If you love these speakers – check out our current lineup for this summer’s Constructing Modern Knowledge Summer Institute!

CMK 2022 Guest Speakers

Alfie Kohn 

Popular education author and speaker

Returning to CMK for a 3rd time by popular demand, Alfie Kohn was a guest speaker during the first-ever Constructing Modern Knowledge in 2008, then in 2011 with Deborah Meier. His personal genius lies in his ability to cause educators to confront their compromises.

Alfie Kohn is the author of 14 books on education, parenting, and human behavior, including Punished By Rewards (1993), Beyond Discipline (1996), The Schools Our Children Deserve (1999), Unconditional Parenting (2005), The Homework Myth (2006), and The Myth Of The Spoiled Child (2014).

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Kate Shuster, Ph.D.
Researcher, educator, curator, and activist

We are thrilled to welcome researcher, activist, and curriculum developer Dr. Kate Shuster to Constructing Modern Knowledge 2022!

Kate is the director of the Hard History Project, which works with archives and historical sites that collect and bring history to life about race, racism, slavery, and settler colonialism, often with digital technology. As part of this work, she became the Educational Director for Freedom on the Move, the world’s largest archive of fugitive slave advertisements.

She managed the Teaching Hard History initiative for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project and led an interdisciplinary team that created the world’s first K-12 framework for teaching the twin histories of slavery and settler colonialism in what is currently known as the United States. As part of this effort, she produced several short films and the Teaching Hard History podcast, which has more than a million downloads.

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Peter Martin

Peter Martin
Pianist, composer, arranger, educator, and Internet entrepreneur

Peter Martin is one of the most highly respected and accomplished musicians of his generation. He is an acclaimed jazz pianist, composer, arranger, educator, and entrepreneur. His touring career has taken him to six continents and to the White House twice. Peter performed on and arranged Dianne Reeves’ Grammy® winning release, A Little Moonlight. He appeared in George Clooney’s 2005 film, Good Night, and Good Luck, as well as being the featured pianist and arranger on the Grammy® winning soundtrack. Peter has performed, toured and recorded with Wynton Marsalis, Chris Botti, Betty Carter, Christian McBride and Joshua Redman as well as the Berlin Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.

A consummate artist, Peter leads his own trio, is a member of Christian McBride’s all-star band, Inside Straight, and has been legendary singer Dianne Reeves’ accompanist and musical director for two decades. Additionally, Peter Martin is the co-founder and CEO of Open Studio, an innovative online music education website featuring jazz lessons from legendary musicians. Open Studio demonstrates how the Internet may be used as a platform for mentoring and learning-by-doing – the theme of Constructing Modern Knowledge. Peter creates a free 2 Minute Jazz Piano lesson weekly for YouTube and co-hosts the daily music podcast, You’ll Hear It, offering advice about listening to and playing music better.

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CMK 2019 Guest Speakers

Nikole Hannah-Jones

Nikole Hannah-Jones
New York Times Magazine Staff Writer | 2017 MacArthur Genius Grant Fellow | Winner of The National Magazine Award

Nikole Hannah-Jones is one of the most acclaimed journalists of our time.

Ms. Nikole Hannah-Jones was named a 2017 MacArthur Genius Grant Fellow (one of only 24 people chosen, globally) for “reshaping national conversations around education reform” and for her reporting on racial re-segregation in our schools. This is the latest honor in a growing list: she’s won a Peabody, a Polk, and, in 2017, a National Magazine Award for her story on choosing a school for her daughter in a segregated city.

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Kari Kola
Light Artist and Botanical Garden Owner

Kari Kola has been interested in light for as long as he can remember. Light is everywhere and it affects the world and our daily lives in many ways. Kari is from Finland where the autumns and the winters are long and very dark. He wanted to teach himself to use light to be able to utilize the darkness that surrounds everyone during those seasons. That’s why he became one of the world’s premiere light artists.

Kari has worked with light for approximately 17 years and has played a leading role in generating over 2,000 projects. He has worked with many historical castles and places and specializes in working with such vulnerable sites. He has created light installations to several unique sites including: UNESCO Headquarters, Stonehenge, Villa de Laak, and Saana Mountain. He has also worked both as a technical and an artistic leader in several productions including festivals, operas, musicals, multi-art performances and opening ceremonies across Finland and around the world. In 2005, Kola founded Valoparta Oy, a company specializing in light and event production.

