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Five Big Ideas For Educators
Author: Gary Stager, Executive Director of the Constructivist Consortium and host of Constructing Modern Knowledge | June 4th, 2009

I have been asked why an educator working in a 1-to-1 context should consider attending Constructing Modern Knowledge (CMK), July 13-16, 2009 in Manchester, NH. One look at our eclectic and accomplished faculty might lead some to wonder what they have in common.

At the most superficial level, the CMK faculty shares common friends, influences and beliefs. However, the institute is designed to provide an experience greater than the sum its parts. For a current or perspective 1-to-1 educator, the following CMK objectives are critical to your mission.

1) Expand the vision of how computers may be used to empower learners

In my opinion, edtech innovation has become quite stale and the range of what students do with their laptops has narrowed steadily since we began putting laptops in student hands 19-20 years ago. If your students only use their laptop to look stuff up or for routine language arts activities you are getting a very low return on investment. While it may be true that laptops may be used to more effectively or efficiently teach what we had always hoped kids would learn, the real power lies in the opportunity to learn and do new things in new ways unthinkable without ubiquitous computer access.

While CMK encourages interdisciplinary projects, a special emphasis is placed on imaginative ways to bring, math, science, music and the arts to life via the personal computer.

Dr. Cynthia Solomon was one of the three people responsible for developing the Logo programming language more than forty years ago and has worked in research settings and classrooms ever since to help children learn by programming the computer, rather than being programmed by the computer.

Brian Silverman is a master learner, tinkerer, inventor and thinker. He treats the most complex math, science or engineering puzzle with the playfulness, curiosity and creativity found in a Reggio Emilia preschool. How else might you explain that he built a computer out of TinkerToys? Brian also happens to be a Consuting Scientist at the MIT Meda Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten Group and has been instrumental in the creation of dozens of open-ended computing environments for children over the past thirty years, including Apple Logo, LogoWriter, MicroWorlds, LEGO TC Logo, StarLogo, Scratch and the Pico Cricket. His most recent hobby is the creation of TurtleArt, a software environment where mathematics and art creatively coexist.

Best-selling author, illustrator and animator Peter Reynolds reminds us that every human has artistic potential and his software, Animation-ish, helps us realize that ability. Dr. Lella Gandini's visual tour of the "Reggio approach" should convince you that human creativity is inseparable from learning and remind us that much work has to be done in using laptops in ways compatible with the best early childhood education.

2) Make learning more thoughtful

I am thrilled that MacArthur Genius and small schools pioneer, Deborah Meier, will be at Constructing Modern Knowledge. Meier through her leadership of innovative schools in NYC and Boston have demonstrated that excellent public education is possible in urban settings without turning schools into boot camps. Her groundbreaking book, The Power of the Their Ideas: Lessons for America from a Small School in Harlem, shared her schools' commitment to the development of habits of mind for students and teachers.

These habits include:

The question of evidence, or "How do we know what we know?"
The question of viewpoint in all its multiplicity, or "Who's speaking?"
The search for connection and patterns, or "What causes what?"
Supposition, or "How might things have been different?"
Why any of it matters, or "Who cares?"

Such habits of mind emerge from relevant complex challenges and must be accompanied by the "habits of work" associated with successful practitioners.

Ms. Meier is not alone; the entire CMK faculty has dedicated their careers to endowing each child with agency over their learning. Every educator should read the Bridging Differences blog Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch write each week. There is no better example of civility and analysis of the critical education issues of our time to be found.

3) Teachers as learners

It's an agreed upon cliché that teachers should be lifelong learners, but what does that really mean? At Constructing Modern Knowledge, you will be treated to the critical elements of time, space, materials and support to learn to use computers in more powerful and creative ways.

Meier's book, In Schools We Trust: Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing and Standardization, explores ways in which schools may become more productive contexts for learning when each stakeholders can be candid and work to improve their performance free of fear, coercion or hostility. Meier's work stresses the importance of democracy and equity - two philosophies embodied by 1-to-1 computing. CMK offers a supportive material-rich environment where you may focus on your own learning for a precious four days.

4) The critical importance of student leadership

Generation YES President Sylvia Martinez brings research-based strategies for utilizing student technology knowledge to improve their school and community through student-led teacher professional development, tech support and tech certification via peer mentoring. During tough budgetary times, students are the only renewable resource and can make enormous contributions to school improvement.
John Stetson and Deborah Meier's work with at-risk students offers inspiration for reimagining what's possible when we create places children want to be. Lella Gandini's examples from the preschools of Reggio Emilia will blow your mind and lead some to wonder why their high school students are less creative and thoughtful.

5) We stand on the shoulders of giants

There is a tendency to believe that school reform began with 1-to-1 computing or the founding of Google. This false delusion leaves 1-to-1 schools susceptible to repeating past mistakes and limiting reform to one aspect of schooling - computer access.

Educational transformation is not a concept. It requires action. Additionally, meaningful school reform requires a thorough understanding of a theoretical basis for change, highly developed skills, a sense of the possible and things you may do immediately to drive progress. This should address the why, what and how issues every educator struggles with.

Real education reform requires attention to several, if not many, variables simultaneously. The CMK faculty is uniquely equipped to address issues of teaching, learning, computing, creativity,

Constructing Modern Knowledge offers educators an opportunity to increase their fluency, identify learning opportunities, increase their understanding of teaching, learning and leadership, spend time with great thinkers AND have a lot of fun. We hope you leave Manchester excited, energized and ready to move your school or district forward.

Constructing Modern Knowledge allows participants to take a break from chasing fads and from their daily responsibilities so they may focus on learning. Educators deserve the opportunity to reignite their passion as a learner and to discover the richness resulting from the marriage of computing and creativity. Plus, you get free open-ended software and will enjoy terrific social activities.

Constructing Modern Knowledge is pleased to have AALF as its co-sponsor.

Gary S. Stager, Ph.D. is the host of Constructing Modern Knowledge and the Executive Director of The Constructivist Consortium. Check out his blog, web site and recommended book collection, which includes books written by CMK faculty.

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