As you are probably aware, I have been working in schools with a laptop per child since I led professional development at the world’s first laptop schools back in 1990. Recently, I helped an international school launch 1:1 computing from first through eighth grade.

I believe that less is more, but since software was purchased at once, I recommended the following assortment of constructive creative software for student use across the curriculum.

mwex

MicroWorlds EX Robotics

Curriculum areas: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (S.T.E.M.), Language Arts, Social Studies, Computer Science, Art

MicroWorlds EX is a multimedia version of the Logo programming language. It is designed to have “no threshold and no ceiling” and to be used to create personally meaningful projects and solve problems. MicroWorlds may be used across the curriculum to bring stories to life through art, text, sound and animation; concretize formal mathematical thinking; and creative interactive programs, including video games. MicroWorlds does not publish as nicely on the Web as Scratch, but it holds much more power and functionality as a programming language.

MicroWorlds is a general purpose programming environment that grows with the learner and offers a level of challenge regardless of expertise. Computational thinking and problem solving skills are developed while expressing even artistic ideas with mathematical language.

MicroWorlds EX is based on the work of Seymour Papert, the “father of educational computing,” and colleague of Jean Piaget. In the mid-1960s, Papert began writing about every child having a personal computer. MicroWorlds EX is a software embodiment of his theory of “constructionism.”

MicroWorlds EX contains built-in Help, Vocabulary Reference, Tutorials, Annotated Samples & Techniques.

Recommended Reading

pixie

Pixie

Curriculum areas: Language Arts, Social Studies, Art

Pixie is a graphics and image manipulation program designed for young children. It contains lots of templates and tools to inspire storytelling and visual creativity. Photos and other graphic files may be imported into Pixie for all sorts of manipulation.

The products of Pixie may be exported in a variety of formats for insertion into other programs, including MicroWorlds, ImageBlender, Animation-ish, Pages, Keynote and Comic Life. It is also integrated with the safe and free image library by and for children, Pics4Learning. Pixie is intended for K-2 students at the school.

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ImageBlender

Curriculum areas: Language Arts, Social Studies, Art

ImageBlender is a more grown-up graphics and image manipulation program than Pixie, but carefully designed for children (and their teachers). You might think of it as PhotoShop for kids. ImageBlender contains lots of templates and tools to inspire storytelling and visual creativity. Photos and other graphic files may be imported into ImageBlender for all sorts of manipulation.

The products of ImageBlender may be exported in a variety of formats for insertion into other programs, including MicroWorlds, ImageBlender, Animation-ish, Pages, Keynote and Comic Life. It is also integrated with the safe and free image library by and for children, Pics4Learning. Pixie should be used by students from grades 3 and up.

ImageBlender 3 Users Guide

Tech4Learning’s Online Teacher Community – Connect (You should join!)

The Creative Educator Magazine (free)

Pics4Learning free photo library for education

atomiclearning

imaginationish

Animation-ish

Curriculum areas: Language Arts, Social Studies, Art, Mathematics, Science

Animation-ish is a three-level tutorial based animation program that is deceptively easy to use and incredibly powerful. It was created by best-selling children’s author and illustrator, Peter Reynolds (The Dot, Ish, The North Star, Judy Moody, Stink…).

Be sure to take advantage of the online tutorials and built-in video inspiration!

Complex ideas from across the curriculum and engaging stories may be created with a remarkbale clarity and level of sophistication. Animation-ish, like Pixie and ImageBlender work great with the Wacom drawing tablets.

Animation-ish exports its animations in Flash, QuickTime and other formats that may be published on the web or imported into most of the authoring programs being used by teachers and students.

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Comic Life

Curriculum areas: Language Arts & Social Studies

Comic Life allows you to design and print stories and newsletters in the form of comic books or graphic novels. Photos and other static graphics may be imported. This is a great vehicle for supporting the writing process.

atomiclearning

inspiredata

InspireData

Curriculum areas: Social Studies, Mathematics

InspireData is a tool for visualizing data. It’s a hybrid spreadsheet, database and survey tool that allows learners to interrogate data and test hypotheses. It may be used to conduct surveys on one computer or online. Students can then download that data or any tab/comma-delimited file found on the Web for use within InspireData.

InspireData allows for multiple visual representations of data – Venn diagrams, histograms, pie charts, scatter plots and more. Most importantly, its flexibility and ease-of-use allows students to make sense of when one representation would be more suitable than another. InspireData contains mathematical tools for performing calculations and the ability to assemble views of the data for a visual presentation.

The program comes with a large collection of interdisciplinary activities which may stand alone or inspire other inquiry.

  • InspireData Teacher’s Guide, lesson plans & sample databases
  • InspireData web site

atomiclearning

picocrickets

PicoBlocks

Curriculum areas: S.T.E.M.

PicoBlocks is a visual form of the Logo programming language, created by the same person responsible for MicroWorlds EX Robotics, but limited to the control of the Pico Cricket robotics system. The block programming screen metaphor is similar to the way in which LEGO and the Cricket elements are assembled. This is intended for grades 3 and up at the school and may be used to bring a variety of curricular topics to life.

Further Reading

PicoCrickets are based on research from the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab. Here are some resources for learning more about the ideas underlying PicoCrickets.

  1. New Pathways into Robotics discusses strategies for educators to broaden participation in robotics activities.
  2. Computer as Paintbrush discusses how new technologies, such as PicoCrickets, can support the development of creative thinking.
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MicroWorlds Jr.

