGO to a bicycle in order to charge an iPhone while peddling to work seemed crazy – until it worked.

Complex
CMK 2011 projects displayed a great deal of complexity. All sorts of skills and knowledge were required, even if that knowledge and skill needed to be developed within the context of the project.

Challenge
Brian Silverman told us that the MIT approach is to give students a really hard project challenge and assume that they can do it. At CMK 2011, participants set really hard challenges for themselves and in most cases succeeded.

Competence
Competence is a related principal to challenge. The educators of Reggio Emilia, Italy believe that learners are competent. Constructing Modern Knowledge was designed to demonstrate the competence of each learner and their ability to learn without being taught.

Care
Educators cared enough about themselves and their personal growth to attend CMK 2011. They cared about the work they did and for each other. Great care was taken in the process of creating personally meaningful projects.

Comfort
CMK 2011 participants worked when, where and how they felt most comfortable, even when they ventured outside of their “comfort zone.” The hallway, picnic tables, parking garage, floor and lobby were all part of the learning environment.

Craft
Timeless craft traditions were honored through storytelling, mixed media, historical connections, a quest for beauty and collaboration during the project development process. Sewing and photography took their rightful place alongside programming, animation and robotics. The marriage of the analog and digital contribute to the continuum of craft.

Crap
You never know what will inspire a learner. That’s why the CMK 2011 learning environment was filled with toys, books, art supplies, software, electronics, tools and assorted tchotchkes. A wooden automata kit became a talking Thomas Edison puppet and crappy plastic aliens inspired a robotics project.

Curiosity
Since curiosity is a hallmark of good project-based learning, the number and variety of projects in-progress at CMK 2011 sated the curiosity of learners.

Casual
Despite the high-intensity work engaged in my CMK 2011 participants, the learning environment was relaxed, flexible and kept interruptions to a minimum.

Children
Kids are the reason we are all educators. CMK 2011 participants honored the epistemological pluralism of their students by spending four days learning for themselves in the childlike fashion one hopes they nurture in their own students.

Cutting-edge
CMK 2011 participants worked with cutting-edge software and emerging technologies, such wearable computing via Lilypad Arduino. They also engaged in discussions of cutting-edge educational issues with Jonathan Kozol, Lella Gandini, Derrick Pitts and Mitchel Resnick. Constructing Modern Knowledge demonstrates the educators’ competence and capacity for growth. We also demonstrated how learning need not follow a sequential curricular hierarchy created by others. Learners of all ages may work on the cutting-edge as a productive relevant context for learning all sorts of other things.

Connections
Learning at Constructing Modern Knowledge exemplified the importance of connections between disciplines, low and high-tech materials, historic eras, strategies, learners and experts. The learning environment supports guest speaker Marvin Minsky’s adage, “You don’t really understand something until you understand it in more than one way.”

Community
A community of practice forms at Constructing Modern Knowledge around shared interests and actions. Bringing educators together to learn from and with experts enriches that community.

Computing
Schools have lots of computers, but very little computing. A few years ago, CMK guest speaker Brian Silverman said. “Computing is the game changer.” Computing allows one to solve problems, make things and express oneself in ways impossible without computation.

There were many moments at Constructing Modern Knowledge that reminded me of when Seymour Papert was asked, “Do you really mean to suggest that every child should have a personal computer?” Papert would respond, “No, every child should have at least two computers.”

Throughout CMK 2011, participants were spontaneously using iPads as the way they were intended; as accessories for their laptops.

Constructionism
Constructing Modern Knowledge was created to model Seymour Papert’s theory of constructionism. You can learn more about constructionism here.

Cupcakes
Ooey-gooey gourmet cupcakes were the refreshment of choice for our reception at the MIT Media Lab. They honored Professor Resnick and his Lifelong Kindergarten Group and celebrated the childlike abandon with which CMK 2011 learners worked throughout the institute.

At the end of the event, the leftover cupcakes were placed under the “foodcam,” an ingenious Media Lab invention that automatically emails a photograph of free food with a “come and get it” message to everyone at the lab!

Chapeau
At the start of Constructing Modern Knowledge, I ask participants to “take off their teacher hats and put on their learner hats.” This seeming act of selfishness enriches the learning experience in remarkable ways.

Several teachers from The Willows Community School in Los Angeles (the third year a large team  from their school has attended CMK) designed to build a concrete manifestation of this metaphor by using the Lilypad Arduino wearable electronic components to make a teacher that may be switched from teacher to learner to a combination of both!

Conclusion

There is one obvious C-word I left off of my list mistakenly – CHOICE. Learners at CMK 2011 had complete freedom to choose, what, how and when they would learn. Participants selected projects in a coercive-free environment unimpeded by curriculum.


Don’t take my word for it, read the great CMK 2011 blog posts written by participants!

From Kate Tabor

  1. Starting With a Blank Page
  2. Day 3 at CMK11: Ways of Knowing
  3. Day 2: CMK 2011 – Inspiration and Renewed Enthusiasm
  4. Looking for the Colonel
  5. Best Advice of the Day

Adam Provost’s blog post about CMK 2011

On June 26th, The Constructivist Consortium hosted the Fifth Annual Constructivist Celebration prior to the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia. In addition to multiple meals, participants enjoyed a day of creativity, collaboration and computing thanks to software and project-based support from representatives of Tech4Learning, LCSI and Generation YES.

The day culminated with a 37-minute conversation between Will Richardson and myself. I am most grateful to Will for his generosity and participation!

Here is video of the conversation. Regrettably, the first few seconds of the conversation were not captured.

A Conversation with Will Richardson from Gary Stager on Vimeo.


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