Following speaking at the prestigious WISE Conference in Qatar (November 2017), Gary Stager delivered a keynote address on learning-by making at a conference held at The American University in Cairo. The video is finally available. Enjoy!


Veteran educator Dr. Gary Stager is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Learn more about Gary here.

In May 2018, Gary Stager sat down with Change.School founders, Bruce Dixon and Will Richardson for their Modern Learners Podcast, to discuss learning, teaching, school improvement, and a host of other provocative topics. The title of the podcast is “The Lost Art of Teaching with Gary Stager.”

You may listen to the conversation or download the audio podcast here or watch the Zoom video below.

Look at what preK-6 Mexican teachers did in my recent PBL 360 workshop in Guadalajara. This was their first experience with engineering, physical computing, and programming. They designed, created, and programmed these “birds” in less than two hours with the Hummingbird Robotics Kit and SNAP!

The prompt was simple…

“Make a Bird. Singing and dancing is appreciated.”

There was no instruction. The entire project was completed in under two hours – roughly the equivalent of two class periods.

My work continues to demonstrate the limits of instruction, the power of construction, and the Piagetian notion that “knowledge is a consequence of experience.” There is simply no substitute for experience. Constructive technology and computing amplify human potential and expand the range, breadth, and depth of possible projects. This is critical since the project should be the smallest unit of concern for educators.

Look at these short video clips sharing the teachers’ projects and compare what is possible during an educator’s first or second computing experience with the unimaginative and pedestrian “technology” professional development typically offered. We need to raise our standards substantially.

“You cannot behave as if children are competent if you behave as if teachers are incompetent.” – Gary Stager

The following videos are unedited clips of each group sharing their project. Start listing the plethora of curricular standards satisfied by a single project of this kind.

Operatic Diva Bird from Gary Stager on Vimeo.

The Parrott from Gary Stager on Vimeo.

Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde Robot Pengin from Gary Stager on Vimeo.

Three-Function Bird from Gary Stager on Vimeo.

Singing Bird with Creepy Eyes from Gary Stager on Vimeo.

About the author

Gary Stager, Ph.D. is the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute for educators, coauthor of Invent To Learn – Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, and curator of the Seymour Papert archive site, DailyPapert.com. You may learn more about him and reach out here.


The Hummingbirds Robotics Kit is also available from Amazon.com.

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.

Gary was recently interviewed by the National School Boards Association for the June 2015 American School Boards Journal.

Read “The Best Makerspace is Between Your Ears.”

 

 

“Young people have a remarkable capacity for intensity….”

Those words, uttered by one of America’s leading public intellectuals, Dr. Leon Botstein, President of Bard College, has driven my work for the past six or seven years. It is incumbent on every educator, parent, and citizen to build upon each kid’s capacity for intensity otherwise it manifests itself as boredom, misbehavior, ennui, or perhaps worst of all, wasted potential.

Schools need to raise the intensity level of their classrooms!

However, intensity is NOT the same as chaos. Schools don’t need any help with chaos. That they’ve cornered the market on.

capacity500
Anyone who has seen me speak is familiar with this photograph (above). It was taken around 1992 or 1993 at Glamorgan (now Toorak) the primary school campus of Geolong Grammar school in Melbourne, Australia. The kids were using their laptops to program in LogoWriter, a predecessor to MicroWorlds or Scratch.

I love this photo because in the time that elapsed between hitting the space bar and awaiting the result to appear on the screen, every ounce of the kid’s being was mobilized in anticipation of the result. He was literally shaking,

Moments after that image was captured, something occurred that has been repeated innumerable times ever since. Almost without exception, when a kid I’m teaching demonstrates a magnificent fireball of intensity, a teacher takes me aside to whisper some variation of, “that kid isn’t really good at school.”

No kidding? Could that possibly be due to an intensity mismatch between the eager clever child and her classroom?