Curriculum areas: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (S.T.E.M.), Language Arts, Social Studies, Computer Science, Art

MicroWorlds Jr. is a version of MicroWorlds EX, with fully-compatible syntax, but designed for younger children with lower literacy levels than required by MicroWorlds EX.

The reading skills of this school’s students makes this less of an issue, but children without the the problem-solving abilities of their more advanced classmates might do well to have the option of working in MicroWorlds Jr. At younger ages the same projects may be adjusted for use of either environment.

  • MicroWorlds web site
  • MicroWorlds Jr. Teacher’s Guide (PDF)
  • See other MicroWorlds resources above
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Scratch

Curriculum areas: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (S.T.E.M.), Language Arts, Social Studies, Computer Science, Art

Designed at the MIT Media Lab, Scratch is literally a cousin of MicroWorlds designed by many of the same people. It’s a graphical version of Logo intended for storytelling and video games developed for publication on the World Wide Web. The software is free and does several things brilliantly. However, it lacks the range of possibilities and power afforded by MicroWorlds EX.

The Scratch web site is a rich place for children to share their projects and collaborate with others. Scratch programs may be created in countless languages, yet worked on locally due to ingenius translation abilities within the software.

Scratch is used to program and control the WeDo robotics materials at the lower primary levels. When the WeDo interface is plugged into the laptop, extra programming blocks appear within Scratch.

  • Scratch web site for users – publish, learn and collaborate
  • ScratchED, the online community of Scratch-using educators – ideas, help, collaboration.
  • Add higher-level computer science funcionality to Scratch with Build Your Own Blocks extensions (free).atomiclearning
pages

Pages

Curriculum areas: All

Pages is Apple’s very fine word processing and desktop publishing program that should be the basis for all written work at the school. It can also export its files in Microsoft Word and PDF formats.

The best thing about Pages are the built-in templates that turn anyone into a polished graphic designer. The Web is full of free and low-cost additional templates if you wish to expand your output options.

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Keynote

Curriculum areas: All

Keynote is Apple’s visual presentation program filled with more powerful features and simpler functionality than PowerPoint. Keynote includes presenter notes, the ability to record narrration timed to slides, animation, powerful graphic tools and the ability to export in PowerPoint, QuickTime and PDF formats for use in other programs.

You may search the Web for other Keynote templates – free and low-cost.

imovie icon

iMovie

Curriculum areas: All

Make and edit video for interdisciplinary projects and for sharing information in specific subjects. Exports for publsihing on the Web, CD, DVD and YouTube.

My (admittedly old) collection of podcasting or iMovie/multimedia resources are a place to start for technical and pedagogical information. Of course, you may also use “The Google.”

garageband

GarageBand

Curriculum areas: Language Arts, Music

GarageBand is an incredibly powerful tool for recording audio, dubbing audio tracks on movies and loop-based music composition. It may be used anytime audio helps tell a story or set the mood.

My (admittedly old) collection of podcasting or iMovie/multimedia resources are a place to start for technical and pedagogical information. Of course, you may also use “The Google.”

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iPhoto

Curriculum areas: All

iPhoto is the personal image library built into the Mac. It’s where teachers and students should store and touch-up their photographs. However, you’re not just limited to digital photographs. Any image file may be imported or dragged and dropped into iMovie for later retrieval. Garageband, iMovie, Keynote and Pages use this image library for dragging and dropping your images into other multimedia uathoring programs.

iPhoto may also be used to create photo books, picture books, calendars, greeting cards or order professional-quality prints.

For more than basic photo touch-ups, ImageBlender should be used.

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Numbers

Curriculum areas: Mathematics, Social Studies

Numbers is Apple’s spreadsheet for performing calculations and making mathematical forecasts. Spreadsheets are an incredibly powerful tool across the curriculum.

Search the Web for classroom spreadsheet projects or activities. Anything written for Excel or Numbers will work fine. Excel is MicroSoft’s spreadsheet. Numbers exports in Excel format and opens Excel files with ease.

Additional Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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


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

From Kate Tabor

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

Adam Provost’s blog post about CMK 2011

The Constructivist Consortium is hosting its 5th annual Constructivist Celebration in Philadelphia, June 26, 2011 – the day before the ISTE Conference begins.

Join colleagues from around the world in a day-long minds-on celebration of creativity, computers and constructivist learning.

The Constructivist Celebration features project-based activities geared towards K-12 educators, administrators & teacher educators.

This year’s theme is HARD FUN! Educators completing a difficult year deserve some HARD FUN!

The day ends with a conversation with Will Richardson.

After a kickoff keynote by Dr. Gary Stager, participants will select challenges using the open-ended creativity software provided by Constructivist Consortium members, including LCSI, Tech4Learning and Inspiration. In addition to your mind and spirit, you body will be nourished by continental breakfast, hot lunch and afternoon snacks courtesy of our Maggiano’s Little Italy! Last year’s participants could not stop raving about the food!

Representatives of Generation YES, LCSI, SchoolKiT and Tech4Learning will lead challenges and support project development.

The day ends with time for project sharing and reflection followed by a conversation, “Digging Deeper,” with Will Richardson and Gary Stager. I am most grateful to Will for his generosity and willingness to participate!

Best of all, the entire day – software, an endles feast and a spa-day for the mind costs only $60!

Register today! Past Constructivist Celebrations have been extremely popular and space is limited.

Click here for more information!