The Fifth Constructivist Celebration and ISTE Conference at Philadephia, July, 2011

by John Kendall


On Sunday, June 26, I attended the one-day Fifth Annual Constructivist Celebration at the ISTE (International Society of Technology in Education) Convention in Philadelphia. Gary Stager presided over the event with his usual enthusiasm and commitment to quality education using technology. For those of you not familiar with the term, "The Constructivist Consortium believes in Seymour Papert's theory of constructionism, the idea that the best way to construct knowledge, or understanding, is through the construction of something shareable, outside of a student's head . . Such artifacts are evidence of learning." (from a paper of Gary's, "What Makes a Good Project?", in our handouts).

Gary started the morning in the Maggiano's Little Italy banquet room a block down from the Convention Center with an informal, but carefully considered talk. In the spirit of inviting us to take a "spa day for your soul" and not check e-mail or Facebook or Twitter during the day, he eschewed PowerPoint and LCD projectors, and simply stood in the middle of the half a dozen round tables, referring to 3 or 4 index cards in his hands. He reinforced Papert's idea of "hard fun," that when teachers employ computers effectively in the classroom, kids are both involved and stimulated. "Young people have a remarkable capacity for intensity, which can easily slip into boredom if teachers don't built upon it," he warned. He pointed out that "Bill Gates was fully formed as a programmer by 17." My two favorite lines of his, however, were the observations that "Your students have a lot of computers; they don't have a lot of computing," and supporting the Constructivist principle to "give maximum agency to the learner-LESS US, MORE THEM."

From 10:00-12:00 we then played and experimented with free software provided by several of the sponsors of the event: LCSI (MicroWorlds et al), Generation YES, and especially Tech4Learning, whose suite of five pieces of software for paint, animation, photo editing, and web portfolio seemed especially user friendly and applicable. Each of these companies also had a number of representatives there all morning and afternoon, and they were constantly sitting at the tables and helping us construct simple projects to get a feel for the software.

We stopped for a delicious lunch of antipasto, ravioli, lasagna, and spumoni and pastries for dessert. Maggiano's certainly lived up to its "Little Italy" name with the food they provided.

We continued to experiment for another hour and a half after lunch, and then Gary concluded with a half hour staged "conversation" with his blogger and writer friend, Will Richardson.

Since I was staying overnight at my daughter's tiny Grad School apartment, I was able to take advantage of Melinda Kolk, from Tech4Learning, offer to provide me with a vendor pass (bumping into Kevin Merges in the hallway of the convention center, in the process), and I spent 4 or 5 hours on Monday, June 27, going back to the exhibit hall, collecting a shopping bag of brochures and other offers. I ended up sitting in on three half-hour presentations at the Tech4Learning, booth, to found out more about Pixie (paint program somewhat akin to KidPix), Share (for creating web portfolios, which Laura, Circe, Scot and others might find of interest), and Frames, a stop-animation program.

Continuing the serendipity movement, Rachel's friend and former colleague at Team Academy, one of the KIPP Schools in Newark, Kristen Sigler brought three of her middle school students down to Philadelphia for the student presentations section of ISTE on Monday afternoon. Erin Varga, Debbie Fehl, Mark Nastus and others might remember Kristen from her visit to the school last Fall. Her students had projects using iMovie, Scratch and other software we also used, so it was interesting to compare notes.

Both Sunday with the Constructivist Celebration intensive session and walking around the exhibition hall on Monday provided me with many ideas and possibilities to toy with during the next several summer months.

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