If you’re not familiar with the learning theory of “constructionism” advanced principally by Seymour Papert and now at the heart of the modern-day “maker movement,” the following video clip from Michael Wesch can help. In this May 2014 lecture at Pasadena City College, starting at 38:45, Wesch quotes Papert saying:

“Nothing could be more absurd than an experiment in which computers are placed in a classroom in which nothing else has changed… Computers serve best when they allow everything to change.”

Give a listen to what Wesch says about constructionism and PLAYING with technology. (Yep, sounds a lot like “Playing with Media,” doesn’t it?!)  This entire lecture is fantastic and one of the best I’ve seen and heard in a LONG time, so I encourage you to watch it all… but at least watch this segment about constructionism versus instructionism, Papert versus Suppes, and “Dial a Drill” (1970) as the predecessor of Khan Academy.

This reminds me of the tragic and saddening words from the July 29, 2014 article, “Why Hoboken is Throwing Away All of its Student Laptops.” In 2009, the district invested a windfall of federal stimulus money into netbooks without (apparently) a guiding vision and plan for how these computers would be used to transform teaching and learning in the school district. The article’s author elaborates:

Michael Ranieri, a junior at Hoboken’s high school, aspires to be an electrical engineer. He said when he did use the computers for schoolwork, it was mostly for word processing and internet browsing. He would write an essay on the laptop for English class, for example, or research information using Google. “We didn’t really do much on the computer,” said Ranieri. “So we kind of just did games to mess around when we had free time. I remember, really big, was Crazy Taxis that we used to play. If we found solitaire on line, we used to play it.” Ranieri said he was relieved to be free of the stress of keeping track of his laptop. Families had to sign papers agreeing to be financially responsible if the computers were lost. Every week Ranieri roamed his classrooms looking for his. “It was usually under my desk in English class,” he said.

Virtually school, every student, and every teacher is eventually going to go “one to one” with digital learning devices in our schools and in society. I say “virtually” because there are many hold-outs today for 1:1 learning, and not all of them are avoiding digital learning technologies for budgetary reasons. Some of our close family friends send their children to “The Academy of Classical Christian Studies” in Edmond / north Oklahoma City, where their educational philosophy rejects digital screens for younger students entirely because of a focus on “classical education.” Memorization and cursive writing are among the skills which are emphasized instead. This is an expensive, private school, and parents are opting out of computers entirely for their children in elementary grades.

Amidst the clamor of voices around the repeal of Common Core State Standards in my home state of Oklahoma, we hear very little about constructionist learning theory and truly revolutionary, transformative pedagogy. Michael Wesch’s reminders of Seymour Papert’s educational philosophy, standing in stark contract to the “instructionist” mandates and laws from government agencies as well as (sadly) many adults (including both parents and teachers) is like cold spring water shared with someone dying of thirst in a hot desert.

Bring forth thy “constructionist” spring water. I want to drink deeply from that well. So do my students. Bring on the school year. Bring on STEM. Let the “making” begin!

Triumph by __MaRiNa__, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  __MaRiNa__ 

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