Constructing Modern Knowledge 2009

Posted by on Jul 24, 2009


I spent four days last week in Manchester, New Hampshire at the Constructing Modern Knowledge Institute.  As I sit here one week after returning, I’m still left to wonder how in the world I can possibly capture all that is rattling around in my mind as a direct cause of attending the institute.

I’m going to try and give a general overview of what I observed, and then follow up as necessary in subsequent posts about each topic that requires follow up.  I will say from the outset, the experience was the singularly most unique conference type experience I’ve ever had.  There were things that left me in a state of pure awe and wonder, and there were things that equally frustrated me.

You will likely find it an impossibility to experience a better list of speakers or minds available to offer their insights at any other conference.  Having the distinct honor of hearing directly from Deborah Meier, Lella Gandini, Brian Silverman, Lesa Snider, Peter Reynolds, Sylvia Martinez, Gary Stager, and Marvin Minsky was simply astounding.  I’m still rather reeling from the collective wealth of knowledge that list represents.  And though I certainly didn’t agree with everything that was spoken about, the conference was worth attending if just to hear what those individuals discussed and the way they can challenge a person to think.

The opportunity to engage and observe other educators organically learn was also a fascinating experience.  I watched as the triumphs and frustrations of learning collectively bubbled over from group to group.  I witnessed the authentic excitement that learning through inquiry can generate, and I watched as challenges served to nearly break and equally make learners out of leaders.  It reminded me of what I have forgotten about being a learner in any kind of structured environment.  Those lessons should be remembered much more often by all educators who find themselves forgetting what it is like to be in the seat as a student.

And along with those things that I agreed with, there were others I didn’t.

Throughout the conference there was a clear emphasis not only on the general theory of constructivism, but specifically, constructivism through computer science and programming.  At several points throughout the week, the statement was issued that all students should be mandated to learn computer programming.  This idea was explicitly stated, and I implicitly disagree with it.  I certainly see the potential for learning through the act, but given the ever changing nature of specific programming languages and the fact that the vast majority of students will never use the skill beyond the duration of time they would be required to take the unit of study, I believe such an experience should be left to student choice.

At one point, one of the presenters said that we should not offer students choice on this issue as students don’t know better and aren’t in a position to know that they really have no other logical choice but to choose such study.  The statement deeply troubled me at the time, and continues to do so now.  I agree that when we were young, all of us lacked the clarity and wisdom that comes with time and experience, but we also knew things that interested us.  If we’re willing to allow students to participate in organic learning experiences through constructivism by self-selecting that which we study, why then would we think learning a specific skill such as programming should be any different?  I truly appreciated Brian Silverman’s take on it as he expressed that programming is certainly not for all kids.  I absolutely believe that students should be given the choice to learn computer programming as the process is replete with problem solving and math function learning, but I don’t think it should be mandated.  This is very likely an issue that I will return to at some point in the near future.

The other issue that I find myself continuing to fail at digesting is the idea of community as Gary spoke of it the first day.  I heard him speak about PLNs in a similar fashion at NECC, and on both occasions, he spoke about how the level of connectedness we all are presently experiencing has given voice to too many people.  That is a paraphrase, but he did say specifically that the problem now is that any “newbie” has a voice and can be perceived as an expert without doing anything.  He stated that someone who hasn’t “done anything” can be asked to keynote a conference, when in fact, it should be he himself who gets asked based on his experience and the work he’s done.

This seems, to me, to be the very nature of the old, exclusive vanguard of knowledge concept we’ve been speeding away from as information frees us to capitalize on collective thinking.  We don’t need the keeper of the keys to tell us what is worth knowing and keep us from that which we lack the understanding to know is not good for us.

We all now realize we have the right to know.  Or at least we have the right to choose.

The idea that we have to have an “expert” in our network otherwise our network is, in effect, proven defunct, is rife with complication.  I think I’ll leave it at that for now and allow Gary, or any other believer in this philosophy to expand on the idea if they so choose.

In the end, I find myself walking away with a great bundle of mental firewood to turn over and burn for quite some time, and I realize I’m an advocate for the theory of constructivism.  I’m not convinced it requires the use of computer science/programming, but utilizing computer technology with constructivism can absolutely be a strong alliance.

And I have no doubt how much students benefit from pursuing organic learning based on personal choice.  And it’s okay if sometimes they do that without a computer.


  1. Maryann Molishus
    July 24, 2009

    Thanks for continuing the thinking. I am not sure how I feel about computer programming–it probably isn’t for me, but I feel like I should learn it enough so I am prepared to work with my students. Or, I should be prepared to have colleagues involved. And in today’s learning environment where there are so many possibilities, that is what is probably necessary – know it yourself or bring in the experts. Unfortunately for me, I hate not knowing anything, so off I go to learn programming…

    As to the idea of giving everyone a voice, we now need to develop (or always should have I suppose) the skill of questioning and verifying what information is out there…and I guess that is true with experts and newbies.

    Before CMK and now after, I have found my reading has taken me back to some authors I read before I began my teaching career and to some new authors (and their writings old and new) with some fascinating opinions about education, children, etc. As you say, whether we disagree or not, it is a great way to exercise the mind. If you have the chance, check out “Education for Stupidity” by Jules Henry, written in the May 9, 1969, issue of The New York Review of Books. (You can still “rent” a copy online.) It’s interesting to read…

    In it, Henry says, “There is always a question of how much information the members of any culture may be permitted to have; and throughout history it has been assumed that most of the population should be kept ignorant. It was, perhaps, the condemnation of Galileo that first brought the legitimacy of this assumption into question. At the present time, let me repeat, for the first time in history, it is assumed that everybody has the right to know everything at any time. …In any modern democracy the people in power should ask themselves, Where is the point at which, if people know too much, they will embarrass us, and where is the point at which, if they do not know enough, it will be catastrophic, because the people will be so unintelligent they will be unable to judge any issue and so will easily be led to disaster?”

  2. sylvia martinez
    July 24, 2009

    Hi Ben,
    I really nope you post the work you and your group did, it was awesome.

    I was definitely one of the voices arguing for giving all students the opportunity to learn to program. I see it as a catch-22. If you don’t give kids the opportunity, how will they know it’s even there? The point was very much in keeping with supporting student voice and agency – since uninformed choice is not much of a choice.

    We want students to “catch fire” based on their interests, but good education is always about taking those interests to the next level. We don’t ask kids if they’d like to learn about Shakespeare or algebra, but in the best of situations, we show them why those things are interesting, enlightening, and important, and then nurture any burgeoning interest. We try to connect their personal interests with subjects that the culture has deemed important. (I’m not saying that school necessarily does a great job of this, but that’s an ideal, isn’t it?)

    To ignore programming as an amazing intellectual exercise that can be connected to almost any student interest seems like a real missed opportunity.