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Sherry Lassiter

Sherry Lassiter (2nd year)
President and CEO of the Fab Foundation

Sherry Lassiter is one of the architects of the MIT global initiative for field on-site technology development, the Fab Lab program. A Fab Lab, or as users like to call it, fabulous laboratory, is a rapid prototyping platform for technical education, innovation and personal expression. The Fab Lab network includes over 1200 digital fabrication facilities in 100 countries. Lassiter is Director of the Fab Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to building technical capacity in a locality, improving individuals’ abilities to develop themselves and their communities and bringing access to tools and knowledge that cultivate and support innovating practices.

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David Cavallo, Ph.D.
Consulting Learning Architect to the Fab Foundation and Special Consultant to the Director of the South End Technology Center

David Cavallo is consulting Learning Architect to the Fab Foundation and Special Consultant to the Director of the South End Technology Center (SETC). Cavallo concentrates on how digital fabrication and computation can dramatically improve learning in schools and communities. His work focuses on how creative and constructive uses of computational technologies potentially create learning opportunities that otherwise are extremely difficult to obtain at large scales and with equitable access.Cavallo is currently coordinating an innovative new collaboration among SETC, the Fab Foundation, MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, the Mayor’s office of the city of Boston, and Boston Public Schools titled Hands-Heads-Hearts: Machines Making Machines (H3M3) at Boston’s Madison Park Technical Vocational High School.

David Cavallo was Professor Titular Visitante and a founding faculty member at the Federal University of Southern Bahia (Brazil).

Prior to that, Cavallo was Vice-President for Education and Chief Learning Architect at One Laptop per Child, as well as, Research Scientist and co-Director with Seymour Papert of the Future of Learning Group at the MIT Media Laboratory.

Learn more…

CMK 2018 Guest Speakers

In a rare visit to the USA, Carla Rinaldi returns to CMK to share her remarkable teaching and learning expertise.

Carla Rinaldi

Carla Rinaldi – President of The Reggio Children Foundation (2nd year)

Professor Carla Rinaldi is one of the world’s most profound educators and leading authorities on what has been called the best schools in the world, the municipal preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. Her lifetime of work with Reggio’s youngest citizens should inform all progressive school improvement efforts, as well as what has become known as the maker movement in schools.

Recipient of the 2015 LEGO Prize and Adelaide (Australia) Thinker in Residence 2012–2013, Professor Carla Rinaldi is a world leader in education for children in the early years. She has been the President of Reggio Children since 2007 and is the first President of the Reggio Children Foundation. Carla is also a Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia.

Professor Rinaldi worked side-by-side with Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach, from 1970 until his death in 1994 in the municipal infant toddler and preschool system of Reggio Emilia, where she was the first pedagogical coordinator.Carla has been working as pedagogical/scientific consultant for Reggio Children, since 1994, following the supervision of all Reggio Children initiatives. She was responsible for research projects in collaboration with Harvard University, the University of New Hampshire and the University of Milan – Bicocca.

Professor Rinaldi has been vice-president of the Gruppo Nazionale Nidi-Infanzia (National Early Childhood Association) and has enjoyed stints as visiting Professor at the Webster University (St. Louis, Missouri) and at the Colorado University (Boulder, Colorado).

From 2004-2007, Carla Rinaldi was a member of the Reggio Emilia City Council.

In 2007 and 2008, Carla Rinaldi was appointed as a consultant in several different Commissions of the Italian Ministry of Education.Carla Rinaldi has been a speaker at numerous seminars and conferences in Italy as well as in Europe, the United States, Australia and Asia. In 2011 she was invited to participate in the Presidential Conference on Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) “Excellence and Equity in Early Childhood Education and Care”Budapest. In 2010 she participated in the UNESCO World Conference on Early Childhood Education and Care “Building the Wealth of Nations,” Moscow.

Professor Rinaldi lectures frequently on the Reggio Emilia experience, and has published many articles, chapters, and books in Italian and English.

James Loewen

James Loewen – Historian, Best-selling Author, Educator (2nd year)

“"James Loewen’s gripping retelling of American history as it should and could be taught, Lies My Teacher Told Me, has sold more than 1.5 million copies and continues to inspire K-16 teachers to encourage students to challenge, rather than memorize, their textbooks.

Jim Loewen taught race relations for twenty years at the University of Vermont and prior to that at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. He now lives in Washington, D.C., continuing his research on how Americans remember their past. Professor Loewen is the author of provocative books that illuminate current events by honestly confronting our past, including:

Read Dr. Loewen’s complete biography

Brian Lynch

Brian Lynch – Grammy winning trumpet player, composer, educator (1st year)

Grammy© Award Winning trumpeter Brian Lynch brings to his music an unparalleled depth and breadth of experience. A honored graduate of two of the jazz world’s most distinguished academies, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and the Horace Silver Quintet, he received wide acclaim during his long tenures with Latin Jazz legend Eddie Palmieri and straight ahead master Phil Woods. He has been a valued collaborator with jazz artists such as Benny Golson, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Charles McPherson; Latin music icons as diverse as Hector LaVoe and Lila Downs; and pop luminaries such as Prince. As a bandleader and recording artist he has released over 20 critically acclaimed CDs featuring his distinctive composing and arranging, and has toured the world at the helm of various ensembles reflecting the wide sweep of his music.

