During the darkest days of the pandemic, I convened four dozen educators, scholars, inventors, and all-around smart people to think about educational progress of the past half century and ponder the next. The provocation was the 50th anniversary of a groundbreaking paper, Twenty Things to Do with a Computer, authored in 1971 by my friends and mentors, Cynthia Solomon and Seymour Papert. “Twenty Things” is remarkable for many reasons, not the least being that they had already done things with children in 1971 that far too schools have gotten around to a lifetime later. Although the vision, wisdom, and practical advice shared in the original paper was ignored, I remain optimistic that our new book, Twenty Things to Do with a Computer Forward 50: Future Visions of Education Inspired by Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon’s Seminal Work, will be read long after we’re gone.
Constructing Modern Knowledge is about action, not chit-chat. The emphasis of CMK is experiencing the power of learning-by-doing. Therefore, we keep “speaking” and “conversations” to a minimum. Our remarkable guest speakers are distinguished by their expertise and accomplishments, often in domains undervalued by school. Yet, I learned how to organize learning adventures, such as Constructing Modern Knowledge, by working with brilliant, passionate, thoughtful colleagues. Creating learning environments like CMK is a form of knowledge construction itself. Emerging from the dark years of the pandemic makes sharing such wisdom seem more urgent. Schooling is at at an inflection point that requires deliberate pedagogical practices rooted in a coherent philosophy and recognition that we stand on the shoulders of giants.
Cynthia Solomon, Molly Lynn Watt, Dan Lynn Watt, and John Stetson are my longtime teachers and collaborators. They each made important contributions to the Twenty Things book and have been on the faculty of Constructing Modern Knowledge. Each are not only edtech innovators, they are deeply rooted in progressive education traditions, and have accomplished much over their careers. All of us worked with the father of educational computing and constructionism, Dr. Seymour Papert. Over the years, my colleagues played such an important role in supporting project development that their educational wisdom has gone untapped. At a time when schools must choose between humane, just, and equitable ideals and their opposite, July 2023 seems like the right time to share my friends at CMK.
So, instead of one guest speaker presenting, CMK 2023 will feature a discussion with my sheroes and heroes. Cynthia, Molly, Dan, John and I may be joined by other collaborators, but the goal is for each CMK participant to engage with the ideas, expertise, and perspective of four “legends” in an intimate session.
“You can’t think about thinking without thinking about thinking about something.” – Seymour Papert
Cynthia’s focus has been on creating enjoyable, personally expressive, and aesthetically pleasing learning environments for children. She collaborated with Seymour Papert on developing Logo, the first programming language designed for children. She has continued creating and advocating for computer-based projects and ways for young people to design their own projects.. Recently, she edited a book, Inventive Minds: Marvin Minsky on Education that collects and contextualizes Minsky’s essays on computers and children. Currently she is exploring Logo’s turtle geometry through TurtleStitch and computerized embroidery machines. In 2016 she was awarded both the National Center for Women & Information Technology Pioneer Award and the Constructionism Lifetime Achievement Award. She is also the recipient of the 2019 FabLearn Lifetime Achievement Award.
Dan Lynn Watt was a Senior Scientist at Education Development Center in Massachusetts. He was a teacher, researcher, and curriculum developer from elementary through graduate school, primarily in mathematics, science and technology education. During 1976–1981 he worked with the MIT Logo Group. He and Molly Lynn Watt created The Logo Institute, and the Logo Action Research Collaborative. His many publications include Learning With Logo (1983), 100,000+ copies, Teaching With Logo (1986) (with Molly) and History Lessons: A Memoir of Growing Up in an American Communist Family (2017).
Molly Lynn Watt, educator of students from six months to graduate school, consults internationally to school systems in educational uses of computers for inquiry project-based learning of science, mathematics, language arts and authentic assessment. She works with participant leadership teams to make changes they identify using action research approaches. She was an early adaptor of the Logo Computer language and Banks Street Writer, a contributor to major educational magazines and anthologized in dozens of books. She retired to do literary writing: Shadow People, On Wings of Song, Consider This (forthcoming), and George and Ruth: Songs and Letters of the Spanish Civil War.
John Stetson has taught high school math, English, computer science (programming and robotics), college photography, and maintained a solar observatory available for at-risk youth in Southern Maine. After a complete 11 year solar cycle he left juvenile detention and started teaching at an alternative-education high school and at the local community college.