    Perhaps I could have said it better, perhaps I was connecting it too closely to my own intellectual journey. As you said, the week was packed and there was never enough time to really explore everything. I’m still reeling from it all.

    You also didn’t mention my main point. When others decide for students, these adults tend to make even worse choices. Who gets to decide which students are “right” for programming, “right” for college, and which students will be tracked into non-academic courses. I want all students to get the same chance to succeed in all areas, not be tracked into pre-determined niches based on adult prejudices. Because you know what happens — poor kids lose out, kids with parents who can’t work the system lose out, and that makes us all poorer as a society.

  3. Ben Wildeboer
    July 24, 2009

    @Ben: My take-away from CMK09 feels pretty similar to my own. I was thrilled with the depth of knowledge I experienced both through the faculty and participants in the conference. As with you, I didn’t totally agree with everything presented. I’ll save the details on this for my own reflection post or two. The conference wasn’t what I had expected coming in, which was both a positive and negative.

    @Sylvia: You bring up an interesting and troubling idea in your comments here- one that I’ll probably develop further on my blog later: What things should schools require students to study? I’m don’t feel that programming should be required for all students, but then the argument could easily be made using my exact same logic that requiring students to learn Shakespeare, or chemistry, or algebra isn’t a good idea. How should schools
    decide what’s important? How large of a role should students have in deciding what’s important to their futures? What basic knowledge do all students need?

    As I think about these questions more and more I keep coming back to Deborah Meier’s ideas of what schools should be. Small. Locally controlled. Stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, community members) all have input. Nationalized standards sound like an awful idea to me at this point. At one time I thought I was in favor of them.

    CMK09 was great experience that challenged and excited my thinking. As you’ve all mentioned as well, I’m still digesting everything. I’ll try to get my posts on CMK up Monday or so.

  4. Kelly Hines
    July 24, 2009

    I think you are great model for all educators in that much of the value you have found from CMK09 comes from its ability to challenge you to think. I wish that I would have been able to attend. I look forward to mulling over the ideas you shared a bit more and reading your follow-ups. Thanks for sharing with us!

  5. monika hardy
    July 24, 2009

    @benw @silvia
    How should schools
    decide what’s important? How large of a role should students have in deciding what’s important to their futures? What basic knowledge do all students need?

    my current thinking – the basic knowledge all kids need today is how to learn. they need to experience the thrill of learning.
    we can model how to learn through our discipline, by posing rich questions, dan meyerish style…and from there – kids should be able to take it and run. they should be the owners of their learning, alan novemberish style, otherwise, after the test, their toast.

    @beng I witnessed the authentic excitement that learning through inquiry can generate, and I watched as challenges served to nearly break and equally make learners out of leaders. It reminded me of what I have forgotten about being a learner in any kind of structured environment. Those lessons should be remembered much more often by all educators who find themselves forgetting what it is like to be in the seat as a student.

    that’s what they need to know. the authentic excitement learning thru inquiry can generate…

  6. angie
    July 24, 2009

    i echo you sentiments about CMK. listening to the wealth of knowledge of our speakers was at times inspiring, other times head scratching. as a past attendee of the one day constructivist consortium events during necc, i was not surprised at the structure of the conference. lella gandini left me pining for the reggio approach that i had long forgotten, peter reynolds makes me want to slow down and truely see the beauty around me, and gary and sylvia are much my heroes as the speakers were theirs. what i felt we missed were some of the great minds that just did not happen to be speakers. john stetson is a fabulous person to bounce ideas and susan eishorn from AALF was for me a true god-send in helping me with 1-1.

    but also like you i question the premise that every child should be mandated to learn programming. it seems quite contradictory to the premise of the conference. maybe if it had been approached as everyone should be introduced to programming and let the kids go from there, i could have swallowed that a bit easier.

    you and i must have been at the same presentations gary did at necc. while i don’t disagree with we shouldn’t take newbies as experts, i wonder how and what a newbie has to do in order to become an expert? how many articles published, conference presentations completed, etc? i don’t know, but i would like too.

    thanks for the thoughts!

  7. Scott Meech
    July 24, 2009

    The disagreement that I tend to have with your thoughts on programming is how you and others tend to compare it with other subjects and curriculum. Programming or coding in my opinion is not a comparable activity to Shakespeare or any other specific knowledge content. If one could argue that students learn or work on some specific skill that is not replicable without teaching Shakespeare than I will buy into the comparison.

    Programming and coding is an important experience because it asks students to think in a different fashion than most any other educational activity. When programming, students are asked to create, troubleshoot and solve problems in a logical and methodical matter. I just don’t see very many other activities that ask for our students to learn in that fashion. Perhaps one could mention geometry lessons of proofing but even then programming is another step above.

    The notion that learning a programming language is a waste of time because the languages change overtime is simplistic at best. While the languages change due to improvements of their structure, they all have certain basic principles in common. Every programmer and coder that I have ever talked with has mentioned how easy it is for him or her to learn other languages simply because of their familiarity of how a language has to be structured. The importance of the learning here is not in the content but in the process.

    We have agreed (I think) that there are certain educational activities that are done with technology that are superior to other traditional methodologies. Blogging for me is a far superior activity than simply writing in one’s spiral notebook because of the sharing, the feedback and by asking students to take part in the overall conversation and community. We have talked about digital storytelling and podcasting as well. The process for all of these activities is ultimately the most important lesson and that simply is not replicated as well without using technology. I simply believe that kids are asked to think in different ways through programming and coding that traditional pedagogy can’t replicate as well. Thus, programming and coding should be required activities for our students.

    I would like to see schools move beyond the current industrial model that believes content is king into a model that is focused on process and skills to help students become life-long learners. Ultimately, the skills that students strengthen because of this emphasis transcend time and will always be important aspects of “success”.

    Great post Ben … I feel as if your voice has taken on a new level of confidence with your latest posts. Keep putting yourself out there with conviction because you have an uncanny ability to articulate the voice of many in the finest possible form. We certainly shouldn’t let any members of the education community dominate the conversation through lame ploys of self-grandeur. Basically, anyone’s prominence and or influence within any community should solely be based upon the quality of their message and not upon their length of career or political clout. If someone’s message were really worthwhile, than haranguing others of that community into agreement through any amount of cajoling wouldn’t be necessary.

    Well, I am off to call Don Knezek and Trina Davis and talk them into letting me keynote ISTE 2010. How much should I hold out for? To think, I had to sit with the masses while I have 15 solid years of teaching experience!

  8. Melissa Techman
    July 24, 2009

    Very good points, and as usual, clear thinking. As a parent, I would love to have my child have the option to try programming; mandating it seems wrong. Or maybe I should say, of all the things I’d really wish for my children to learn, programming is not high on the list. Latin, art history, a musical instrument, lots more geography, economics, and plenty of access to libraries would come first.

    My instinct is that programming is something that is not going to be crucial for them to know as consumers or producers of information. Critical thinking, the ability to ask good questions, and a good grasp of ethical behavior online seem the real learning goals in the world of information.

