In addition to being a popular keynote speaker at some of the world’s most prestigious education conferences, Gary Stager is a journalist, teacher educator, consultant, professor, software developer, publisher, and school administrator. An elementary teacher by training, he has taught students from preschool through doctoral studies. In 1990, Dr. Stager led professional development in the world’s first laptop schools and played a major role in the early days of online education. Gary is the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute for educators.
Dr. Stager is co-author of Invent To Learn – Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, called the “bible of the maker movement in schools,” by Larry Magid of CBS and The San Jose Mercury News.
When Jean Piaget wanted to better understand how children learn mathematics, he hired Seymour Papert. When Dr. Papert wanted to create a high-tech alternative learning environment for incarcerated at-risk teens, he hired Gary Stager. This work was the basis for Gary’s doctoral dissertation and documented Papert’s most-recent institutional research project.
Dr. Stager’s work has earned a Ph.D. in Science and Mathematics Education and he collaborated on a project that won a Grammy Award. Recently, Gary was invited by Fondazione Reggio Children to lead a public seminar on education in Reggio Emilia, Italy.
Gary is also on the advisory board of the NSF-funded project, BJC4NYC: Bringing a Rigorous Computer Science Principles Course to the Largest School System in the US.
Two significant anniversaries passed without notice during the recent pandemic. 30 years ago, Australian educators changed the world when they pioneered 1:1 computing in no small part based on a philosophy introduced 50 years ago by Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon in their groundbreaking 1971 paper, Twenty Things to Do with a Computer. Australia not only showed the world that it was possible to provide every child with a personal computer, but the early adopters were deliberate in their commitment to the computer being the personal intellectual laboratory and vehicle for self expression in the hands of children. The centrality of the learner in the construction of knowledge was the powerful ideas underlying both anniversaries.
Educators benefit when they understand that they stand on the shoulders of giants. Without the vision of Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon educational computing and the maker movement might not exist. They created a progressive vision for the field and invented many of the tools and pedagogical metaphors that continue to guide effective practice. In 1971, they not only predicted, and advocated for 1:1 computing, physical computing, computer science for all, and the maker movement, but they demonstrated what these activities would look like in practice. Yet, sadly, their provocations remain unrealized in far too many schools a half century later and we are still arguing about children and screens.
Schools lose sight of their mission when they engage in rhetorical fantasies about the future at the expense of doing the right thing today. Embracing every new fad comprised of adding “Edu” to a collection of nonsense syllables may create a temporary sugar high, but distracts us from embracing the rich opportunities learning adventures that already exist. Education policy should no more be dictated by articles in the business press than from gossip magazines. Hype and hysteria are the twin enemies of educational progress. We know what to do!
This presentation is an urgent call for Australian educators to embrace, understand, appreciate, and amplify the learning renascence of the early years of 1:1 computing and situate them in the work of Papert, Solomon, and constructionist traditions. Gary Stager led professional development at the first two “laptop schools” and spent decades working with Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon, the father and mother of educational computing. Much of his work continues to help schools around the world live up to these examples and realize the possible. He has rescued, archived, and shared seminal documents from Australia’s contributions to personal computing and his recent book convened nearly four dozen of the world's leading technologists, educators, scholars, educators, and visionaries to explore the wisdom of Twenty Things to Do with a Computer, reflect on our progress, and set a course for the next 50 years. The scenarios presented not only inform technology planning, but prepare educators to be sufficiently future-ready to sustain pedagogical progress and maintain the viability of schooling.
The fierce urgency of now requires that those of us who know better to do better. The future will take care of itself.
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