Constructing Modern Knowledge at its core is a celebration of learning-by-doing and access to expertise. Each year, educators create projects of remarkable complexity, sophistication, beauty, or whimsy without having been taught to do so. As the number of participants has grown over the past six years, CMK has demonstrated that teachers are competent, learning is a consequence of experience, and that my hypothesis, “A Good Prompt is Worth 1,000 words,” scales. With a good prompt, appropriate (and abundant materials), sufficient time, and access to expertise, learners are capable of solving problems bigger than themselves. As Seymour Papert said, “If you can use technology to make things you can make a lot more interesting things. And you can learn a lot more by making them. ”
One of the great joys of leading CMK is creating an environment for educators to experience greatness and spend time with their heroes. It moves me to hear tales, often long after the institute, of how a participant went for a walk with one of our guest speakers, had breakfast with someone they never dreamed of meeting, or forged lifelong collaborations with other members of our community. We don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on teaching, but rather ask that you remove your teacher hat and put on your learner hat. Never the less, the lessons of learning without coercion, the importance of objects to think with, constructionism, and shaping the learning environment are internalized by those who participate.
Sometimes the epiphanies are instantaneous, others may take a while. One teacher who attended the first CMK in 2008 was so rattled by something said to him by Alfie Kohn that he reports still thinking about it and admitted recently that he now agrees with a Kohn’s statement made seven years.
Anyone who witnessed the duet performance between legendary 86 year-old saxophonist, Jimmy Heath, and 23 year-old pianist, Emmet Cohen, appreciates the pride, joy, and shared mission communicated non-verbally between them. To paraphrase one of our resident faculty geniuses Brian Silverman, “it was old genius and young genius making musical genius together.”
By featuring guest speakers representing the pinnacle of their fields, even in domains your guidance counselor didn’t recognize – jazz, astronomy, baseball research, treehouse design, YouTube filmmaking – educators come to experience what true greatness looks and feels like. The CMK faculty, unrivaled in their expertise, experience, generosity, and accomplishments support each participating educator along their rode to personal greatness. As the number of CMK participants increase, I have enjoyed the great privilege of introducing you to more of my friends; each with unique talents and extraordinary expertise. Many of these folks have known each other or worked together for decades. Now they are your colleagues too!
Dan and Molly Lynn Watt
Nearly everything I know about teaching adults I learned from Dan and Molly Lynn Watt. Lessons I learned from working with them a quarter century ago form much of the pedagogical basis for Constructing Modern Knowledge.I was overcome with emotion when they attended our reception in Boston at CMK 2010 and have dreamed of them joining our faculty for years. This year, Dan and Molly join Sylvia, Cynthia, Artemis, Brian, Claudia, Brian, John, and Joey Hudy on the CMK 2014 faculty.
Dan Watt was the first expert I ever met in the world of educational technology. It was 1983. I was nineteen or twenty years old and in my second year of teaching kids to program and first year of leading teacher professional development. Dan was a speaker at a train wreck of a conference at Rutgers University and was very patient with me as I asked a variety of inane and unmemorable questions. I met Dan before anyone else in the Logo community. It wasn’t until 1985 that I met Brian Silverman, Cynthia Solomon, or Seymour Papert.
Around the time of our meeting, Dan published one of the most popular books in the history of educational technology, “Learning With Logo.” I know of only one other “edtech” author since Dan who sold more 100,000 copies. Just imagine. In the mid 1980s, when there were dramatically fewer computers in schools than today, more than 100,000 educators owned a book on about how to learn by programming computers. (I recently encountered a $130 survey textbook for teachers about educational technology that neither mentions programming, Logo, or Seymour Papert once in 409 pages of drivel.)
Dan and his partner Molly, spoke and led workshops all over the world in which they inspired teachers to engage in the hard fun of programming. They didn’t teach coding because it will get you a six-figure job, but because it was a way of experiencing powerful ideas, of solving problems, of having intellectual agency over one’s world. The Watts didn’t just tell educators that kids will just “figure it out online” or pretend that all it takes is an “hour of code.” They, like Cynthia Solomon (7th year at CMK), gave careful consideration to how one might teach complex modern concepts to even young children. I remember role-playing and even dancing recursion with them.
Dan holds a doctorate in engineering and was a member of the MIT Logo Lab in the 1970s. He played a significant role in early educational computing implementations and research, including the seminal Brookline Project at the end of the mini-computer era and on the dawn of the microcomputer revolution. Molly is a master teacher, poet, and nurturer unafraid to learn new things in public. She taught at the graduate level for years and has authored countless articles and books. Together, they authored “Teaching With Logo: Building Blocks for Learning,” arguably the best book ever written about teaching with computers. (read more of their bios here)
From 1984 through 1989, Dan and Molly Lynn Watt led the annual summer Logo Institute. This residential “summer camp” shares many of the same objectives and experiences of Constructing Modern Knowledge except that in the mid-eighties, educators would attend a two week-long PD event. Today, four-days is considered a miracle.It was at the Logo Institute that I really learned to teach and create productive contexts for learning. I attended in 1986, spoke at their culminating conference in 1988, and was a scholar-in-residence in 1989. One profound lesson I learned from the Lynn Watts is that you need to trust constructionism and the inherent, perhaps latent, competency of teachers. Given the right conditions our greatness may emerge.
Dan and Molly were a few of the great educators in my life who saw potential in me and trusted me to make a contribution. They keynoted the first conference I ever chaired, the inaugural New Jersey Educational Computing Conference in 1987 and were guest speakers at the International Logo Conference I chaired at Methodist Ladies’ College in Melbourne, Australia. They too were at the 1990 World Conference on Computers in Education in Sydney; my first trip to Australia.
It is impossible to overstate how big Molly and Dan were during the infancy of educational computing. They led workshops as a guest of the Chinese government, years before Tianneman Square. Their personal journeys turned computing into a vehicle for civil rights, progressive education, folk traditions, craft, and scholarship. Molly and Dan are my mentors, colleagues, and friends. I am humbled by their willingness to participate in Constructing Modern Knowledge.
I am proud, honored, and excited to introduce two more of my friends to the CMK family. You will come to love them as much as I do.