Voted Trumpeter Of The Year and recipient of the Record Of The Year Award by the Jazz Journalists Association in 2017, Lynch’s talents have been also recognized by top placing in the Downbeat Critics and Readers Polls (#3 Trumpet Critics Poll); as well as feature stories and highly rated reviews for his work in the New York Times, Jazz Times, and Downbeat. He has received multiple Grammy Award nominations – the latest in 2016 for his Madera Latino project – and garnered a Grammy win in 2006 for Best Latin Jazz Album; He is also the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music America, and Meet The Composer.

Brian Lynch is a Professor of Jazz and Studio Music at the Frost School Of Music, University of Miami and previously taught at New York University.

Learn more about Brian Lynch

Zaccai Curtis

Zaccai Curtis – Pianist, composer, producer (1st year)

Zaccai Curtis is a pianist, bandleader, and record producer of Puerto Rican and African American ancestry. He performs with artists such as: Cindy Blackman-Santana, Brian Lynch, Ralph Peterson, Ray Vega, Antoine Roney, Wallace Roney, Jerry Gonzalez, Papo Vasquez, Donald Harrison, Stacie Orrico, Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band and many notable others.

After graduating from the New England Conservatory in 2005, Zaccai Curtis moved to New York City to pursue music. He was a founding member of the group Insight (also known as Latin Flavor) which also included his brother, Luques Curtis. Insight opened for Celia Cruz in Windsor, CT in 2000. He has performed in Cuba by invitation of Chucho Valdés at the Havana Jazz Festival and was commissioned to arrange Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol,” in 2001 to be played by “Insight” with the Hartford Symphony Chamber Orchestra. He has won numerous festival musical awards, been cited for excellence by Down Beat magazine, listed in DownBeat Magazine’s Reader’s Poll and was chosen as the pianist for the National Grammy Band Combo in 2000. In 2003, he was selected as a winner for the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer’s Competition. He was also awarded the ‘Connecticut Commission on Cultural and Tourism’s Artist Fellowship’ for original composition.

Zaccai frequently performs with his brother Luques in the Curtis Brothers Quartet and the brothers run Truth Revolution Records.

Jie Qi

Jie Qi, Ph.D. (1st year)

Co-host for the reception at the MIT Media Lab

Jie Qi is the co-founder and creative director of Chibitronics, which produces hardware toolkits for educators, artists and designers that blend paper craft with electronics and programming.  (Circuit Stickers, Chibi Chip…) She is also a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School, where she researches open approaches to invention and entrepreneurship.

Jie has exhibited internationally including at Ars Electronica, SIGGRAPH, the Exploratorium museum and the MoMA design collection.  With her work, Jie aims to engage broader communities in designing and creating their own technologies and approaching hardware as a playful and expressive medium for creating art.

Eric Rosenbaum

Eric Rosenbaum, Ph.D. (4th year)
Co-host, MIT Media Lab reception

Eric Rosenbaum is currently a member of the Scratch 3.0 development team. He is also the co-inventor of the MakeyMakey and creator of exciting learning software, including Beetle Blocks.

Here is what Eric says about himself…

I design for creative play.

My tools are all about bringing your imagination to life by helping you make things you care about. I love to see how using my tools can transform people’s sense of what they can make and who they can become.

I am currently working with the Scratch Team at MIT Media Lab. I have also recently worked with Google Creative Lab and NYU Music Experience Design Lab. In 2015, I completed my PhD at MIT Media Lab in the Lifelong Kindergarten group with a dissertation entitled “Explorations in Musical Tinkering.” Before my time at the Media Lab, I worked at MIT Teacher Education Program, creating learning games; Concord Consortium, creating molecular dynamics simulations for kids; and Six Red Marbles, creating animations for music education. I hold a Master’s in Technology in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a Bachelor’s in Psychology and Mind/Brain/Behavior from Harvard College.

I also enjoy playing the trombone with the Opposite People.

CMK 2017 Guest Speakers

Ayah Bdeir

Ayah Bdeir – Engineer, Artist, Business Leader (1st year)

Ayah Bdeir is the founder and CEO of littleBits, an award-winning platform of easy-to-use electronic building blocks that is empowering everyone to create inventions, large and small. Bdeir is an engineer, interactive artist and one of the leaders of the open source hardware movement.

