Recently, 5th and 6th grade girls in the school where I work came up to me in the hallway and volunteered, “I want to be an engineer.” While this is heartwarming, especially given the political rhetoric behind the importance of S.T.E.M. and the challenges of gender underrepresentation in the sciences, I would like to draw a totally different lesson for educators.

Anyone who knows anything about my teaching knows that I would never spend any time on “career education” with kids I teach. I create the context, conditions and projects   during which children are engaged in engineering. When building and programming robots, the kids are engineers – not contemplating a career for a dozen years later. The kids are smart enough to connect the dots and identify interest in a career related to their talent, interests or present mood, even if that interest is short-lived.

Time is the rarest of currencies in school. Therefore, time should be focused on authentic experiences, not meta experiences.

Affective qualities like collaboration, passion, curiosity, perseverance and teamwork are certainly desirable for teachers and students. However, these traits may be developed while engaged in real pursuits, even within the existing curriculum. All that is required is a meaningful project. This is why I question the use of “meta” activities like ropes courses, ice-breakers or trust-building exercises as a form of professional development or separate curriculum. Professional development resources are also scarce. Therefore, PD should be focused on learning to do or know. The affective skills should be byproducts of meaningful experiences intended to improve teaching.

Adults become better teachers when they enjoy firsthand learning adventures like they desire for their students. You can’t teach 21st Century Learners  if you haven’t learned this century. That is why I created Constructing Modern Knowledge.

Some educators have recognized that schools are too impersonal and that teachers should get to know their students. I could not agree more. However, the prescription is often to create advisory courses or extend homeroom to deal with pastoral care issues. The result is one teacher who gets to “know” students and time is borrowed from other courses where teachers should get to know their students formally and informally in the process of constructing knowledge together.

Sit next to a student engaged in a science experiment and talk with them. Lead vigorous discussions or chat with a kid about the book they’re reading. You don’t need a class period set aside for asking “How was your weekend?” or for building trust. Join a group of students for lunch. Say, “hi,” while passing in the hallway. Dennis Littky tells the story of making Time Magazine because as a school principal he greeted students when they entered school in the morning. Have we lowered our expectations so much that knowing students is some sort of awesome systemic accomplishment? Humane, thoughtful, even casual interaction between teachers and students does not require an NSF grant or special class.

When educators create a productive context for learning, achievement improves, students feel more connected and behavioral problems evaporate. For three years, Seymour Papert, colleagues and I created a learner-centered, project-based alternative learning environment for at-risk learners inside of a troubled prison for teens. When the needs, interests, passions, talents and curiosity of our students were put ahead of a random list of stuff, they were not only capable of demonstrating remarkable competence, but there was not a single discipline incident in ever that required a kid to leave the classroom.

Students can develop self-esteem by engaging in satisfying work. Classroom management is not required when teachers don’t view themselves as managers. Kids can learn “digital citizenship” while learning to program, sharing code and interacting online. They can feel safe at school by forming relationships with each of their teachers. Study skills are best gained within a context of meaningful inquiry.

Learning is the best way to learn. Accept no substitutes!

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!

The first step in improving Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S.T.E.M.) in our classrooms is to find evidence of its existence.

S.T.E.M. currently suffers from the Sasquatch Syndrome. People have heard of S.T.E.M. just like they have heard of Bigfoot, but they’ve never actually seen either.

Two years ago, I taught Masters level Elementary Math and Science methods courses. One night, I asked the class of preservice teachers currently student teaching what I thought was an innocent question. I asked, “Tell me about how science is approached in your school?” The students looked around nervously for a moment and then shared observations like the following:

  • We are supposed to do science after testing season.
  • The science teacher is on maternity leave.
  • Nobody knows where the key to the science materials is.
  • Our school is focusing on numeracy and literacy.
  • Science is supposed to happen on Mondays, but we have had a lot of holidays.

You get the idea…

Not a single student teacher working in several dozen Southern California elementary schools could cite a single incident of science being taught. Forget about engineering or computer science.

After all, it’s not like little kids are curious or enjoy exploring the world around them. You couldn’t possibly teach reading or language arts in a scientific context, right?

