If you’ve seen the mountain of materials we share at the annual Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute, you know how much we love stuff. Here is a guide to some of our favorite things for creative educators and children. (There are even some free goodies at the bottom of this page.)
|micro:bit v2 Go Kit
The micro:bit is a revolutionary little brain board for building robots, running experiments, computer programming, and learning electronics. There are lots of sources of micro:bits for a few bucks less, but this Amazon link will get you everything you need to get started overnight! The only thing better than one micro:bit is 2 or more. You can even buy a discount Club Pack of 10 micro:bits for bigger fun!
|The Invent to Learn Guide to the micro:bit
A fantastic new book featuring more than 30 creative projects ranging from simple to complex, complete with pedagogical guidance for teachers or parents. Check it out here.
|Program your own games!
The Meowbit is a low-cost, easy to program arcade handheld game platform programmable in Microsoft MakeCode Arcade. Now kids can program games that look, feel and may be shared like the games they love and respect. We of course know how much one may learn through such a process of design, programming, and debugging.
This and other low-cost handheld programmable systems allow you to design and play your own video games! Check out Gary Stager’s article, Program Your Own Gameboy, to explore all of the possibilities.
|Super cool electric scissors for all of your cardboard & fabric projects
We’re big fans of the WORX WX082L 4V ZipSnip Cordless Electric Scissors. You and your classroom need at least one!
|Speaking of Cardboard… Recycle all the holiday boxes!
Mike Carroll’s Scrappy Circuits book is an imaginative “do-it-yourself” way to learn about electrical circuits for less than $1 per person. Raid your junk drawer for simple office supplies, add a little cardboard, pay a visit to a local dollar store, and you are on your way to countless fun projects for learning about electronics. No soldering or expensive equipment is required.
This might just be the best dollar you’ll ever spend on a child’s STEAM education!
|Hummingbird Bit Robotics kit
Hands-down, the Hummingbird Bit Robotics Kit is the best classroom robotics construction kit ever made. We used dozens of these versatile, reliable, and programmable kits to bring projects to life at Constructing Modern Knowledge 2023. Don’t waste your scarce funds on junk robot toys. Make the wise investment in Hummingbird Bit kits!
|Level Up your micro:bits with a BitExplorer or BitBooster
Our educator friend Diego at Lectrify has invented incredibly clever, powerful, durable, useful and affordable extension boards for the micro:bit. The new BitExplorer and the powerful BitBooster allow you to connect motors and all sorts of other electronics to the BBC micro:bit safely, affordably, and easily. The new BitExplorer is now on sale too!
|These card games are just nuts!
Fluxx is a perenial favorite gift. It’s a card game in which the rules and goal of the game continuously change. All sorts of logic and strategy skills are developed. Fluxx comes in multiple varieties for every potential audience.
|Apparently, these are a big classroom hit
30-Second Dance party buttons are used by teachers in all sorts of fun ways to blow-off steam, focus attention, and just have fun.
Just DEAD – Drop Everything and Dance!
These Will Be AT CMK 2024!
|The 3D printer you need
The legendary PancakeBot is now on sale at a deep discount. Kids can design, print, and yum yum – eat their own pancakes. It’s a safe bet you won’t know how you ever lived without a PancakeBot.
Get one for your home, school, or fundraising event while supplies last!!!
|Dance teacher Elmo
The singing dance teacher Elmo robot is sure to inspire all sorts of projects at Constructing Modern Knowledge 2024! It should be illegal to buy this much fun (or tech) for less than $40.
|Everyone needs a pile of these sound-effect buttons
Make your own dance party, game show sounds, mystery clues, talking robots, and more with a set of 4 recordable buttons that may be easily triggered – even by dogs!
Teaching is no joke and teaching well in this political client may be even more exhausting. Here are a few books to inspire, inform, and prepare educators for the year ahead.