I enjoy the great privilege of working in classrooms PK-12 all over the world on a regular basis. This allows me observe patterns, identify trends, and form hypotheses like the one about a mismatch in intensity. The purpose of my work in classrooms is to model for teachers what’s possible. When they see through the eyes, hands, and sometimes screens of their students, they may gain fresh perspectives on how things need not be as they seem.

Over four days last month, I taught more than 500 kids I never met before to program in Turtle Art and MicroWorlds EX. I enter each classroom conveying a message of, “I’m Gary. We’ve got stuff to do.” I greet each kid with an open heart and belief in their competence, unencumbered by their cumulative file, IEP, social status, or popularity. In every single instance, kids became lost in their work often for several times longer than a standard class period, without direct instruction, or a single  disciplinary incident. No shushing, yelling, time-outs, threats, rewards, or other behavioral management are needed. I have long maintained that classroom management techniques are only necessary if you feel compelled to manage a classroom.

In nearly every class I work with – anywhere, teachers take me aside to remark about how at least one kid shone brilliantly despite being a difficult or at-risk student. This no longer surprises me.

In one particular class, a kid quickly caught my eye due to his enthusiasm for programming. The kid took my two minute introduction to the programming language and set himself a challenge instantly. I then suggested a more complex variation. He followed with another idea before commandeering the computer on the teacher’s desk and connected to the projector in order to give an impromptu tutorial for classmates struggling with an elusive concept he observed while working on his own project. He was a fine teacher.

Then the fifth grader sat back down at his desk to continue his work. A colleague suggested that he write a program to draw concentric circles. A nifty bit of geometric and algebraic thinking followed. When I kicked things up a notch by writing my own even more complex program on the projected computer and named it, “Gary Defeats Derrick.” The kid laughed and read my program in an attempt to understand my use of global variables, conditionals, and iteration. Later in the day, the same kid chased me down the hall to tell me about what he had discovered since I left his classroom that morning.

Oh yeah, I later learned that the very same terrific kid is being drummed out of school  for not being their type of student.

I learned long ago. If a school does not have bad children, it will make them.

 

Student voice is good. We should take the needs, interests, concerns, talent, curiosity, discomfort, and joy of children seriously. (pretty courageous statement, eh?)

However, if one is truly committed to making the world better for kids, “voice,” is nice, but inadequate. “Voice” absent of power is often little more than propaganda or exploitation.

While I’ve been on a brief social media “skunk at the garden party” hiatus, Dean Shareski has generously filled-in by sharing his queasiness over the “viralGoldieblox video being passed around the Web. Señor Shareski set his BS detector  on high and has provided evidence that the “amazing” Rube Goldberg machine “made by girls” is merely a commercial for a new toy called, Goldieblox.

I am shocked! Shocked!

Anyone who knows me knows that I love toys. I find buying them irresistible. I’ve been seeing Goldieblox at Maker Faires for more than a year, but have not bought a set because I think they lack extended play value (a term LEGO uses internally). I’m not one to get all outraged that a toy for girls is pink. Goldieblox just hasn’t seemed very interesting to me or the girls I work with. It’s not part of my workshop road show sweeping the globe, “Invent To Learn.”

It just doesn’t seem that Goldieblox has any chance of measuring up to the self-promotion and hype of its creator that her box of ribbon and spools is “building women engineers.” I applaud the sentiment, but if we are truly serious about improving the education of girls, it will take a lot more work than a trip to Toys R Us.

I could be wrong. I’ve recently been upgrading my initial assessment of littleBits, based on my observations of children playing with the new toy/electronics construction kit. So, perhaps I will soon fall in love with Goldieblox, but I doubt it.

Back to Monsignor Shareski…

In his post critical of the Goldidblox video, Fake and Real Student Voice, Professori Shareski awakened several repressed social media memories I had long forgotten.

I took a lot of “brown porridge” when I called BS on the very same videos of yesteryear.