 

In addition to the keynote addresses, presentation topics and workshops offered here, I have created new hands-on minds-on workshops for the coming school year.


Invent to Learn

Join colleagues for a day of hard fun and problem solving where computing meets tinkering and performance. A secret yet timeless curricular theme will be unveiled Iron Chef-style. Participants will work with a variety of software, hardware and found materials in four domains (virtual, tactile, audio and video) to express the theme in a personal fashion. The day’s intensity will lead to impressive gains in skill development and a greater understanding of effective project-based learning. Computer programming, filmmaking, animation, audio production, robotics and engineering are all on the menu. Bring a laptop and camera or video camera We’ll supply the rest. Invention is the mother of learning!

For information about booking Gary Stager for a conference keynote, school workshop or consulting services, email here. Gary’s bio may be found here.


Electrifying Children’s Mathematics
There may be no greater gap between a discipline and the teaching done in its name than when the beauty, power and mystery of mathematics becomes math instruction. One can only begin to address the systemic challenges of math education by understanding the nature of mathematics. Nearly 100 years of efforts to increase achievement with unchanged curricular content continues to fail spectacularly; yet, we do not change course. This workshops moves beyond the goal of making math instruction engaging to providing educators with authentic mathematical thinking experiences. Such experiences acknowledge the role computers play in mathematics and society’s increasing demand for computational thinking. Project-based approaches with mathematics at the center of the activity will be explored. Traditional concepts such as numeracy, geometry, probability and graphing will be investigated in addition to exciting new branches of mathematics rarely found in the primary grades.

This workshop is designed for teachers of grades 3-8. It may also be offered as an ongoing course with a greater emphasis on curriculum development and action research.

For information about booking Gary Stager for a conference keynote, school workshop or consulting services, email here. Gary’s bio may be found here.

 

How to Teach with Computers
This hands-on minds-on workshop helps expand your vision of how computers may be used in knowledge construction while exploring pedagogical strategies for creating rich computing experiences that amplify the potential of each learner. Mini activities model sound project-based learning principles and connect various disciplines across multiple grade levels.

Longer description
Modern schools face several challenges; among them are the questions at the heart of this workshop. Once teachers are finally convinced to use computers as instruments for learning, do they have creative project ideas and do they possess the pedagogical skills necessary for success?

This minds-on hands-on workshop will feature mini-projects designed to nurture sophisticated inquiry, computational thinking and artistic expression across disciplines and grade levels. The presenter will also discuss pedagogical strategies for using computers in an effective fashion as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression. These strategies illuminate principles of sound project-based learning and honor the individual learning styles, talents, curiosity and intensity of each student.

Dr. Gary Stager has thirty years of experience helping educators maximize the potential of computers and create productive contexts for learning on six continents. He led professional development in the world’s first laptop schools, created one of the first online Masters degree programs and was recently recognized by Tech & Learning Magazine as one of today’s 30 most influential educators.

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.

In addition to the keynote addresses, presentation topics and workshops offered here (including the three popular keynotes listed below), I have created new hands-on minds-on workshops and presentations.

Gary Stager’s most popular keynote addresses:

  • Ten Things to Do with a Laptop: Learning & Powerful Ideas
  • The Best Educational Ideas in the World: Adventures on the Frontiers of Learning
  • Twenty Lessons from Twenty Years of 1:1

New workshops and presentation topics:

Invent to Learn
Join colleagues for a day of hard fun and problem solving where computing meets tinkering and performance. A secret yet timeless curricular theme will be unveiled Iron Chef-style. Participants will work with a variety of software, hardware and found materials in four domains (virtual, tactile, audio and video) to express the theme in a personal fashion. The day’s intensity will lead to impressive gains in skill development and a greater understanding of effective project-based learning. Computer programming, filmmaking, animation, audio production, robotics and engineering are all on the menu. Bring a laptop and camera or video camera We’ll supply the rest. Invention is the mother of learning!

For information about booking Gary Stager for a conference keynote, school workshop or consulting services, email here. Gary’s bio may be found here.