    As for the “un-annointed” or “stupidity of the crowd” view, it doesn’t feel that way to me. Some of the real experts in their field are clunky speakers or boring on Twitter. Some true newbies have a gift for finding and sharing, thinking and synthesizing. So some of the skills that I have to use include not being too quick to judge (but being aware of which arena is better for some thinkers) and being open to the relatively unknown, who can point to something I really want to know about. The whole notion of “authority” is larger now, and I like that; it gives me more options.

    PS Did I mention more geography?

  9. Alec Couros
    July 24, 2009

    Ben, I’m curious. Was programming suggested as mandatory, or those skills & literacies that programming consists of such as logic, problem-solving, debugging, individual & group collaboration, synthesis & reuse of data, freedom and sharing of code (ala Stallman), etc. I’m all for the latter, and these are well expressed in coding, but these can also be addressed alone or jointly through other actiivities.

    The problem with mandating programming is that very few CS professors/teachers actually teach programming well. Rather, they teach computer languages, and many of the skills/literacies noted above are lost when the goal is to create a program/product, vs. changing the way students think, create, and share knowledge.

  10. Vicki Davis
    July 25, 2009

    Programming –
    OK, on the programming thing, here are my thoughts.

    In our curriculum our objective is not as much a specific LANGUAGE. One year I may use HTML with Javascript, this past year I used LSL — what I want kids to know that when they encounter programming and coding that there are certain conventions. Some are case sensitive, some are not. How do you find out how to add to what you know about programming? Do you know where to go to find prewritten code? Can you hack it to make it work to do what you want it to do?

    We spend about a week – two weeks but I require they know how to handcode hyperlinks and images – they are just too important.

    But to take 12 weeks or 6 weeks to learn a whole language – yes maybe some value – but to me the value is HOW is the language constructed or built. What are the conventions and how do I educate myself if I am interested in pursuing. What comes out of this time is kids who say either “I never want to do that” or “this is really cool, I love coding.”

    They are doing very simplistic work (although the LSL object languages were pretty advanced) but since we don’t have a full course nor time in our curriculum, I do see this as an essential part of what I teach.

    I’m not teaching it for the language sake but for the sake of understanding the whole body of how languages work – we talk about the different languages and what they are used for as part of Intro to Computer science and have an immersive experience.

    To me, this is somewhat a comprimise between leaving it out entirely or forcing everyone to take 12 weeks of it. I just don’t know where 12 weeks would go in the curriculum.

    I’ve seen kids who know C++ but don’t have a clue about the trends in IT or how to collaborate globally — I’d rather do it this way and feel happy with it as it is in my curriculum.

    On newbies –
    Discomfort always exists when new people come on the scene of anything but I am one who truly believes that a person who truly is a charlatan will show their true colors over time. Are all conference keynotes stellar– of course not.

    But to me, for all of us, we must remember that we are servants working to improve education and to have the humility to know that newbies bring a unique perspective that can be important to conversations. To forever exclude newcomers is to stagnate. We need both.

    Great points, Ben — going to share this on CCT tomorrow. 😉 (Hat tip to Scott meech who tweeted me in our mutual insomia that this post is the reason he’s awake!)

  11. Vicki Davis
    July 25, 2009

    Now that I reread what Alec said — I should have said, “what he said” — it is clearly the concepts behind it that ARE important.

  12. Dean
    July 25, 2009

    I’ll just comment on your second concern.

    The idea of “expert” is shifting. Expert in what? An idea? A Philosophy? in presenting? The word “newbie” also has many connotations. Many of those considered “newbies” are perhaps only new to some. I can think of dozens of local teachers who are certainly master teachers and I have lots to learn from them. They may not be “keynote” material but being a presenter is way more than being expert in content or experience or implementation.

    The democratization of the web brings with it a great deal of good and bad. Everyone can have a voice and over time, those voices can emerge as valuable. The time it takes to rise from obscurity to credibility has shrunk considerably and I’m sure this concerns Gary and others, particularly those who have invested in their craft for years and had a public persona long before many who are currently getting recognized. They likely have “paid their dues” in other ways.

    I think of someone like Dan Meyer who while never claiming expertise has shown over a relatively short time through his blog that he has a great deal to offer when it comes to teaching Mathematics and design in general. The sheer volume of material, peer review and thoughtfulness speaks for itself. In Gary’s world, we shouldn’t be listening to him because he likely wouldn’t qualify given he’s been teacher less than 10 years. That would be a shame.

    We all need to develop filters to determine who we can learn from and who we can’t. Reminds me of Dr. King’s words regarding judging someone not for the color of their skin but for the content of their character. Experience, age and achievements do matter but content matters more.

  13. Jim Klein
    July 25, 2009

    Having not been there to hear the entire argument certainly puts me at a disadvantage, however I think it’s important to define what we mean by “programming” and how it might be executed. As was mentioned above, the process is certainly more important than the product, however programming in the traditional sense (PHP, Java, Python, etc.) is quite a bit different from, say, using something like Scratch, which I would consider to hold similar learning potential in a more practical vessel – one without many of the pitfalls of traditional “programming.”

    That said, I agree with your assertions about requiring students to do it. When it comes to technology, I don’t believe the approach of “you will use [tool x] to accomplish [outcome y]” is best. It reflects the systemization of education that has hampered any real change in practice for decades. Rather I would prefer that we view technology as a “platform for innovation” upon which both students and teachers can stand, one that is broad and flat, rich with choices and options that enable both to make choices that not only reflect preferences and aptitudes, but also offers the opportunity to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of those choices in light of the desired outcomes. I think we should be asking questions like, “why did you choose that tool?” and “what was the process you went through to select it?” as part of the process. Managing choice, I believe, will be a key challenge facing all of us as technology continues to proliferate, and a critical survival skill to develop in our youth.

    This approach also fosters something that many in education don’t seem to like, but I believe to be a tremendous motivator for learning: a little healthy competition. In our ongoing effort to maintain equality and protect self-esteem, I think we mistakenly underestimate the value of competition in the educational space. “How did you do that?” is a powerful question from one student to another, and can lead to incredible learning opportunities in which the student becomes the teacher, actively participating in the process of education.

    Great post, as always!