Bdeir’s career and education have centered on advancing open source hardware to make education and innovation more accessible to people around the world. She is a co-founder of the Open Hardware Summit, a TED Senior Fellow and an alumna of the MIT Media Lab.

Ms. Bdeir was named one Business Insider’s 26 Most Powerful Women Engineers, a New York Hall of Science Creative EntrepreneurTribeca Disruptive Innovation Honoree, one of one of Inc. Magazine’s 35 Under 35, one of NY Business Journal’s Women of Influence, one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business, one of Popular Mechanics’ 25 Makers Who Are Reinventing the American Dream, one of Entrepreneur’s 10 Leaders to Watch, one of the CNBC Next List, and one of MIT Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35.

Her work has been exhibited at MoMA and is part of the museum’s permanent collection. She has also exhibited work at the Peacock Visual Arts gallery (Aberdeen), the New Museum (New York), Ars Electronica (Linz) and the Royal College of Art (London).

Originally from Lebanon, Ayah now lives in New York City.

Read Ayah’s complete biography.

Deborah Meier

Deborah Meier (4th year)
“What is Progressive Education?”
Deborah W. Meier is currently on the faculty of New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education, as senior scholar and adjunct professor as well as Board member and director of New Ventures at Mission Hill, director and advisor to Forum for Democracy and Education, and on the Board of The Coalition of Essential Schools.

Meier has spent more than four decades working in public education as a teacher, writer and public advocate. She began her teaching career as a kindergarten and headstart teacher in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York City schools.

Ms. Meir was the founder and teacher-director of a network of highly successful public elementary schools in East Harlem. In 1985 she founded Central Park East Secondary School, a New York City public high school in which more than 90% of the entering students went on to college, mostly to 4-year schools. During this period she founded a local Coalition center, which networked approximately fifty small Coalition-style K-12 schools in the city.

Between 1992-96 she also served as co-director of a project (Coalition Campus Project) that successfully redesigned the reform of two large failing city high schools, and created a dozen new small Coalition schools.

She was an advisor to New York City’s Annenberg Challenge and Senior Fellow at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University from 1995-1997.From 1997 to 2005 she was the founder and principal of the Mission Hill School a K-8 Boston Public Pilot school serving 180 children in the Roxbury community.

The schools she has helped create serve predominantly low-income African-American and Latino students, and include a typical range of students in terms of academic skills, special needs, etc. There are no entrance requirements. These schools are considered exemplars of reform nationally and affiliates of the national Coalition of Essential Schools founded by Dr. Ted Sizer and currently led by Lewis Cohen.

A learning theorist, she encourages new approaches that enhance democracy and equity in public education. Meier is on the editorial board of Dissent magazine, The Nation and the Harvard Education Letter. She is a Board member of the Educational Alliance, the Association of Union Democracy, Educators for Social Responsibility, the Panasonic Foundation, and a founding member of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, the North Dakota Study Group on Evaluation and the Forum for Democracy and Education, among others.

Meier was born in New York City; she attended Antioch College (1949-51) and received an MA in History from the University of Chicago (1955). She has received honorary degrees from Bank Street College of Education, Brown, Bard, Clark, Teachers College of Columbia University, Dartmouth, Harvard, Hebrew Union College, Hofstra, The New School, Lesley College, SUNY Albany, UMASS Lowell, and Yale. She was a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1987.

Her books, The Power of Their Ideas, Lessons to America from a Small School in Harlem(1995), Will Standards Save Public Education (2000), In Schools We Trust (2002), Keeping School, with Ted and Nancy Sizer (2004), Many Children Left Behind (2004), and Playing for Keeps: Life and Learning on a Public School Playground (2010).Ms. Meier’s weekly blog, Bridging Differences is a must-read for educators and those serious about the future of American democracy.

Neil Gershenfeld

Neil Gershenfeld (1st year)
Professor Neil Gershenfeld is the Director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms and may well just be the father of the modern maker movement.Gershenfeld’s unique laboratory is breaking down boundaries between the digital and physical worlds, from creating molecular quantum computers to virtuosic musical instruments. Technology from his lab has been seen and used in settings including New York’s Museum of Modern Art and rural Indian villages, the White House and the World Economic Forum, inner-city community centers and automobile safety systems, Las Vegas shows and Sami herds.

He is the author of numerous technical publications, patents, and books including FabWhen Things Start To ThinkThe Nature of Mathematical Modeling, and The Physics of Information Technology, and has been featured in media such as The New York Times, The EconomistNPRCNN, and PBS.