There was Dalton Sherman, the “amazing” 5th grader who was coached all summer-long to give a condescending speech, written by the Dallas Schools PR department  to Dallas teachers, right before laying off 400 of them.  I smelled a rat the second I saw the video. Was called a big fat poo-poo head by teachers on social media and was right. BTW: Dalton Sherman seems to have disappeared just like those teacher jobs. So much for being the voice of school reform.

Then there was Michael Wesch (who is an important scholar) made famous by the hostage film he created in which college students decried the state of education.

Fantastic. A college class with far too many students in it (200) attempts to revolutionize the educational system by whining in a five minute web video.

I’m sorry, but count me unimpressed!

Perhaps a student should hold up a sign saying, “My professor is wasting my time and money by making me participate in a piece of exploitative propaganda in which I get to insult either my generation or the one before me just to get on YouTube.”

How did bashing our own profession become such a popular sport? What possible value could demeaning educators have in a professional development setting? Are we desperate for moving pictures or are they merely a substitute for actual ideas?

From Hey Mom! Look What I Made in College (November 2007)

Aside from their lack of authenticity, what these three AMAZING viral videos of is how children and claims of “student voice” exploit children for propaganda purposes. The Goldieblox video is a commercial selling a toy. We don’t tweet Sir Grapefellow commercials (my preferred boyhood breakfast treat) as AMAZING examples of student voice, so why the wishful thinking about Goldieblox?

Señor Shareski rightfully cites my colleague Super-Awesome Sylvia (read Super-Awesome Sylvia in the Not So Awesome Land of Schooling) as a counter example to the fake Goldieblox commercial. I have worked closely with Sylvia over the past couple of years and made her part of the Constructing Modern Knowledge faculty, not because she is cute (she is), but because she is accomplished. She knows stuff. She has skills. She has a great work ethic and  is a terrific teacher (at 12).

However, talent and achievement  did not made Sylvia immune from cynical exploitation by Rupert Murdoch and Joel Klein’s education cabal as documented in an article I wrote for the Huffington Post, Shameless Shape Shifters.

So the moral of our story is…

Three lessons…

  1. As a young blogger in 1971, The Brady Bunch taught me an important lesson relevant here, caveat emptor – buyer beware. Users of social media need to “follow the money,” have a highly-tuned BS Detector, and know when and what they are being sold.
  2. Calling everything amazing or everyone a genius is lazy and counterproductive.
  3. Student voice without what Seymour Papert calls “kid power” is worse than empty rhetoric, it is a lie. Escapism is not the same as freedom.  Too much of what is offered as “student voice” offers a false sense of agency, power, or freedom to the powerless. It is what Martin Luther King, Jr. called, “the intoxicating drug of gradualism.”

Treat yourself or the other makers in your life to these incredible new (or old favorite) materials and sources of inspiration for future learning adventures.

Be sure to click on the links at the bottom of this list for additional materials you’ll want under the tree.

All of the recommended products are affordable and may be purchased online with one-click!

Makedo FreePlay Kit For One$15.30 (larger sets are also available)

Wicked cool reusable connectors, hinges and child-safe saws for building cardboard constructions.


Rolobox Reuseable Wheel Kit for Boxes$13.95

Wheel sets for cardboard boxes. You need these with Makedo!


Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun$15.67

A zillion high and low-tech project ideas and suggestions for amusing yourself.


Super Scratch Programming Adventure!: Learn to Program By Making Cool Games$13.92

A full-color project book for learning Scratch programming. It even includes a chapter on using the external Picoboard!


The Big Book of Hacks: 264 Amazing DIY Tech Projects

$16.25Really cool and beautifully photographed tech projects ideas for kids and adults alike.


Geek Mom: Projects, Tips, and Adventures for Moms and Their 21st-Century Families$13.59

The latest addition to the three book Geek Dad series for girls, their moms (plus teachers, brothers and fathers)


The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide$18.97

A new full-color guide to building machines out of LEGO Technic! Mechanical principles are explained clearly.