  14. Dave Childers
    July 25, 2009

    Great post Ben, and great responses. I think this entire thread speaks to the strength of CMK – as well as Educon in Philadelphia that I attended in January. I am very much a fan of the unique formats of both, which allow for discussion to drive the conference, and not just “show and tell,” which is what I find at many of the other large ed tech conferences. While creating a Podcast is great, the real value of CMK for me was getting to discuss issues with fellow attendees and some outstanding faculty members.
    I always appreciate Gary’s ability to challenge not only the status quo, but even more importantly MY thinking, reasoning, and decision making as an educational leader – even when I ultimately disagree with him. And I wholeheartedly believe that we need more of this in ed tech right now, because the more we are willing to challenge so-called “best practices” and really put ourselves under the microscope, the more I think that students will ultimately benefit.
    As for “how do schools decide what is required,” that answer is simple in most cases – they don’t. Politicians do. You spoke directly to me when you mentioned Deborah Meier and her support of local control. When I hear people questioning when and how public education became so disjointed, I always refer back to local control. As Sylvia poignantly pointed out, the more we release the decision making over our own learning environments, the more that kids will lose out. To me, communities deserve the right to decide what their schools will look like and how they will operate. Partner this with continued expansion of school choice, and I think the system would be vastly superior to what we are looking at right now – especially with this new “Race to the Top” that emerged today. I was so wishing that CMK was still going today so that we could have opened the day with Gary’s reaction to this plan – though I bet I have an idea what it would have sounded like anyway.

  15. Deon Scanlon
    July 25, 2009

    Just a quick thought – in the already over-crowded curriculum of today, it is hard to find place for something new unless it gas value in other areas.

    Teaching programming to all for the sake of itself seems wasteful, much like teaching fluid mechanics to all, as few require this skill to participate in life (or their career).

    Yet, I have used programming successfully to teach geometry (specifically, angle) to 10 year olds for some time. Yep – you’ve all heard of it : LOGO.

    It’s a programming language. To use it successfully, you need to learn about syntax, structure and Boolean algebra, too.

    The point of teaching it is not so that students can become programmers, but so they can learn about mathematics in an engaging way. Most kids love it!

    Writing a computer programme is about problem solving. It’s only done for a reason. If the reason for doing it is so that one can learn about programming, it is certainly not for all.

    If the point is to provide ALL students with an engaging, cross-curricular/multi-disciplinary tool with which to solve real problems, then why not for all?

    As far as experience being a necessary factor in the worthiness of someone’s message: if this is the case, then when would we ever listen to our students? We have much to learn from them, despite their ‘noob’ status!

  16. Deon Scanlon
    July 25, 2009

    Heh. That wasn’t so quick, was it?

  17. Deb Hanson
    July 25, 2009

    This is great conversation. Thanks. The idea of teaching programming as a way to get students to learn to think differently and solve problems as Scott discusses above is intriguing. I’ve never thought of that and will have to hear more to get a grip on that idea.

    As far as newbies and experts and too many voices in your PLN, I agree with Ben that no network should necessarily have to have an expert with a certain degree of experience to make the network viable. Each of us brings some expertise about something to the network and we gain expertise in new areas by sharing with others. Anyone who has read Seth Godin’s book Tribes understands that leaders can appear anywhere in an organization. People who have ideas and want to create positive change (positive deviants) should be encouraged.

    From my perspective as a school library media specialist, the idea of having many voices in your PLN simply means that it is more essential than ever for us to be modeling for and teaching our students how to critically evaluate ideas and information, select information that is useful and viable, and respect diverse perspectives. These are critical skills in the world of social learning.

    Thanks to everyone for your comments on this thread. It has me thinking…

  18. monika hardy
    July 25, 2009

    just read these two pieces – seeking more insight from you all. aren’t these two conversations similar? interestingly similar? two different eras – but aren’t they saying the same thing… about boxes….

    @danah boyd “I desperately, desperately want my colleagues to be on IM or IRC or some channel of real-time conversation during meetings. While I will fully admit that there are times when the only thing I have to contribute to such dialogue is snark, there are many more times when I really want clarifications, a quick question answered, or the ability to ask someone in the room to put the mic closer to the speaker without interrupting the speaker in the process.
    I have become a “bad student.” I can no longer wander an art museum without asking a bazillion questions that the docent doesn’t know or won’t answer or desperately wanting access to information that goes beyond what’s on the brochure (like did you know that Rafael died from having too much sex!?!?!). I can’t pay attention in a lecture without looking up relevant content. And, in my world, every meeting and talk is enhanced through a backchannel of communication.”

    @richard feyman “This man also speaks about a new institution, in a talk in which he was resigning as Director of the Institute of Parapsychology. And, in telling people what to do next, he says that one of the things they have to do is be sure they only train students who have shown their ability to get PSI results to an acceptable extent— not to waste their time on those ambitious and interested students who get only chance results. It is very dangerous to have such a policy in teaching—to teach students only how to get certain results, rather than how to do an experiment with scientific integrity.”

    two fears i get from the topics of this post (and by fears – i don’t mean – gosh what if i can’t answer the questions my kids pose, or fears like tim ferriss addresses – but rather – fears of claustrophobia a box brings.)

    1) mandates: any use of the word mandate in education. if – because we are an institution, we are mandated to use the word mandate, then let’s use it like this – let’s mandate that kids learn how to learn. to me – any other mandate is building a box.

    2) division: any talk of division, separating “us.” the blue sweater by jacqueline novogratz, is steeped in insight for ed. especially ch 5, the blue bakery. from my take on newbies – very similar to the impoverished rwandans. she writes: “the story of the bakery was one of human transformation that comes w/being seen, being held accountable, succeeding.”

    i’ve spent so much time in the classroom trying to get the “impoverished/newbies” to let their voice be heard. to convince them that every voice is key to our journey. it makes me cringe to think we aren’t modeling that. @dean – dan meyer is a great example.

    we are smarter together. unboxed.

  19. wmchamberlain
    July 25, 2009


    Not really interested in “experts”, I have and probably will always be more interested in the working stiffs that struggle to teach students in the elementary/middle school classroom. I have much less interest in the views and opinions of University or even High School teachers simply because my students are not their students (for a few years anyway). That being said, I do listen to them and try to gleam some wisdom from them, but my application has to fit my students.

    I think too many times we spend our intelligence on education theory without showing how to apply it to fifth grade math or seventh grade language arts. As much as I would love to go to a keynote by Gary Stager, I think my time would be much better spent conferring with a teacher that works with students like me.

  20. sylvia martinez
    July 25, 2009

    Wow, this conversation is great!

    One point to consider is that most kids in the US get zero opportunity to program any computer in any language in any grade level. I’m hardly arguing for years and years of it. A whiff, a scent, a brief introduction would be a big step forward. I don’t think I’m asking for the moon here.

    And I don’t think it’s too hard, I don’t think teachers are incapable of teaching it. Some may be scared of it, but teachers learn to teach all sorts of difficult things. If you want me to get specific, if I only had one shot in 12 years I’d probably do something in the middle school years with an accessible language like Logo (of which Scratch is a variant.) Logo has the additional benefit of supporting math inquiry in a way nothing else does, and has been designed for children.

