The Best Educational Ideas in the World – SXSW 2011

My friend and teacher has put out an all-call for help getting an important message out. Dr. Gary Stager has taught me a lot about learning, teaching, education and children’s “remarkable capacity for intensity”. I love that… capacity for intensity.

I had the pleasure of attending the Constructivist Consortium’s Constructing Modern Knowledge last month where participants experience the very message Gary shares. I think his proposal to the South by Southwest (SXSW) event is a great move, too many are presenting to the very masses that share the same vision for learning, teaching and technology. Branching out to other events other than just educational domains is an important step in democratically addressing the school reform debate taking place in our country today.

Please allow yourself the two minutes it takes to complete registration and vote for Gary’s “The Best Educational Ideas in the World” for the SXSW 2011. He has outlined the step-by-step process for this which I’ve included at the bottom of this post. Knowing that this is a “popularity contest” you should vote.  This is the game we must play sometimes. Here is the session description and questions answered:

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

  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?

Step-By-Step Voting Instructions

  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!

CMK: Not Your Father’s Conference

This past week, I had the pleasure of attending Constructing Modern Knowledge (#CMK10), a one of a kind learning institute. The “minds on” institute did not have sessions to shuffle in and out of in hopes of catching a few nuggets that I might address when I return to the “real world”.  No, this was different.

The entire institute was what a classroom can be and I’m sure, in some places, is. There wasn’t the latest in revolutionary technology gadgets being touted, but there was plenty of fun and purposeful technology to be used.  The engagement and empowerment that we all experienced helped develop a community of practice within which we felt comfortable moving about the room asking questions and answering others.  Yeah, we had one room and it was fantastic. We sat on the floor, spilled out into the hallway and went out to the local convenient store for supplies.  Well, I’m not really sure if anyone did that, but we could have and that empowerment is important.  The environment had many books, treats and beverages, and trinkets that inspired projects and were just plain fun to play with (i.e. – marshmallow gun & Incredible Hulk fists).  From the first brainstorming session to the presentations there was lots of noise, to which, as Gary pointed out in his closing, no one complained.  Even the hotel staff was fond of the bubble machine floating bubbles over those dining in the cafe. This is good-natured stuff. Chris Lehmann sums up the environment well in his reflections of CMK.

No, CMK is not your father’s conference.

The speakers were excellent.  The collection of minds that Gary put together for CMK is astounding.  Deborah Meier, Alfie Kohn, James Loewen, Marvin Minsky, Brian Silverman, Cynthia Solomon, Peter H. Reynolds, Artemis Papert (Seymour’s daughter) & John Stetson were not only speakers, but participants and teachers as well.  They stuck around, were genuinely interested in our ideas, projects and thoughts about education and learning.  Artemis even offered me a one-on-one tutorial on TurtleArt despite the fact she and Brian had a large group appointment scheduled (we had appointments) the next day.

No, CMK is not your father’s conference.

The stark contrast between going to sessions and working playing through a project is one of the largest differences.  I approached CMK focused on a couple of things.  First, I wanted to collect ideas for the Playful Inventors Workshops I will be leading in a few weeks (for educators) and during the next year (with students).  Secondly, having always been envious of gearheads (people who are competent at motors, gears and the like) I wanted to use CMK to start learning more about gears in order to help students design and create wonderful things while learning through active science, engineering and math.  I was successful in both and will be trying to write more about the experiences here.

I did not leave CMK with a new tool (though I did share the Lego Tool with anyone cared to listen or try it) or the latest strategy for using Web 2.0 tools.  Here are some of my takeaways.

  • what it means to dive deeply into learning
  • to take time
  • to walk away from something and come back to it later
  • to develop a better environment where learners feel comfortable and safe (not just physically safe, but mentally safe to take a risk, ask a “silly question” or challenge someone (thanks to John Stetson for being the gear bully and not just giving the answer to our problem of torque).
  • to have fun and play (even if it involves flying marshmallows)

No, CMK is not your father’s conference.  It’s not a conference at all.  It’s a learning experience.

Some Thoughts on Constructivism

I stumbled upon this Straight talk on constructivism post by Robert Talbert from 2008 this morning. I am a big believer in constructivism so I took interest right away. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about constructivism in education and I’m not sure his post helps to paint a clearer picture. Talbert, a math and computer science professor, writes:

“Constructivism, when used with the right kinds of students and in the right ways, can be quite effective. But it’s important to remember that not all students are ready for this, and not all material is taught effectively this way. When I teach geometry to junior and senior math majors, it’s almost entirely constructivist, because the process of mathematical investigation and discovery is precisely what I am trying to teach them (through the medium of Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry). But I’d be crazy to try constructivism at that level on, say, a precalculus class full of students who have little skill in and absolutely no taste for math at all. Those students aren’t dumb, but they need structure and guidance a lot more than they need the supposed thrill of mathematical discovery.”

