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.