Make: LEGO and Arduino Projects: Projects for extending MINDSTORMS NXT with open-source electronics$19.75

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution

$13.98

This new book about the Maker revolution is by the former editor of Wired Magazine.

However, Neil Gershenfeld’s seminal book, Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication, does a better job of covering the “maker” revolution despite having been published seven years ago.


Big Trak$60 – 70

My late friend, Steve Ocko, invented this programmable floor turtle (robot) for Milton Bradley in 1979. There has never been a more powerful easy-to-use robot available for kids since.

The good news is that some lunatic bought the rights to the Big Trak and is manufacturing new ones 30+ years later

Kids from 5+ will play and learn with Big Trak for ages.


Makey Makey$49.95 – $59.95

There’s no adequate way to explain Makey Makey, “the invention kit for everyone,” but you need to own at least one of them!

Learn more here.


LEGO WeDo$129.95

An early-childhood robotics construction kit that may be controlled via Scratch.


Sugru
various pricesMiraculous shapeable air-cured rubber, because “the future needs fixing!

Amazing book!Highly recommended! The Cryptoclub: Using Mathematics to Make and Break Secret Codes

$36.24 (and worth it!)This fantastic book makes real mathematics come alive for kids (and teachers) grades 5 and up through the exploration of cryptography. There is plenty to keep you busy for years within this book.


New York Street Games$14.83

A star-studded documentary chronicling the dizzying variety of street games invented and played in New York City, as well as the life lessons learned playing them.

This DVD should inspire a great deal of play and creative “research” projects among young people.

The DVD

The book New York City Street Games$14.95

A terrific print guide to playing classic games including: Kings, Skellzies, Potsie, Stick Ball and Hit the Penny.

The book even comes with bottlecaps, sidewalk chalk and a “spaldeen.”


Photojojo!: Insanely Great Photo Projects and DIY Ideas

$14.66This book is filled with insanely creative ways to turn your photographs into amazing products and crazy ways to capture photographs you won’t believe. Fun for the whole family!

Check out the exciting description of projects and photo techniques included in this unique book.

I love love love these LEGO construction books! Yoshihito Isogawa’s three magnifcent wordless books of LEGO Technic project ideas are like the holy books of LEGO construction. There are enough ideas contained within to keep you building for years!The LEGO Technic Idea Book – Fantastic Contraptions

The LEGO Technic Idea Book – Wheeled Wonders

The LEGO Technic Idea Book – Simple Machines

$12-14 each

 


Painting Chinese: A Lifelong Teacher Gains the Wisdom of Youth$7.98

Legendary educator and education author, Herb Kohl’s beautiful meditation on life, teaching, learning, art and aging.

This is one of my all-time favorite books. It makes a lovely inspirational gift for the artist or educator in your life.

For grown-ups

I’m in this book, along with Phillip-Seymour Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie Perez, Bill T. Jones, Bill Ayers, Deborah Meiers, Lisa Delpit, Maxine Greene, Diane Ravitch and many others. The Muses Go to School: Inspiring Stories About the Importance of Arts in Education$20.06

Herb Kohl & Tom Oppenheim interviewed some of today’s most prominent artists about the educational experiences that led them to their creativity and then leading educators responded to each interview.


Surely, You’re Joking Mr. Feynman (Adventures of a Curious Character)$10.85

The first magnificent memoir by this Nobel-Prize winning physicist, raconteur and tinkerer. This is a must-read for anyone over twelve years of age.

Feynman

$19.04

A fine biography in graphic-novel format. Appropriate for teens.

 

Books by and about the ultimate tinkerer and scientist

For the frustrated parents of young tinkerers Not With Our Kids You Don’t! Ten Strategies to Save Our Schools$18.69

Parent activist Juanita Doyon offers practical advice for protecting your kids from destructive school policies like standardized testing.


Read out latest newsletter for creative educators. There you will find other book reviews and recommendations for stimulating learning adventures!


Add your email address to our mailing list for updates on CMK 2013 and for information on the forthcoming Los Angeles Education Speaker Series!