One of the most beautiful meditations on the nature of life, teaching, and learning is Herb Kohl’s wondrous small book, Painting Chinese: A Lifelong Teacher Gains the Wisdom of Youth. I have given countless copies away as a gift. This book is just what you need for that jolt of inspiration, and perhaps even course correction, as you head into 2024.
|Remembering the mission
Author, educator, and civil rights activist Jonathan Kozol has written countless masterpieces. Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope may be my favorite. This unsung classic reminds readers of the deeply spiritual obligation to serve kids, especially other people’s children.
|The Science of Reading isn’t
The media and political mischief makers are hard at work accusing teachers of nurturing illiteracy. Their mean-spirited mechanistic prescriptions are even more preposterous and counter-productive. The great Frank Smith’s small book, Reading F.A.Q. is the guide to preserving common sense and teacher professionalism.
|Make math great again
Forces are at foot to turn back the clock on school math instruction and make the subject less pleasant, relevant, and learnable by contemporary children.
Jo Boaler’s What’s Math Got to Do with It?: How Teachers and Parents Can Transform Mathematics Learning and Inspire Success and Conrad Wolfram’s The Math(s) Fix: An Education Blueprint for the AI Age are essential guides for teaching today and tomorrow.
Favorite school leadership book
Give a copy of The Inner Principal: Reflections on Educational Leadership by one of the word’s most consequential principal, David Loader, to your school principal or leadership team. It’s sure to inspire!
|A humane & creative vision of learning in the age of computing
This may be the nadir of technology in education. Every educator, parent, and policymaker should read and reread Seymour Papert’s classic book, The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer. This 30 year-old masterpiece reminds us that there is still much work to be done if we are serious about amplifying the potential of each learner and preparing every child for an uncertain future.
How Did We Miss Scaredy Squirrel?
We may have come late to the Scaredy Squirrel party, but this series of graphic novels for toddlers through 5th grade are hilarious and loved by kids and parents alike. The parent of every single kid we’ve gifted with a Scaredy Squirrel book has told us that the book was written specifically for their kid. (perhaps that says a great deal about the scary times in which we live) Scaredy Squirrel is scared of everything. So, he plans carefully for every eventuality.
|All nine or ten of the Scaredy Squirrel books are terrific. They make great gifts, bedtime reading, and belong in any classroom library!
For Young History Buffs
|Just bought a bunch of issues of the gorgeous Honest History Magazines for our grandson.
These full-color “keepers” for 8-12 year-olds seem well-written, lively, and filled with enough different activities, current and historic context to hold the interest of kids.
|Jon Scieszka‘s great Time Warp Trio are a featured in a series of short fun and zany historical fiction books for early readers.
Everything by former teacher and great wit, Jon Scieszka, is recommended!
For Young Mathematicians
|Marilyn Burns’ Math for Smarty Pants is a classic. As is Jon Scieszka‘s The Math Curse. You can never go wrong with either!
|The great David MacAulay‘s Mammoth Math: Everything You Need to Know About Numbers is a terrific book in the tradition of his classic, The Way Things Work!
|Ben Orlin‘s books, Math with Bad Drawings: Illuminating the Ideas That Shape Our Reality and Math Games with Bad Drawings: 75 1/4 Simple, Challenging, Go-Anywhere Games―And Why They Matter, are a must for the bookshelf of learners at any age.
|Get yourself or someone you care about a good math dictionary. There are ones specifically written for kids, but The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Mathematics should do the trick.
‘Tis the Season of Pixels!
Pixels make everything better and more pixely! Here are some toys we’re playing with this season of lights.
|LEGO Dots are a recent addition to the LEGO line of construction toys. Create all sorts of patterns, pictures, toys, and even wearables in 2D.
|Have you seen Lite-Brites lately? There’s a whole line of super cool toys capable of exploring pixel art in a variety of forms.
|The state-of-the-art in pixel toys is the smART Pixelator. It’s the 21st Century Lite-Brite. Make framable pictures, 3D constructions, jewelry, and a free app allows you to turn a photo into a pixel puzzle! We can’t wait for ours to arrive.
Book Recommendations for Tweens and Teens
Glorious work is being published for young adults. Here are some favorites.
|Socially conscious young adults will be moved to action by the young adult edition of Heather McGhee’s best-seller, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. The Sum of Us: How Racism Hurts Everyone is the YA adaptation.
|Before he passed, Constructing Modern Knowledge two-time guest speaker James Loewen, published the young adult version of his bestseller, Lies My Teacher Told Me, in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Young Readers’ Edition: Everything American History Textbooks Get Wrong.