Gershenfeld is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, has been named one of Scientific American’s 50 leaders in science and technology, as one of 40 Modern-Day Leonardos by the Museum of Science and Industry, one of Popular Mechanic’s 25 Makers, has been selected as a CNN/Time/Fortune Principal Voice, and by Prospect/Foreign Policy as one of the top 100 public intellectuals.

Dr. Gershenfeld has a BA in Physics with High Honors from Swarthmore College, a Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Cornell University, honorary doctorates from Swarthmore College, Strathclyde University and the University of Antwerp, was a Junior Fellow of the Harvard University Society of Fellows, and a member of the research staff at Bell Labs.

Read ProfGershenfeld’s complete bio

ackermann dingbat 1
Edith Ackermann (1946-2016)

Edith Ackermann, Ph.D. – In Memoriam R.I.P

Read our memorial tribute to an amazing educator and great friend of CMK.

Edith K. Ackermann is a Honorary Professor of Developmental Psychology, at the University of Aix-Marseille 1, France. Currently a Visiting Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, School of Architecture, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Siena, Department of Communication, she teaches graduate students, conducts research, and consults for companies, institutions, and organizations interested in the intersections between learning, teaching, design, and digital technologies.

Previously, Ackermann was a Senior Research Scientist at MERL – Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratory, Cambridge, MA; an Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media laboratory, in Cambridge, MA; and a Scientific Collaborator at the Centre International d’Epistémologie Génétique, under the direction of Jean Piaget, Geneva.

She started her career as a Junior Faculty in the Department of Psychology at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.Dr. Ackermann holds the distinction of having worked with three of history’s greatest learning theorists – Jean Piaget, Seymour Papert, Ernst von Glasserfeld.

Edith earned a Doctor of Developmental Psychology [Com Laude] (1981); two Master’s degrees in Developmental Psychology and Clinical Psychology (1970); and a Bachelor of Experimental Psychology degree (1969), all from the University of Geneva, Switzerland.

She completed her Post-Graduate/Graduate Studies in the Department of Psychology and Sciences of Education, University of Geneva, Switzerland (1996-70). Title of Doctoral Thesis: “Statut Fonctionnel de la Représentation dans les Conduites Finalisées chez l’Enfant” (Thesis in Psychology. N.107, 1981). Doctoral Thesis Jury: Barbel Inhelder (advisor), Seymour Papert. Pierre Greco, François Bresson.

Edith Ackermann is a strategic researcher and interaction designer at INVIVIA, Inc.; Content provider and concept designer at LEGO s/a [LEGO Learning Institute, CED, Educational, Concept lab]; User appropriation and trend / lifestyle analysis for various clients, including INVIVIA, LEGO s/a, and Design Continuum. Ackermann regularly serves as a guest teacher, expert advisor, and reviewer in interactive art and design projects at Harvard Graduate School of Design, MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies, and MIT School of Architecture.

She acts on the boards of directors of the Altran Foundation for Innovation, France, and Child research Net, Japan, and she participates in different research and educational initiatives, including: Ro-Ballet (MIT Media Lab); E-Wall (MIT); La Piazza / PUENTE (EU-funded projects on intergenerational learning); PIE Institute Workshops (Exploratorium). She recently became a member of Kaleidoscope, a Network of Excellence that brings together European teams in the field of technology-enhanced learning.

Most recent work engagements include an “ongoing” advisory role for the Exploratorium Learning Studio’s science, art, and technology program, and participation in PIE worskshops as well as BAI Institute on informal learning.

Dr. Ackermann is interested in the transactions between people, places, and things, and how these transactions evolve over time—as people grow, transit, or settle, and as technologies themselves are changing. Areas of research include: human uses of cultural artifacts as self-orienting devices; lived-in spaces as transitional zones; the “relational” qualities of man-made artifacts, i.e., their abilities to occasion enchanting, amusing, or challenging encounters. Of particular interest in this context are the evocative, transformative, and “holding” powers of artifacts, respectively their potential to bring about meaningful associations, to “let people in”, and to sustain engagement and capture human imagination over time.

Edith pursues these interests in the context of trans-disciplinary research efforts involving human learning in a broad sense: from children’s play to organizational change, from personal growth to group innovation. She explores how digital technologies can support human learning and studies how people themselves shape their world to better their lives.Her overall purpose is to help innovative teams of researchers and practitioners bring strategic research to design, and user-centered design to product development; Imagine and design activities, artifacts, and spaces that bring about delight and foster personal and societal growth. Simply put, Edith Ackermann is focused on inviting users back into the design process.