What I think Talbert is missing here is that constructivism is not a classroom technique, it is a theory of learning, described as such in the link he provides in his post.  Keep in mind, he is writing about college students here and suggests college students are not ready for constructivist learning experiences. He states that “not all students are ready for [constructivist learning experiences].” While I can see this being true at this point in time, I don’t think this need be so.

I think it is fairly obvious that most teachers at the K-12 level are using traditional theories (i.e. – behaviorism or cognitivism) more than constructivist approaches to learning. Talbert suggests that if students have been “drilled” enough, that by college, they would be ready for constructivist approaches to learning.

Isn’t that what’s happening now?  Then why are not all students ready?

I believe the opposite is the most effective approach.  Constructivist learning environments and experiences can be set up in ways that students are, not just engaged, but empowered to acquire and refine necessary skills. The “drill and practice” approach to skills should come from the learner’s understanding that they are important, not because it will be good for them some future time that they cannot see or comprehend.

How does constructivism look in your schools?

Photo Credit: College of Education Constructivism by derekcx

Moving on…

I’ve moved this blog over to  I will no longer be using for hosting my blog.  Thanks for the memories, I just wanted a little more control.  Now, I need to write more.

If you’ve been subscribing, thank you and change your subscriptions to this new feed…  If you haven’t please consider doing so… kthxbai.

Is this Copyright Infringement?

copyright_creationsA local teacher recently confronted potential copyright infringement issues during a learning experience with what I think is a good idea.  Her solution was to encourage students to re-create photographs they found on Google Images for use in producing public service announcements.

While discussing this with her, I came to wonder if the re-creation of a photograph is a violation of copyright.  Does the copyright holder have rights to the photograph or the idea/creativity behind the photo or both?

This is where the copyright line gets really blurred.  I’m thankful for a local group of library media specialists and educators who contributed to this wiki article on copyright which states:

Original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, or systems, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.

But I’m still confused.  Is the re-creation of the photo above infringing on copyright of the original photographer?

Photo Credits:

How Much Remote Access?

Photo Credit: Will Lion

This photo and post came through the ole aggregator today from the Remote Access blog authored by Clarence Fisher a classroom teacher up North in remote Canada. 

What’s interesting about this quote by Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is that it identifies with a shift in thinking for learning and teaching today.  Up in Mr. Fisher’s  classroom learning community, every effort seems to be made to gain access (remote) to communication with others for sharing information for the purpose of learning from and with others.

What happens when we consistently open up our classrooms to allow learning to enter as well as leave?  I bet Clarence and his students have a pretty good understanding about what happens.

(Cross posted at

What’s Not on Wikipedia?

I took a recent trip to Wikipedia to search for “21st Century Learning” and “21st Century Skills“.  As of this posting, there isn’t an article for either. 

So many are sharing and preaching 21st century learning and skills for our schools and yet neither is documented on one of the best examples of collaboration for learning?  What gives?


I try not to write about tools, but once and awhile it can’t hurt.  Digsby’s one of those tools that you just want to talk about and share.  The gist of Digsby is that it is a one-stop-shop for many IM, email, and social network sites that you use.  In my case, I’ve tied Google Talk, AOL, Gmail, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter into one tool with which I manage them all.

Digsby allows you to manage multiple accounts in each of the IM, email or SNS that you use.  For instance, I manage multiple Twitter accounts, one personal and one for NYSCATE. I can update each of these right from the System Tray in Windows as well as read, compose and manage email.  In addition,  just last night, I learned that you can make video/voice calls through Digsby.

One of the other great things is that I can now uninstall some of the applications and browser add-ons that suck up resources on my computer.  I’ve gotten rid of a host of add-ons for Firefox that allowed me to update my statuses, ask a question or read/answer emails. Now I don’t have to have a web browser open to do so, keeping me on task.  🙂

A downside, is that Digsby isn’t ready for all platforms yet, even so, keep your eye on it.

One of the biggest hurdles educators face in adopting an online presence for their own learning is that they don’t want to manage multiple accounts, usernames, passwords, applications, etc.  Is Digsby one of those tools can can help or is it just one more that adds to the confusion?

For my workflow and connecting with others it’s been valuable and I can see myself using regularly.  Digsby developers… how about a mobile application for BlackBerry and iPhone users?  🙂

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