    And Alec, I completely agree. Teaching “computer science” is often an exercise in complex theory with languages that aren’t that good for beginners. I find it endlessly fascinating how school can turn interesting, vibrant, and fun things into boring, bloodless abstractions of themselves. Don’t even get me started on how bad the AP Computer Science is…

    I know there’s no time and that electives are being cut. I’m just as saddened that we are cutting art and music and waste so much time on testing. All of it makes me worry about how kids will learn to fall in love with learning and find their passions.

    We’ve packed the curriculum full of eccentric choices, especially regarding math and science. No one can argue that computers and the ability to control them are not essential in these fields these days. Yet we’ve ossified what we call “math” around 17th century arithmetic skills. We spend 12 years teaching kids stuff that isn’t relevant, interesting, or useful for the most part. But what to teach in math class is another argument for another day – suffice it to say that I have crazy visions of completely overhauling how math is taught too.

    Yes, I know that vast curriculum reform is an impossible dream– except where it’s been done. We can’t do anything if we don’t talk about what it means to be an educated person in today’s world. I think we are failing children if we don’t constantly address this issue and challenge ourselves to do what we can, when we can in this crazy world we all find ourselves in.

    I know we all pick our battles so that we aren’t crushed by the seemingly unyielding system, and yet I’m endlessly amazed by what kids and teachers do together when given the chance. As many people have pointed out, this isn’t about programming so much as agency and choice, and who holds the power over teachers and children. I’d like to see that become much more localized and flexible. I think Vicki shows this in what she’s chosen to do in her classroom. I think more teachers would make those kinds of choices if given the opportunity.

    By the way, for those of you not at CMK09, there was not a manifesto presented nor a formal conversation about this topic. There were many attendees who did not do projects that involved programming, and many who tried it for the first time. That’s a good thing in my book. And Ben didn’t even really identify me as the one who brought it up, nor would I have phrased it exactly like he did. He may have well had another conversation about which I’m completely unaware.

    That said, I’m glad that people are willing to engage about this, it makes me optimistic about the future.

  21. colleenk
    July 25, 2009

    I have addressed the idea of teaching programming skills to students on my blog. I’ll restate some of my main points here.

    I believe programming should be included in the curriculum. As a point of reference, my colleagues and I have been teaching mathematics through programming for many years at a learning center/research facility. We have observed significant changes in both ability and attitudes toward math in the children who have participated in the program. We use a robot equipped with a simple LOGO interpreter for children in grades K – 3. Upper elementary and middle school students work with Microworlds and Scratch. Our high school students work primarily with Actionscript in the Flash environment .

    During each stage, students are highly engaged, immersed in a world of mathematics and problem solving. Students who have spent at least one year in the program view math differently from students who have not had this experience. They see math as a tool; something they can call upon to “make things happen,” as one 7th grader reported. Students who do not participate tend to view math as an endless list of formulas and rules to memorize. This observation alone provides a very compelling reason to include programming in K-12 math curricula. Here are some additional reasons:

    1.Programming makes abstract concepts such as number, angles, variables, and functions more tangible for students leading to a deeper understanding.
    2.Programming a computer to carry out an algorithm (ie. pemdas, GCF, LCM) makes the process much more clear. To be successful, students must reduce the algorithm into its most fundamental components.
    3.During the process of programming, math concepts arise naturally. This means that advanced concepts can be accessed sooner. Rather than conforming to a predetermined order of topics, children have the opportunity to learn math on a “need to know” basis.
    4.Attitudes toward math are generally more positive. Students are, therefore, more likely to continue their study of math at higher levels.

    Programming is an important skill for students to learn apart from mathematics for the following reasons:

    1.Learning to think logically is an innate benefit of programming. Children learn to break down bigger problems into smaller ones. This skill is easily transferred to other areas.
    2.The ability to control a computer is becoming as important as knowing how to work with numbers and manipulate words. Those who lack this ability, as with numbers and words, will have a tremendous disadvantage.
    3.Through programming and, specifically, the process of debugging, children develop perseverence and determination. The end result (animation, working game, etc) is highly motivating.
    4.Programming is another form of expression, much like writing and creating music. With programming, children’s ideas can be brought to life as an interactive adventure, a game, or an application. Children should have as many expressive outlets as possible.

    I think the word mandate is troublesome for a lot of people. So much so that it obscures some very sensible arguments for the inclusion of programming. Mandate conjures up images of demanding all high school students take C++ before graduation. That is quite different from advocating for the inclusion of programming concepts in K-12 curricula.

  22. mrsdurff
    July 25, 2009

    In this post, your words, “…all students should be mandated to learn computer programming. This idea was explicitly stated, and I implicitly disagree with it.” is strongly in line with my own thoughts.
    I feel that teaching anything specific about computers that is not transferable is simply a waste of time. In fact, failing to teach kids how to transfer their knowledge from one software to another is a disservice to them. Who really thinks the software we use today will last into the next century?

  23. Gary S. Stager
    July 25, 2009


    Thanks again for attending Constructing Modern Knowledge. I’m confident that some of your fellow participants and members of the faculty would have been happy to engage you in discussion of these issues during the event.

    I am sorry if you misunderstood my comments about PLNs or expertise. Perhaps I was not clear enough, but I in no way at CMK suggested that I was more deserving of a platform for speaking than others.

    As I have said repeatedly, I created Constructing Modern Knowledge because I know how deeply my work, skill and understanding of powerful ideas have been transformed through intimate contact with brilliant thinkers, such as the people assembled in Manchester last week. Deborah Meier, Lella Gandini, Brian Silverman, Cynthia Solomon, Peter Reynolds, Marvin Minsky and the others have made undeniable contributions to the world of ideas through demonstrable actions and universal acknowledgement of their deep expertise. You heard many of them think out-loud, consider new ideas and saw them interact with the entire Constructing Modern Knowledge community.

    I mentioned how impressed I was by the experts’ “PLN.” Several of them mentioned sharing the same mentors, like David Hawkins, people they had worked with and learned from. Many other members of their learning network were people they engaged through their published ideas, even if they lived in the past or never met. Regardless of their daily work, professional focus or geography, the faculty at Constructing Modern Knowledge was no more than one degree of separation from each other.

    In my humble opinion, there is no greater thrill or way to learn, then by observing experts in-person. That is true even if I disagree vehemently with that person’s views. That explains why I attend lectures by the likes of Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales, Newt Gingrich, poets, politicians, inventors. I have also paid to see Madonna and Barry Manilow in concert, while being able to differentiate their talent from that of Hank Jones, Miles Davis or Eddie Palmieri.

    I created Constructing Modern Knowledge so today’s educators could work with their heroes and watch smart people at work at a time when other institutions, such as universities and professional associations, are doing far too little to make this a reality.


  24. Daily Spotlight on Education 07/25/2009 «!
    July 25, 2009

    […] Constructing Modern Knowledge 2009 […]

  25. concretekax
    July 26, 2009

    I really like the implementation of programming as described by @colleenk. I think she hit so many things on the head such as teaching problem-solving, logic, and showing students a real world value of math. The core classes have so many standards to cover for the test that there is way too little teaching of how to think in schools.

