This time of year, schools scramble to select a book for their entire faculty to read over the summer. Although it would be nice if everyone read the same book as a basis for common dialogue and for teachers to read more than one book about learning each year, I just assembled a list for the (DK-8) school where I serve as the Special Assistant to the Head of School for Innovation. Based on our overarching goals of action, reflective practice, progressive education, learning-by-making, energetic classroom centers, creativity, and collegiality, I recommended the following books for this summer. If a school community was to read one book (besides Invent To Learn – Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom) , I would recommend David Perkins’ book, Making Learning Whole.

If you wish to give your faculty (K-12 in any configuration), a list of selections to choose from, I recommend the following in no particular order.
  1. Perkins, David. (2010) Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform EducationA clear and concise book on how to teach in a learner-centered fashion. 
  2. Gandini, Lella et al… (2015) In the Spirit of the Studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia, Second EditionA beautiful and practical book aimed at early childhood education, but equally applicable at any grade level. 
  3. Littky, Dennis. (2004) The Big Picture: Education is Everyone’s BusinessAimed at secondary education, but with powerful ideas applicable at any level. This may be the best book written about high school reform in decades. 
  4. Tunstall, Tricia. (2013) Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema, and the Transformative Power of MusicOne of the finest books about teaching and learning I’ve read in the past decade. This lessons in this book are applicable across all subject areas. 
  5. Papert, Seymour. (1993) The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the ComputerA seminal book that situates the maker movement and coding in a long progressive tradition. This is arguably the most important education book of the past quarter century. 
  6. Little, Tom and Katherine Ellison. (2015) Loving Learning: How Progressive Education Can Save America’s Schools  A spectacular case made for progressive education in the face of the nonsense masquerading as school “reform” these days. 

You could also indulge yourself in the richest professional learning event of your life by participating in Constructing Modern Knowledge 2016. Limited space is still available.

The Best Invention and Tinkering Books, plus other cool stuff – including toys and kits

Dr. Lilian Katz, a pioneer in the “project approach” to teaching and learning, will be a guest speaker at Constructing Modern Knowledge 2012, July 9-12, 2012 in Manchester, NH!

Dr. Katz’s expertise in early childhood education learning through project work will make a significant contribution to CMK 2012. Register today and learn with a world-class faculty and amazing guest speakers, award-winning filmmaker Casey Neistat; MIT Media Lab professor and Lilypad Arudino inventor, Dr. Leah Beuchley; Mark Frauenfelder, Editor-in-Chief of Make Magazine, Founder of and author of Made By Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World and Super Awesome Sylvia.

About Lilian Katz, Ph.D.
Lilian G. Katz is Professor Emerita of Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) where she is currently on the staff of the Clearinghouse on Early Education and Parenting (CEEP). Dr. Katz is a Past President of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the first President of the Illinois Association for the Education of Young Children. Dr. Katz is currently Editor of the first on-line peer reviewed trilingual early childhood journal, Early Childhood Research & Practice (English, Spanish & Chinese).

Professor Katz is author of more than one hundred publications including articles, chapters, books, pamphlets, etc., about early childhood education, teacher education, child development, and parenting of young children.  For thirteen years she wrote a monthly column for parents of three- and four-year-olds for Parents Magazine.

Dr. Katz was founding editor of the Early Childhood Research Quarterly, and served as its Editor-in-Chief during its first six years.  Her most recent book (co-authored with J. H. Helm) is Young Investigators: The Project Approach in the Early Years.  Her book titled Talks with Teachers of Young Children (1995) is a collection of her best known early essays and several more recent ones. In 2000 she published the second edition of Engaging Children’s Minds: The Project Approach, co-authored with S. C. Chard. It has been translated into several languages, as have many of her other works.

Dr. Katz has lectured in all 50 US states and in 55 other countries. She has held visiting posts at universities in Australia, Canada, England, Germany, India, Israel, the West Indies (Barbados campus) and many parts of the USA.  Dr. Katz is the recipient of many honors, including two Fulbright Awards (India & New Zealand), an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree (DLitt.) from Whittier College, Whittier, California and an honorary Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Goteborg in Sweden. In 1997 she served as Nehru Professor at the University of Baroda in India.