A few years ago, I turned my friend Will Richardson onto Seymour Sarason‘s great book, And What Do YOU Mean About Learning? Ever since, Will has been asking people to define learning.

Earlier this week, I had a meeting in Reggio Emilia, Italy where I picked up a pamphlet explaining their awe-inspiring approach to early childhood education. It looks like the sort of document you might see scattered at the DMV or local health clinic, but its contents are profound.

Here is how the infant-toddler centers and preschools of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia define learning:

Learning as a process of individual and group construction

Each child, like each human being, is an active constructor of knowledge, competencies, and autonomies, by means of original learning processes that take shape with methods and times that are unique and subjective in the relationship with peers, adults and the environment.

The learning process is fostered by strategies of research, comparison of ideas, and co-participation; it makes use of creativity, uncertainty, intuition, curiosity; it is generated in play and in the aesthetic, emotional relational, and spiritual dimensions, which it interweaves and nurtures; it is based on the centrality of motivation and the pleasure of learning.”

Infant-toddler Centers and Preschools Isituzione of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia. (2011). Indications – Preschools and Infant-Toddler Centres of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia. page 11.

Interested in learning more about the Reggio Emilia Approach to education?

Last evening, Charlie Rose interviewed Jack Dorsey, Chairman and one of the three co-founders of Twitter. Dorsey also spoke about his revolutionary new company, Square. I highly recommend you take the time to watch the interview linked below.

Many of you know that I have been teaching children to program since I was a teenager myself. Learning to program at around the age of 12 made me feel intellectually powerful and creative in profound ways. It wasn’t until I learned to compose and arrange music a few years later where I ever experienced similar life inside my brain. Being able to solve problems in more than one way and make something out of nothing but ideas was personally transformative.

My work in educational “technology” (really computing) has been driven by a desire to empower others and light a spark in the minds of children so they too could feel the exhileration that accompanies programming. I recently spent time teaching first graders to program on their personal laptops. I fight on against the anti-intellectualism of the culture, the shocking devaluation of computing by the edtech community and schools whose misguided priorities jam a kid’s day with less fruitful pursuits.

I’ve observed how programming has been relegated to quaint antiquity like butter churning and the edtech community shifted its focus away from empowering smart kids and towards smart furniture. Computer and the its active forms compute and computing have been stricken from the educational conversation; replaced by information and technology. The active has been traded for the passive.

Seymour Papert  said that there must have been a secret meeting (I’m guessing around 1988-1990) at which it was decided that we should deny children any working knowledge of the computers and related technologies so central to their lives. The Computing Teacher became Learning and Leading with Technology. Classroom Computer Learning became Technology and Learning, now Tech & Learning. (See how even the words become more diminutive?) ISTE dropped the C in its earlier title and the National Educational Computing Conference is gone too. Worst of all, we have gone from arguing over the best programming language to teach children to a generation of youngsters who have no agency whatsoever over the computer.

Everyone wants their child to make Bill Gates’ money, but they don’t want them to learn to cut code.

Programming has at best a mad-scientist patina painted on it by the popular culture, or at worst the misanthropic portrayal in The Social Network.

Despite it’s curricular invisibility, it’s impossible to argue that computer science has not had an enormous impact on every other field of endeavor or aspect of our lives.

The edtech community’s love affair with social networking has not made it easier for those of us advocating computer science experiences and S.T.E.M. for young people. I do not ascribe a sinister motive to any person or community. It’s just a reality that 1) the education community seems to have great difficulty thinking about two things at once 2) people enjoy talking to their friends and colleagues online 3) schooling is at least 90% focused on language arts 3) too many believe that education is about the transmission of and access to information 3) blogging and tweeting are simply easier than learning to program. New pedagogical strategies and teacher expertise are also required.

Not only that, but becoming a good programmer is like becoming an artist, musician, dancer or scientist with all of the effort, deliberate practice and investment of time we associate with those pursuits.