Electrifying Children’s Mathematics
There may be no greater gap between a discipline and the teaching done in its name than when the beauty, power and mystery of mathematics becomes math instruction. One can only begin to address the systemic challenges of math education by understanding the nature of mathematics. Nearly 100 years of efforts to increase achievement with unchanged curricular content continues to fail spectacularly; yet, we do not change course. This workshops moves beyond the goal of making math instruction engaging to providing educators with authentic mathematical thinking experiences. Such experiences acknowledge the role computers play in mathematics and society’s increasing demand for computational thinking. Project-based approaches with mathematics at the center of the activity will be explored. Traditional concepts such as numeracy, geometry, probability and graphing will be investigated in addition to exciting new branches of mathematics rarely found in the primary grades.

This workshop is designed for teachers of grades 3-8. It may also be offered as an ongoing course with a greater emphasis on curriculum development and action research.

For information about booking Gary Stager for a conference keynote, school workshop or consulting services, email here. Gary’s bio may be found here.

How to Teach with Computers
The increasing ubiquity of computational and communications technology in classrooms creates challenges and opportunities suggesting a need for a refresher course in learner-centered education. Project-based learning, classroom centers, interdisciplinary curricula and collaboration supercharge the power of computers as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression. Classroom computing affords schools an additional opportunity to recalibrate values and improve teaching practices on behalf of learners.

This hands-on minds-on workshop helps expand your vision of how computers may be used in knowledge construction while exploring pedagogical strategies for creating rich computing experiences that amplify the potential of each learner. Mini activities model sound project-based learning principles and connect various disciplines across multiple grade levels.

Longer description
Modern schools face several challenges; among them are the questions at the heart of this workshop. Once teachers are finally convinced to use computers as instruments for learning, do they have creative project ideas and do they possess the pedagogical skills necessary for success?

This minds-on hands-on workshop will feature mini-projects designed to nurture sophisticated inquiry, computational thinking and artistic expression across disciplines and grade levels. The presenter will also discuss pedagogical strategies for using computers in an effective fashion as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression. These strategies illuminate principles of sound project-based learning and honor the individual learning styles, talents, curiosity and intensity of each student.

Dr. Gary Stager has thirty years of experience helping educators maximize the potential of computers and create productive contexts for learning on six continents. He led professional development in the world’s first laptop schools, created one of the first online Masters degree programs and was recently recognized by Tech & Learning Magazine as one of today’s 30 most influential educators.

The Future of Learning
When we say, “We’re preparing kids for the future”, it might be handy to review what we already know about creating productive contexts for learning and give serious consideration to the habits of mind demonstrated by today’s creative class. This workshop engages participants in minds-on activities requiring reflective practice and visioning exercises that use provocative video clips to explore the learning lessons of experts. Hands-on computing activities are added for workshops longer than 90 minutes in duration.

Personal Laptops in the Primary Grades
There is quite a bit of controversy surrounding young children’s computer use and not just by the folks who think modernity is turning children into brainwashed zombies. The edtech community has a lot to answer for in its “hand-me-down” approach to computers in the lower primary grades and the embrace of software that may be at odds with the pedagogical practice or educational philosophy of a school. This keynote address or hands-on workshop will explore ways in which computers, especially personal laptop computers, may be used to enhance the most childlike aspects of learning, amplify human potential and celebrate creativity. We will situate computer use in the theories of Dewey, Piaget, Papert, Montessori & Malaguzzi while arguing that young children need more computational power than older students. Playful examples of computational thinking among primary school students will be shared.

One-Hour Teacher Education
Award-winning educator, Dr. Gary Stager, will explore everything a modern educator needs to know about learning and school reform in less than an hour! School improvement is dependent on a recognition that we each “stand on the shoulders of giants” and can learn from the lessons of others. Successful 21st Century educators not only possess practical knowledge about the change process and technology integration, but a working understanding of the learning theories that propel those interventions in a way that benefits children and teachers. The rollicking presentation is intended to inspire, inform and entertain! The theory presented will be connected to contemporary best-practices and the personal experiences of the presenters. Follow- up resources, including Web links, videos, articles and suggested reading will be provided.