Professor Katz, was born and raised in England and became a US citizen in 1953. She received her B.A. degree cum laude from San Francisco State University (1964) and her Ph.D. in Psychological Studies & Education from Stanford University in 1968. She and her late husband Boris Katz have three grown children, five grandsons and one granddaughter.


If you were ever curious about what I believe or do as an educator, my summer institute, Constructing Modern Knowledge, represents me quite well. The energy, creativity, projects developed and guest speakers at last month’s institute makes CMK 2011 one of the proudest accomplishments of my career. Even when we lost electricity for a couple of hours, project-based learning continued unimpeded!

Educators from across the USA, Costa Rica and Australia came together for four days of project-based learning, collaboration and conversation with some of the greatest thinkers of our age. Registration will open in early September for the 5th Annual Constructing Modern Knowledge institute, July 9-12, 2012 in Manchester, NH. Add your email address to the mailing list for discount registration information as soon as it becomes available.

I’ve done a bit of work documenting a few of the learning stories captured at CMK 2011. I hope you and your colleagues enjoy them!

  • Lessons learned from a creative, collaborative, computationally-rich, non-coercive, constructionist learning environment.
  • Impossible – Documentation of a project blurring the boundaries between science, technology, engineering, mathematics and an insane project idea successfully realized.
  • Serendipitous Learning – Documentation of a project blending S.T.E.M., invention, tinkering, history and linguistics inspired by an unlikely “object to think with.”
  • Constructing Modern Mathematics or is it History? English? – Documentation of a project in which mathematics, computer science, history and art come together in a computationally rich environment.
  • Tinkering Resources – Lots of links, resources and inspiration.
  • CMK 2011 Construction Materials – Interested in downloading a list of the open-ended creativity software and construction materials being used at Constructing Modern Knowledge 2011?
  • A Constructionism Primer
  • Three articles about effective project-based learning
  • What attendees said about Constructing Modern Knowledge 2010 (including Chris Lehmann)

CMK 2011 Participants Made a Video Documenting the Institute on Vimeo.

Created with flickr slideshow.

Lessons for K-12 from the Best Preschools in the World

When: Session One: Saturday 10:00am–11:30am
Where: Room 208
Who: Gary S. Stager Ph.D.
Affiliation: The Constructivist Consortium
The Reggio Emilia Approach represents some of the deepest richest thinking on the establishment of learning environments, the role of the teacher as a researcher charged with uncovering the thinking of learners and authentic problem solving over the past fifty years. The presenter has studied the approach here and in Italy, will discuss how elements that make the Reggio Emilia Approach so special, share gorgeous books and videos from Italy and discuss how this approach needs to be culturally sensitive, but may inform the teaching of any discipline at any age.

The session will also share examples from American popular culture, including the DIY movement and how accomplished experts “teach” in a similar fashion as an invitation for discussion about our own teaching and learning.

Conversational Practice:

The presenter will share the subtle, beautiful, powerful ideas behind the Reggio Emilia Approach; discuss how it is not a formula; share videos, artifacts and books from and about Reggio Emilia; and present examples of Reggio-like teaching and learning from our popular culture. Participants will explore the materials and discuss how powerful ideas of deliberate materials, teacher are researcher, beauty, children with special rights, the 100 languages of children, classrooms as 1,000 laboratories and meaningful project-based learning could be applied to make their teaching context more productive for learning.

Register for Educon 2.3 – January 28-30, 2011 – Philadelphia, PA

istock_000011751237xsmallDear Friends,

I could really use your help!

You know how passionate I am about making schools better places for children. That’s why I have submitted a proposal to speak at the 2011 South-by-Southwest Conference. This conference could afford me with a great platform for educating the creative community about the current political threats to public education, and more importantly offer a constructive, creative and uplifting message illustrating alternative approaches that build upon each child’s remarkable capacity for intensity.