Back to the Jack Dorsey interview…

Did you notice that I said that being a good programmer is like being an artist or scientist? Whoa! Wait a minute! Hold on there! What would Dan Pink say?

In the worst book of the 21st Century, Dan Pink asks readers to suspend their disbelief and accept a premise that science and technology are not only the enemies of creativity, but American superiority. In his dumbbell theory of left brain vs. right brain we are urged to take a stand against the dominance of analytical thinking in favor of creativity – as if they are mortal enemies. Anyone who has ever engaged in serious acts of creativity or scientific inquiry, knows that the cognitive processes are indistinguishable. Merely declaring “Thinking is good” would make for a very short book.

The notion that the focus of schools has been lopsided towards science and mathematics is pure bullshit, but that doesn’t stop from Pink urging his readers to right the ship of education before Liechtenstein takes all of our jobs.

It is the creativity of engineers and scientists that makes the mass-customization of products and innovations, such as Twitter, possible.

Jack Dorsey’s interview is just specimen #397,214,862 disproving the claims of Pink and other phrenologists. Dorsey is the complete package – a good looking, well-spoken, thoughtful, rich (we LOVE those qualities) programmer (sound of breaks squealing) who has changed the world.

In the Charlie Rose interview, Mr. Dorsey speaks poetically about his love for programming and how it not only allows him to create new products like dispatch systems, Twitter and Square, but also helps him make sense of the world.  His interest in the life of cities as complex systems led him to programming and programming led him to create Twitter.

Two critically important ideas emerged during the Rose/Dorsey interview.

The first powerful idea is that computing (programming) requires and develops computational thinking. Computational thinking – the ability to approach complex problems from a variety of perspectives and express solutions formally through code and to engage in debugging processes when things don’t work as intended – should be a major part of every young person’s education.

The second powerful idea Dorsey addressed was elegance. Great artists are known for their embrace of elegance and stripping away of the superfluous. Elegance is mission critical for programmers and computer scientists. Once a programmer solves a particular problem, the artistic side requires them to make it more elegant and the engineer side requires greater efficiency. The “hacker ethic” challenges programmers to make their programs shorter or reduce the number of instructions. The limitations of memory and processor capacity also require such elegance when performing a task a nano-second faster can pay enormous dividends or mean the difference between success or failure.

CHARLIE ROSE:  And your strength is writing programming?  

JACK DORSEY:  My strength is programming.  I also think my biggest
strengthis simplification.  That’s what I love doing.  I love making
somethingcomplex.  I love taking everything away, taking all the debris,
the conceptual debris from a technology away so that you can just focus
on what’s most important.  

So I see myself as a really good editor.  That’s what I like to be.
When I edit a technology, I want to edit a team, I want to edit a story
so that we have one cohesive product that we tell the world...

...So edit that to one, to get rid of all those inputs and edit to one
cohesive story, one single thing we’re saying to the world and that’s
what we do with product.

Wow! Storytelling AND programming AND design AND business savvy. Quick! Someone resuscitate Mr. Pink!

Twitter succeeds because of such elegance being brought to the user experience as well as behind the curtain. There may be no better way for children to develop an eye for such elegance than by learning to program computers.

Towards the end of the interview, Charlie Rose asks Jack Dorsey to make a Pinkian choice in declaring his identity. Dorsey will have none of it.

CHARLIE ROSE:  Are you by -- at the core, primarily a software
programmer or are you primarily an entrepreneur who’s simply wanting
to ask the right questions which will lead you to the next business?  

JACK DORSEY:  I think I’m a mix.  I love building technology, I love
programming.  I love building teams.  And I also love building
beautiful things.  I love art, I love design, and I love seeing that
intersection of technology and the teams that work on it.

What are you and your school doing to create more learners like Jack Dorsey?

There is a lot of other good stuff in the interview, including Dorsey’s refusal to talk about “devices” interchangeably or predict that “smart” phones will replace laptops, but you can watch for yourself.

Click to watch the entire interview


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