    I think programming with a language or Scratch is a great chance to teach students to think and problem solve. In my technology class I also use projects such as creating Rube Goldberg type machines or seeing how many pennies they can hold up on a 3″ platform made of two sheets of paper (over 1500 BTW).

    Any chance we have to challenge students to think creatively with projects or programming it is well worth our time.

  26. Ben Grey
    July 26, 2009

    This entire conversation leaves me in a state of awe. There are an incredible amount of excellent thoughts and opinions, and it’s going to take me some time to think through all the dynamic points that have been raised.

    I’ll need more time before I can respond to the programming topic, as I’m clearly seeing value in all the positions that have been presented thus far. It makes for very compelling reading and thinking.

    I do want to take the opportunity now to correct what I fear was an error on my part when I constructed the original post.

    I absolutely should have posted the link to Gary’s NECC talk to let you all come to your own conclusions on his opinions of networks independently. I did not mean to unjustly present his opinion in any way, and I was only writing what I heard him say. I would invite you all to view the talk and listen to his words for yourself before passing any judgement. The entire talk is very worth watching as there are great pieces to consider when creating an online learning environment, but his specific thoughts about networks begin just a few seconds shy of the 52 minute mark. You can watch the video here.

    After viewing the video several times since my original post, I still believe I accurately captured Gary’s position in my post. If you watch it and find you disagree with my position on it, I implore you to please let me know. I also should state that I entirely agree with the point he makes about the student playing with the professionals when he asks, “what key is it in?” I do agree with Gary that we should be conscious of the work people are doing around us when we enter a network before overtly and exclusively pushing to hear only our own thoughts or play our own song.

    I also did not intend in any way to write my words and thoughts of Gary’s position on networks in a manner that would prompt any untoward thoughts about Gary as a person. If I did cause that to occur, I entirely apologize to both Gary and those individuals who had such thoughts. I disagreed with Gary’s idea as he stated it, but I in no way meant to imply anything negative about Gary personally.

    This entire point puts me in a position to wonder about ethics in blogging. Honestly, if I made a mistake in any of this, I’d really like to apologize for that. As Gary spoke these words in a public forum at NECC where they were recorded, and then he spoke the same message at CMK, I felt it merited discussion to help me learn more about how I can be viewing learning networks as they are an integral part of my personal learning. If my writing about these events broke any code of ethics for blogging, I absolutely apologize and would love to know that I did so.

    Maybe this is something we all need to think about as we find ourselves thinking out loud in public more and more. What are the implications for doing so? What do we need to consider as we write personal reflections in a public forum about a public event?

    I do absolutely admit that while I freely posit my opinion on this blog, I also freely admit that anything I say is always open for discussion. The only reason I bring things up in this space at all is to learn more about them. I am not an expert. I am simply a learner. And I’d like to continue to engage the process of public learning. I hope you will continue to help me do so.

  27. Trevor Meister
    July 27, 2009

    Wow. I hardly know where to start. I missed formal computer studies/programming in school, I was one year ahead of the curve. When I was in grade 9 the students in grade 8 were the first class to have “formal” instruction and be “allowed” to touch the Apple II computers. By the time I hit grade 12, those lucky grade 11’s were banging away on fancy IBM PC Clones of some kind.

    At first I felt a bit left out, It didn’t seem fair. There was no way we could afford an Apple or IBM (even a clone) at home, and in a small rural school, it was pretty hard to sneak in at lunch time. Then along came Radio Shack with the Color computer or CoCo for short. A whopping 32k (after upgrade) but affordable. I started exploring on my own. and started sneaking some of the “real assignments” that all those lucky students below me were working on and very quickly did not feel bad at all. Man the stuff they were working on was booorrring.

    Even just playing around with the built in Basic was much better and I was even lucky enough to get my hands on a version of Logo (cartridge style). While it did not turn me into a hard core programmer, it did something much more important; it made math class bearable. I am positive that my code would have made Cynthia and Seymore cringe or have nightmares, but starting with basic geometric shapes through to tracing out trig functions and conics, that little turtle served me well. Still there is more to it than that. Being exposed to the software/programming was one aspect, having “ownership” of the hardware was another important part of it, but having this all come together in the right environment was critical.

    I was also very fortunate to have parents who did not throw a fit when they discovered I had taken apart one of the joysticks and added a few extra wires and random components from a small radio (that was also sacrificed for the cause) just to see what effect it would have. (okay, Mom wasn’t all that impressed, and I thought I was in big trouble when Dad requested my presence in “the shop” -we didn’t have a wood shed.) As it turned out, he provided me with a quick introduction to the various functions of a multimeter and suggested it might be a useful tool for learning more about what was really going on.

    It has already been mentioned a few times that there is a bigger picture (ie Alec “those skills & literacies that programming consists of such as logic, problem-solving, debugging, individual & group collaboration, synthesis & reuse of data, freedom and sharing of code (ala Stallman), etc. I’m all for the latter, and these are well expressed in coding, but these can also be addressed alone or jointly through other actiivities.”) I taught at a performing arts school for several years, and I know I witnessed the same processes being carried out by groups of students while planning “shows” (Live theatre, concert, art gallery display, film production etc.). One of my sons has responded in a similar way to cooking, quickly throwing away “the book” and looking for and identifying underlying “food patterns” (Thank-you food network -the Iron Chefs pretty much walk on water). I don’t think there will ever be any one “thing” that works for most, but it would sure be nice to do whatever possible to make that kind of experience more likely to occur for all children.

  28. Susan Carter Morgan
    July 27, 2009

    In 1986, I decided to renew my teaching certification by taking a computer class (having never seen or touched a computer.)The course in Basic programming frustrated and angered me for weeks. Then, I actually programmed something. I made it work. That course changed me, an English major, into someone who realized the power of technology. Over the past 20 some years, I’ve learned DOS, html, and some java script. I am not a programmer, but I delight in my understanding of the logic, the ability to think things through. Even today, I use those skills to test apps and figure out the worth. There is value in knowing what happens in the background, even in a limited way. I have disagreed with Gary on other issues, but I applaud his dedication to this one powerful way to help kids learn. And I think he nails his ideas in the video, too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Ben. I am in total agreement on the idea of experts/newbies. We are all learners here. The conversation is great!

  29. Brady Cline
    July 28, 2009

    Fascinating discussion.

    On Programming Classes:
    The talk of requiring computer programming seems a bit off to me, and it reminds me of what I see as one of the downfalls of many at the front of the ed-tech movement: Techno-Gnosticism. (The idea that they have been gifted with special knowledge which is incomprehensible to others who are yet to be enlightened.)