That is why I submitted the proposal, The Best Educational Ideas in the World. (Find the session description below and on the voting site.)

In order for me to be invited to speak at South-by-Southwest, (SXSW), I need for you and your colleagues, friends, relatives and students to spend a few minutes voting for my session. I apologize for how clumsy the web site is. That’s why I’ve included the following step-by-step instructions below:

  1. Go to:
  2. Follow the instructions for creating an account
  3. An email will be sent to you containing a link to click that will return you to the voting site
  4. Click the link in the email
  5. Login using the email address and password you just created
  6. Click on the Explore the Interactive Proposals » link (
  7. Type Stager into the Organizer field
  8. Click the SEARCH PANELS button
  9. My session, The Best Educational Ideas in the World, should appear
  10. Click the icon of the THUMBS UP to vote for my session.
  11. If you wish, click on the title of the session, scroll to the bottom of the page and leave a message of support. Every bit helps!

I am really grateful to each and every one of you who takes the time to follow the steps outlined above and votes for my session. Reaching multiple and varied audiences is the most effective way I can influence public opinion and help kids.

Unfortunately, this IS a popularity contest. That’s why I need your assistance.

All the very best,


The Best Educational Ideas in the World

Contemporary discussions of school reform focus on the creation of obedience schools for poor children or utopian governance schemes, such as charter schools. Neither approach does much to amplify the natural curiosity, expertise, creativity, passion, competence or capacity for intensity found in each child. A leading educator serves as your tour guide for a global exploration of powerful ideas and exemplary practices. Stops on the tour include personal fabrication; Reggio Emilia; El Sistema; Generation YES; One Laptop Per Child; a juvenile prison; 826 Valencia and more.

The artificial boundaries between art and science are blurred as children engage in authentic activities with real materials, create sophisticated artifacts of personal and aesthetic value and become connected to ideas larger than themselves. Collegiality, purpose, apprenticeship, complexity, serendipity and “sharaeability” are a few of the common values. Each approach either requires digital technology or may be dramatically enhanced by it. Lessons learned en-route our tour create productive contexts for learning in which students construct the knowledge required for a rewarding life.

Alternative models of school reform in which we treat other people’s students as our own will emerge. The common principles identified in some of the world’s most creative educational practices serve as lessons for parents, teachers and policy-makers eager to help children realize their full potential.

Questions answered during the presentation:
1.    How can we create learning environments that build upon children’s capacity for intensity?
2.    Are there humane creative models of school reform based on principles of social justice where students do extraordinary things?
3.    How are disparate ideas like El Sistema, Reggio Emilia, personal fabrication, alternative prison education and One Laptop Per Child similar and offer new models for education reform?
4.    Is learning natural and are children competent? Why do so many adults think that the answer is, “no?”
5.    How can early childhood approaches be applied at the secondary level and the arts inform approaches to science?

ictqatarIn March I had the great honor of being the keynote speaker at the 3rd ICTQatar ICT in Education national conference in Doha, Qatar. That was my 3rd trip to Qatar over the past couple of years.

Following my keynote, a nice young gentleman asked if he could interview me. I was happy to oblige and we found a vacant lounge area on the college campus where the conference was being held. That’s when the hijinx began.

First of all, the interviewer didn’t have a tripod. I convinced him that going handheld was a bad idea and helped him prop the camera on top of a camera bag. Then midway through the interview, one of his colleagues inexplicably walked into the lounge, headed to the light switches and cut our lights. After we objected, the guy spent a few minutes trying to turn the lights back on. After failing to do so, he shrugged and said, “Go somewhere else.” Eventually, the lights were turned on and a tripod emerged.

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Despite these technical difficulties, I believe that the interview came out quite nicely and I was able to explore some issues in-depth. You might think of it as my “UnTED Talk.”

If you have 42 spare minutes, you might wish to watch this video. Pleae not be put-off my the incredibly unattractive poster image displayed in the static video player below.

Many thanks to ICTQatar for the terrific job of putting the video on YouTube.