What Every EdTech Professional Should Know About Learning
Educators, including tech coordinators and CTOs concerned with advancing educational practice should situate their professional actions on not only best practices, but on theoretical foundations as well. “Standing on the shoulders of giants not only informs decisions that benefit the educational enterprise, but increases the potential for successful interventions. The presenters have observed a shocking level of “educational literacy” among their colleagues in the edtech sector and have decided to do something about the situation in a high-spirited witty fashion. Every person concerned with education would benefit from a refresher course in the powerful ideas and lessons learned from great thinkers and school reform efforts of the past and present. This one-of-a-kind session is deigned to light a spark under attendees to sustain their high-tech innovations by building upon a solid theoretical foundation. Follow-up resources, including Web links, videos, articles and suggested reading will be provided.

Roger & Me – Roger Wagner and Gary Stager
2 screens, 2 computers, 2 characters

Eavesdrop as two edtech pioneers and old friends regale each other with hilarious and profound tales of computing, magic, chemistry, history and suspended adolescence. Each mischief maker will have their laptop connected to a giant screen so they may spontaneously share interesting props, tell stories and engage in multimedia mischief-making. Be as amazed, inspired and entertained as Roger and Gary are whenever they collide. Hilarity will ensue!

This keynote promises to be like no other!

My tricky little pal and fellow suffering Jets fan, Will Richardson, recently tweeted asking for TED Talk suggestions to share with his family on “TED Talk” Tuesdays. Will and his wife are embarking on an interesting family event featuring dinner, a TED Talk and conversation with their teenage kids. I know how much my family learns watching Jersey Shore together, so I decided to share my parental expertise with the Richardson family via the following TED Talk recommendations.

You might find my small selection surprising:

#1 Margaret Wertheim on the Beautiful Math of Coral

This talk is all about connections and contrasts – beauty and science, math and art, problem solving and creativity. As a result, this brilliant presentation challenges many of the sterotypes about learning, knowledge and the scientific method perpetuated by school. You will be amazed by how the craft of crocheting led to the visualization and understanding of  centuries old theorems at the frontier of mathematics.

#2 Greening the Ghetto

Majora Carter’s TED Talk explores the connections between economic justice, poverty and environmentalism through community activism. Aside from the importance of this message, I selected this TED Talk because marketing and communications genius Guy Kawasaki does a masterful job of analyzing the talk line-by-line in his book, Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition. Kawasaki demonstrates how Ms. Carter breaks many of the rules of public speaking while persuasively delivering a world-changing presentation. (Kawasaki’s book is a must-read for educators and even high school students.)

This talk is also all about connections.

#3 The Sixth Sense

MIT Media Lab Pattie Maes and her graduate student, Pranav Mistry, demonstrate how $300 worth of consumer electronics may be worn and woven into daily life as we face a new world in which ubiquitous information is available to you as if it were a sixth sense. This video is mind-blowing and should inspire kids to learn to program computers and embrace tinkering.

#4 Tony Robbins Asks Why We Do What We Do


You do not need to buy into any of the new age hokum being peddled by Tony Robbins to recognize that he is one of the greatest communicators alive today. His presentation style is remarkable and the impromptu exchange precipitated by Vice President Gore’s heckling makes this one for the ages. There is much to learn stylistically and affectively from this performance.

#5 Dave Eggers & 826 Valencia

Best-selling author Dave Eggers’ desire to give back to his community is only matched by his passion for whimsy and sharing his love of writing with young people. This TED Talk celebrating Eggers winning the TED Prize explores how pirate supply shops and superhero stores may serve as incredibly rich non-school learning environments where children become writers by writing with expert adult writers. Put aside Eggers’ nod towards school and homework and consider the powerful ideas of apprenticeship, access to expertise, community of practice and how we might all create productive contexts for learning.

If you want to go beyond five recommendations, might I suggest the two TED videos exploring El Sistema, the Venezuelan Youth Orcestra program and remind yourself of what the performing arts mean to a culture.

El Sistema: Music to Change Life

No educator's library is complete without this DVD

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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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I just received this photo from a second grade teacher I worked with last month in South Korea. I spent a week teaching programming (via MicroWorlds EX) and robotics (Pico Crickets & LEGO WeDo) to first through third graders while consulting with other grade level teachers and the senior leadership team.

I also received a very sweet thank you note from a 3rd grader via Facebook (I know 3rd grader ≠ Facebook).