    Computer programming is a great skill, which can, for some, provide a rich learning experience. But think of the diversity of interests among our students. For some programming will be wonderful and for many it will be an absolute chore that teaches nothing except to hate a discipline (as I hated Spanish in high school). Some will embrace and be enriched by literature, some by math, and others by science or auto-shop. The thing is, we can’t choose what will grab hold of students any more than we chose what grabbed ahold of us.

    On “Experts”:
    I’ve heard this argument before, and I do think that the information age has been a great leveler in that regard. On the other hand, I think it is overstating it a bit to claim that we don’t need experts to lead the way.

    All one has to do is apply this logic to other fields, and the argument falls apart. I hope doctors attend conferences put on by experts who have formally dedicated years to their studies, rather than someone who is enthusiastic but just recently started participating in discussion groups on Which would you visit if you were sick? Auto-mechanics make a better analogy because there is a strong hobbyist community of skilled non-professionals (like tech). These mechanics may do a lot of learning on their own, but it takes much time and practical application. And still, there is a natural hierarchy of expertise; one that dictates where I take my car to be serviced depending on the complexity of the problem.

    In my view, it is a mistake reject the value of elites (never-mind the political use of the word). That is a revolutionary view that, despite the appealing rhetoric, hasn’t been validated by history.

  30. Scott Meech
    July 28, 2009

    1. Great discussion … Great example of the power that Ben has with his writing!

    2. Yes, requiring an activity in schools that try to fit 10 lbs. of flour in a 5 lb. sack seems foolish at best. I do suggest that we require programming in some fashion though because as stated by myself and several others that it is an activity that is not ingrained in a content but in a thought process:

    3. The argument to require something to make sure everyone is exposed simply for the pleasure of an activity is simplistic.

    4. Those that don’t want to see it as a requirement should start listing all of the “silly” requirements that schools already have and eliminate a lot of them first!

  31. Sustainably Digital » On programming and standards, part 1
    July 28, 2009

    […] a lively discussion going on over at Ben Grey’s joint related to whether programming should be something students are required to encounter during their […]

  32. Brady Cline
    July 28, 2009

    “[programming is] an activity that is not ingrained in a content but in a thought process:” (Smeech)

    OK – yes, but why not require students to take classes in philosophy, critical thinking, and logic? (I think it would be a pretty good idea.)

    CS can be very similar to engineering. Talk to any physics student and they will argue that solving physics problems is more about thought process than math.

    I think the real argument (which I would then agree with) is that students should be required to take more courses that develop higher level thinking skills that encourage problem solving and complex system analysis. Computer programming robotics, classical philosophy, and some sciences have and continue to provide that, but only a select few schools offer, let alone require, such courses anymore.

    I feel lucky that the school I teach at (and all IB schools) require a theory of knowledge course which partially address this real need.

  33. Ben Grey
    July 28, 2009

    In response to Brady’s first comment.

    Brady- We agree on the programming. The experts issue is another matter.

    Your analogy regarding other fields is good, except it suffers one fatal flaw. It assumes that teachers are not professionals.

    I painted houses for 13 summers of my life. When I started, I was a horrid hack who inflicted my poor skill on a great many beautiful homes. As the years progressed, however, I slowly grew in both skill and speed under the tutelage of several very patient experts. Five years in, I was leading my own crew. Ten years in, I was a professional. At that point there were surely people who were better painters than I, and there were always new intricacies to learn about the craft, but I remained, a seasoned professional. I was an expert.

    It is the same with teachers. The issue I have with statements like the one Gary made is that it assumes teachers have no value to give as a potential keynote. His lack of a definition of a “newbie” or what constitutes an “ignoramus” in his talk is problematic, to be sure, as it assumes we know specifically what he refers to. Is he talking about a first year teacher, a teacher of five years, or a very experienced teacher who just started blogging? I believe, like my painting comparison, that a teacher becomes an expert in the craft of teaching through the process of teaching and learning.

    In your analogy, we are the doctors and the auto-mechanics. We are not the patients or the hobbyists dabbling in the art of teaching as a mere curiosity. Because someone has written many proposals does not make them anymore an expert than the person who has been engaging students in the process of learning for twenty years within the walls of a classroom.

    Yes, we as teachers always have more to learn. I would maintain that any expert of any value would likely maintain the same of him/herself. We can certainly all learn from each other, and that’s my point. I don’t want to listen to someone bestow their knowledge upon me because they paid their dues running the circuit. I want to engage in conversations with those who I ascribe value to based both on what they know and what they can help me learn about learning. And to that end, I don’t care how many proposals that person has submitted. I really, honestly don’t.

  34. monika hardy
    July 28, 2009

    i think another key factor here is – with all due respect – how many experts do we really have?
    not because there aren’t brilliant teachers all over….there are – really brilliant teachers all over.
    but because education, in order to be successful needs to be turned upside down. we can’t “teach” the same anymore. school success needs to be redefined. i mean no more standards. pd needs to be redefined. we’ve got to model learning. this isn’t just another cycle.
    it may be hard for even the most brilliant to make that a practicality. that’s our charge.

  35. Ann
    July 28, 2009

    Two thoughts:
    1. I was never exposed to programming when I was a student. I might have taken a course given the “choice” to take it or maybe not. The important thing to consider is that I was never given that choice. With all my recent exposure to technology it may have been an advantage to have that knowledge. On the other hand, it really doesn’t matter now. I can get that information on my own, all I have to do is turn on my computer and search for the information and read. Trial and error may cause frustration, but it is not impossible to learn just about anything if I am willing to invest the time and effort. Our students now have that same power of choice, whether we give it to them or not.
    2. On the topic of experts, as a teacher I am considered the expert in my own classroom. My students are there to learn and I am the expert leading the way, guiding their learning. The funny thing about that is that I learn each and every day from my students. There are some days they teach me more than I teach them. Sometimes their insight is something I may never have considered. So can’t the same be said for the “expert” presenter and his/her audience? If you are a true “expert” you know that you can always learn from others, no matter what their level of experience.

  36. sylvia martinez
    July 28, 2009

    So here’s the problem we face at this point in the conversation. It’s clear to me that the term “programming” means incredibly different things to different commenters. And not just two versions, I also don’t agree with some of the “pro” commenters about it being a thought process or some sort of logical exercise.

    And I definitely feel that people who have had bad (or no) experience in programming or have never seen kids learn to program in minutes are painting a straw man picture of learning programming that’s strangely arcane, or too tied to a specific language, or specific hardware, or time. That’s simplistic, but I guess if you have to set up a straw man, it might as well be easy to knock down.

    I find it quite natural to be an educational technology advocate who advocates for programming. I’d be surprised if an artist didn’t advocate for the most in-depth art education, or a mathematician didn’t advocate for better math education. I don’t feel the need to wait for the day when there is space in the curriculum to accommodate new things. I have to speak up for what I believe, and I have to do it now.