The best kept secret this side of Italy
Reggio Emilia has been an Italian success story since it reinvented early childhood education more than 50 years ago.
Learn how it can improve preschool education in the United States

Originally published in District Administration Magazine, August, 2002 by Gary Stager, Ph.D.

Note: Lella Gandini, one of the world’s leading experts on the Reggio Emilia educational approach has been added to the faculty of Constructing Modern Knowledge, July 13-16, 2009.

Imagine walking into a classroom and seeing a three-year-old wearing safety goggles and sawing wood or smashing tiles with a sledgehammer. Once you get over the surprise and realize that this isn’t a mistake, you might start to see the benefits of such an experiment. Welcome to the world of Reggio Emilia.

Reggio Emilia is the name of an Italian city and the informal name for a revolutionary approach to early childhood education. Reggio education, created by Loris Malaguzzi after World War II, is heavily rooted in the ideas of John Dewey and authentic learning. The Reggio Emilia approach is notable in its longevity, and its lack of recognition in American schools.

The early childhood centers of Reggio Emilia focus on the learner, are material-rich and reliant on reflective practice–both on the part of children and their teachers. Children are encouraged to engage in personally meaningful projects, reflect on their learning, and then do it again. Teachers are thought of as researchers trusted with making decisions that benefit kids. Each classroom has two coequal teachers who model all of the cooperative behaviors that they want the children to emulate. Two specialists, the pedagogista and atelierista, support teachers.

The Reggio environment is filled with materials, which the children may explore and use to construct knowledge and explore their world. Reggio schools aim for transparency so kids can learn about the world by being immersed in an open safe subsection of it. Students are respected as capable human beings, not empty vessels to be filled.

Editor-At-Large Gary Stager spoke with three early childhood experts about Reggio education and how it could impact early education here. Lilian G. Katz is professor emerita of early childhood education at the University of Illinois [Urbana-Champaign], where she is also co-director of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary & Early Childhood Education. Douglas Clements is professor of education at the State University of New York, Buffalo. He is an author of numerous books and articles and an expert on how young children construct mathematical knowledge. Carolyn Pope Edwards is professor of family studies at the University of Kentucky. She is the co-editor of The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach–Advanced Reflections, (Ablex Publishing Corp., 1998) arguably the best book about Reggio education available in English.

How would you describe the current awareness level of Reggio education in America?

Douglas Clements: Unfortunately, it is quite low. American schools and teachers are, tragically, not given the time or culture to learn and reflect on different educational approaches, as they should.

While I realize that Reggio Emilia schools are not part of a franchise, are there Reggio schools here in the United States?

Carolyn Pope Edwards: There are many schools and programs in the U.S. inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach. In some cases, the influence is strong and observable, when educators have worked together to study the Reggio Emilia approach and considered how to use ideas in their program.

In other cases, the influence is more partial, when one or more educators mainly focus on one or a few aspects of the Reggio Emilia approach, and how they might be valuable to try to apply in their context. As this approach becomes more widely known here, and as early childhood education professors teach about it in their classes, then its influence has the potential to be long lasting and profound.

I share your fascination with Reggio schools and their educational philosophy. What should American educators know about Reggio Emilia?

DC: “Should” is a strong word, here. Accepting it, however, there is just so much to say. There is a unique intertwining of the culture of caring of the city and the schools that may be difficult to grasp, and more difficult to duplicate. However, there are also many principles that are consistent with other excellent perspectives and research programs on early childhood education.

For example, the child is viewed as capable, competent and self-directed. Children build their knowledge from their own action, and interaction, with others. Indeed, the quality of the emotional, social and intellectual relationships children have with each other and with adults lies at the heart of their development in all spheres.

Children learn by representing and re-presenting their ideas to others and to themselves. Reggio Emilia pioneer Loris Malaguzzi calls this the hundred languages of children. [Children] do this in spoken and written/graphic forms, as well as by dramatization, song and other forms of movement.

What is an atelier?