There’s even a graphic novel edition coming in April!!
|Richard Feynman was one of the 20th Centuries most curious characters and influential scientists. His life story has been turned into a graphic novel in Feynman. It’s sure to inspire the curious teens in your world.
|American hero John Lewis’ series of civil rights graphic history/memoir, March, deserves to be on every bookshelf.
The first volume of his posthumous autobiographical series, Run, is now making waves. It explores the backlash to the US Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
Books by Constructing Modern Knowledge 2024 Guest Speakers
For 15 years, Constructing Modern Knowledge has been the gold standard for educator professional learning. Creative educators from across the globe gather each July for learning adventures found nowhere else. In addition to four-days of project-based learning with a mountain of materials and supported by a spectacular faculty, CMK has created life-changing opportunities for educators to interact with some of the most talented and brilliant guest speakers on earth. CMK 2024 is no exception. Here are a few books by two of next year’s guest speakers.
|Dr. Stephen Wolfram is one of the world’s most preeminent mathematicians, scientists, and AI authorities. His software literally powers the majority of scientific and mathematical conducted today. We are tremendously fortunate to have this MacArthur Genius returning as a CMK guest speaker for the second time in July 2024!
Dr. Wolfram is also a prolific author. Two of his most accessible and relevant to education books are the following.
• What Is ChatGPT Doing … and Why Does It Work?
• Adventures of a Computational Explorer
|Musician, educator, and author, Tricia Tunstall, is one of the world’s leading authorities on El Sistema, the global youth orchestra movement begun in Venezuela.
Her books on the subject are must reads for educators of any discipline concerned with amplifying the potential of each learner.
• Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema, and the Transformative Power of Music
• Playing for Their Lives: The Global El Sistema Movement for Social Change Through Music (co-authored with Eric Booth)
Favorite CDs of the Year!
|CMK 2019 Guest Speaker, Zaccai Curtis, is co-leader of an all-star Latin Jazz band, Sonido Solar. Their debut recording, Eddie Palmieri Presents Sonido Solar is terrific.
This recording is sure to make your dance.
|Sullivan Fortner is a pianist’s pianist. This young genius’ new solo CD, Solo Game, is remarkable. Folks are calling it an instant classic.
|Remember when a 22 year-old Emmet Cohen played at Constructing Modern Knowledge a decade ago? His new CD, Masters Legacy Series, Volume 5: Houston Person, with octogenarian Houston Person is currently #1 on the charts and his weekly web broadcast, Live at Emmet’s Place, has delighted hundreds of thousands of listeners. The recording is currently available on Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Bandstand (for the physical disc).
Craveable Toys for Big Kids
You’re never too old to dream! Here are some big kid toys we’d like to get our hands on.
|Tiny action camera that goes anywhere!
The Insta360 GO 3 is a super cool waterproof action camera that can be worn around your neck, clipped on a hat, stuck on a wall, or used in all sorts of nonintrusive ways to capture what happens in the classroom and beyond.
|Portable podcast studio and recorder
The Zoom PodTrak P4 Podcast Recorder features 4 mic inputs, 4 headphone outputs, USB input from digital devices, SD-card recording, and mixing in a $150 handheld “podcast” studio that goes anywhere. Imagine what students might do with this!
|Our next drone
Since Gary flew our last drone into the Tennessee River at the end of Constructing Modern Knowledge 2022, we hope Father Festivus will gift us the DJI Mini 4 Pro for future (and hopefully less destructive) feats of aerial adventure.
Free Stocking Stuffers!
No trip over the river and through the woods will be complete without Octostudio on your phone or iPad. Octostudio is the latest iOS/Android creativity studio for young learners created by the Scratch Team at the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten group. Kids can create animations, games, digital stories, and more on a cellphone. No instruction required.
|Have you subscribed to the Constructing Modern Knowledge Podcast yet?
Did you know that we currently have more than a dozen episodes of conversations with some of the world’s leading thinkers and educators online? Subscribe to the Constructing Modern Knowledge podcast today!
|Gamechanging AI Tools for Education by Dr. Gary Stager
Have you read Gary’s AI white paper yet? Even better, have you tried the four incredible software environments he recommends for classroom use today?
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