    This brings me back to the point I was actually making (Ben, I still really feel like you took what I said out of context to make this about thumbs up/down on programming.) My point was that this all hinges on democracy and who makes choices in the school and classroom. I’m happy for people to have different opinions about programming, if they actually have a choice in implementing those opinions. And the choices have to be for teachers and students.

    I have no fear of teachers and students making good choices, but the choices they typically get to make are so constrained that it makes a mockery of that idea. I have no qualms about one teacher teaching a different programming language or focusing on logic instead of problem solving. Just like I have no fear of one teacher spending time on the Grapes of Wrath and another on Animal Farm. When people say, “all kids won’t learn the same things”, I say it’s not happening now anyway. Everyone marching in lockstep to the same curriculum drum is a bureaucratic fantasy.

    I strongly believe in what Deborah Meier was advocating at CMK09. For the most agency over school functions by the people there – students, community and teachers. That this is a cornerstone of democracy, and must be nurtured with care. My remarks were directly related to hers.

  37. Ben Wildeboer
    July 28, 2009

    There’s a lot going on in these comments…I knew I should’ve come back sooner to drop another comment…;-)

    First, I want to make sure that it’s clear that I’m not anti-programming-in-schools. I definitely think that programming has a lot of value in the school environment. I’m anti-mandating-all-schools-teach-it.

    Why? Number 1- When a content area becomes commonplace in our school system the life is often sucked out of it. There’ll suddently be “programming standards,” and state exams. As Seymour Papert, School reacts to threats to the status quo in a similar manner as the body reacts to an infection: it attacks then assimilates. How long after programming is taught in all schools does it become it’s own class complete with multiple choice exams (#57. To make the turtle in turtle art draw icicles, what is your first step? a. Repeat [100], b….)? I realize this ‘s a bit of an exaggeration, but perhaps programming is much more effective if it’s snuck into the classroom through the back door instead of forced through the front. Perhaps the best way to do this is to educate teachers on how programming might be a great addition to their classrooms (calling ColleenK).

    Number 2- I worry about making anything mandatory for all students. Sylvia, you and I seem to be on the same page when you’re discussing that deciding a school’s curriculum should be a process that includes students, teachers, and the community, and that it should be something that is addressed regularly. However, you also made the point at CMK that students shouldn’t be given the choice whether to experience programming or not. I’m pretty sure your line of reasoning (correct me if I’m wrong) follows the thought that programming might be considered boring or nerdy for students who haven’t ever experienced it, and so they might choose it (similar lines of reasoning might apply to teachers as well). I really want to agree with you here, but this feels a lot like the logic we use when we require students to take the eccentric courses you described in your first comment. Which all brings us back to the more difficult question: How do we decide what schools should teach?

    A few other questions that came to mind as I read through these comments:
    1) Is programming when it’s taught well superior to other content areas when they’re taught well? In many of the comments describing all the great attributes programming helps students learn, I think you could replace the word “programming” with almost any content area, assuming it’s well taught.
    2) Is programming necessary to exercise control over a computer now-a-days? I’ve read numerous ed-techie blogs who’ve said the great thing about “Web 2.0” is that it means you don’t have to learn how to program to exercise control over a computer.
    3) What’s the record for number of comments on Have we surpassed it?

    Again, I’m not anti-programming. I’m just new to the “programming-is-so-awesome!” viewpoint and am working through some things in my mind.

  38. Ben Wildeboer
    July 28, 2009

    A few typos & omitted words in that comment (too late for commenting I guess). Hopefully my meaning still comes across.

  39. Brady Cline
    July 29, 2009

    Ben G, you’ve drastically changed, or monumentally clarified, your initial position on experts.

    Your original post took issue with Gary’s belief in experts (without qualification). You claimed that the need for experts is “proven defunct, is rife with complication.”

    Your most recent comment, turns this on its head. It seems that you now argue (correctly in my view) that experts are, in fact, needed and that many teachers (like those in this discussion) are experts (whether or not they have been properly recognized as such by elitists (Gary?).

    Ben W. – Your focus on good teaching is spot on. It just isn’t helpful (or honest) to pit traditional content, taught badly vs. new content taught well.

  40. Deon Scanlon
    July 29, 2009

    Brady: I disagree that Ben G has changed his stance. I take his reference to “experts” (note the double quotation marks) as meaning “experts as Gary refers to them”, and not “experts in Ben Grey’s terms”.

    I agree with Ben G’s stance. Take a look at the iSchool Initiative (

    Travis Allen came up with this idea as a teenager… Does that mean his ideas aren’t worthy of being shouted from every hilltop, conference and webinar this side of cyber space (if cyber space has sides)?

    Personally, I have found a lot of so-called “experts” (in the way Ben G suggests Gary refers to them) to be out of touch with the reality of classroom life, and not worthy of the status afforded to them by their credentials. I in no means transfer this to Gary or any others taking part in this discussion, but poor “experts” are out their soaking up education funding, pushing paper and thrusting standards and nationalized curricula in our faces.

    Not all “experts” are worth listening to, and not all those worth listening to are “experts”!

    NB: please take note of my use of double quotation marks!

  41. Deon Scanlon
    July 29, 2009

    Ooh… Embarrassing autocorrection: their = there…

    [credibility slips a little]

  42. Brady Cline
    July 29, 2009

    Deon: OK – that is a fair interpretation, and that’s why I suggested that he “monumentally clarified” himself (at least to me) in his later post. I suspect that we are all agreeing. I too would have taken great exception to the ivory-tower assertion that Gary made if it was really in the tone/spirit that Ben suggested.

    I think someone is an expert (no double quotes) when he proves himself in the marketplace of ideas. This leaves room for (but grants no special right to) Travis, Gary, Ben, you, and me.

  43. sylvia martinez
    July 29, 2009

    1. I acknowledge that big systems like schools and government have appalling abilities to mess up good stuff. And yet, Dr. Papert whom you’ve quoted spent his life trying. So has Deborah Meier. These people are my heroes.

    2. The context of what I said was that an uninformed choice is a false choice.

    awesome…programming is awesome…programming is…


  44. Routinization of Novelty: Influencing Positive Change in Practical Ways «!
    August 1, 2009

    […] things and sharing what they are doing.  While, this doesn’t replace the experts (see Ben Grey’s recent article mentioning experts) that are out there, it is a highly needed supplement to what we see at many […]

  45. Matt Montagne
    August 1, 2009

    The current statistics for women in engineering and software engineering, to say the least, are bleak. Enrollment of women in engineering classes at the university level is at an all time low (something like 80% or engineering students are male). Enrollment peaked about 10 years ago and has been tailing off ever since. This is a HUGE equity issue that we pretty much seem to accept. If I were education czar, I would make software engineering and design an integral component of the education of all girls in the world. Something, for crying out loud, has to be done. Great audio slidedeck here on the topic of Girls and STEM education:

  46. Weekly Spotlight (weekly) « Keeping Kids First
    August 2, 2009

    […] Constructing Modern Knowledge 2009 […]


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