CE: The atelier is a special part of the preschool that is a studio, workshop and laboratory for all the school to share.

The atelier contains a great variety of tools and resource materials of all kinds [materials newly purchased, recycled from local businesses, found or collected by children, made or contributed by parents]. It also displays the children’s work and project documentaries–all arranged to call attention to their aesthetic dimension and heighten their communicative impact. In Reggio Emilia, artistic activity is not viewed as a separate sideline of the curriculum but as intrinsic to the whole cognitive symbolic expression of the children’s thinking and learning.

The atelierista [`studio teacher’] is the specialist in charge of this area of the school.

What is the role of documentation in Reggio schools? Who does the documenting?

CE: Documentation is a systematic way of making the educational process visible-a subjective interpretation that allows for remembering, comparing, analyzing, discussing, reviewing and decision-making. Formal documentation is usually arranged and prepared by adults, drawing from the works of children and the educational process [photographs, texts of discussions, samples of children’s products]. However, children can also contribute to the record-keeping process and to helping keep permanent traces of the educational process.

How is this documentation different from portfolio assessment?

DC: Children’s documentation of their own thinking and feeling is a part of what adults document, and adults share much of their documentation with children.

CE: Portfolio assessment is a kind of documentation, but not the only kind. Portfolio assessment focuses on the progress of an individual child. Other kinds of documentation [such as displays about ongoing projects or books composed and elaborated by two or more children] are not focused on an individual and that individual’s progress over time.

Lilian G. Katz: The kind of documentation they provide in Reggio is such that it makes it possible for people who were not there to know and understand the experiences that children had been having. It also alerts the teachers to childrens’ progress and setbacks and informs their decisions about what to do next.

If a kid engages in a personally meaningful long-term project, how do you know that you’ve covered the curriculum?

LK: [You know] through observation, collecting and examining the work regularly. I also recommend engaging children in the evaluation of their own work. Not about whether it is `good’ or `bad’ or `right’ or `wrong.’

But encourage children, even the young ones, to develop criteria for evaluating their efforts in terms of whether it is, for example, as accurate as they want it to be, as detailed as they think it should be, as interesting to classmates as they would like it to be, or as clear as it should be. Even young children respond well to this kind of encouragement to look at their own growing mastery on important criteria.

In the Reggio Schools and other environments advocating a project approach to learning, won’t some kids just goof off?

DC: Occasionally, and sometimes that’s OK and a phase in development. More often, it’s a sign that the project was not child-centered or well designed.

CE: Most visitors to the preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, and to Reggio-inspired schools in the U.S. come away astounded and awestruck by the high levels of symbolic and representational skill that children across the full range of abilities and disabilities come to display when the children become competent and confident in the “hundred languages of children.”

They also find commendable the relaxed and comfortable school atmosphere. Children are provided the long stretches of time they need to work things through carefully and well. They spend long periods of the day concentrating deeply and focusing together on joint endeavors. They also play, eat, rest and enjoy life. The Reggio Schools in Italy are for children from birth to six years old. Are we really concerned that little children would try to shirk and goof off? Happy children are always energetic, involved and busy.

What role do everyday materials play in Reggio schools?

CE: Everyday materials are very important. The classrooms and the atelier always contain ample amounts of resources, carefully arranged and displayed, including found and collected materials.

The physical environment of the school should contain many familiar objects and pieces of furniture to make adults and children feel at ease and at home, and to invite parents to tarry and to want to become closely involved.

Can you tell us a bit about the relationship between adults and children in Reggio schools?

LK: On the whole–and I have visited Reggio Emilia 11 times now–I see the adults are dearly respectful of children. By that I mean that they talk to children conveying the expectation that children are sensible. They don’t use silly little voices or surround them with smiling animals and decorated letters of the alphabet and other ways of “Disneyfication” the environment. They treat children as sensible and naturally responsive to real beauty of form and texture. There is no excessive use of primary colors. The children’s work is carefully and beautifully displayed–because it is important.

Gary Stager,, is editor-at-large and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University.

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