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Ten Things to Do with a Laptop
Learning and Powerful Ideas
By Gary Stager

I fell in love with computing back in the mid-1970s. The activity of computing - making something out of nothing, debugging and thinking systematically – that made me feel intellectually powerful, not the computer. In fact, it would be a year or two later until I even saw a computer. I was computing on a terminal. When I was hired to teach children about computers Twenty-five years ago I trusted my own experience and instincts by creating an environment in which they too could fall in love with programming.

My career has been concerned with using computers as intellectual tools and vehicles for self-expression. At their best, computers mediate a conversation with your self. You test a hypothesis with the computer. If successful, you are inspired to build upon the achievement and build something more complex. When unsuccessful, you confront your thinking, debug the problem and try another strategy. Computers allow you and your students to learn things that have always been desirable, perhaps with greater efficacy or comprehension.  However, the real power lies within the computer’s ability to make new rich experiences and the resulting knowledge possible in ways unimaginable a few years ago.

The goal of creating productive contexts for learning has been consistent since 1981 and has survived the fads of MathBlaster, the one-computer classroom, multiple-choice curricula, computer labs, PowerPoint, web quests and interactive white boards. My focus remains on empowering children, democratizing knowledge and creating learning environments in which the impossible is possible for children regardless of their personal circumstances.

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I began leading professional development in the world’s first two laptop schools in 1990 at a time when neither my colleagues nor I had a personal laptop. Student laptops fulfilled the dreams of children engaging in serious intellectual work and were a catalyst for educators to challenge traditional notions of teaching and learning. Between 1990 and 1995 I was at the center of a tsunami of educational innovation. Overtime, the pace of innovation has slowed.

American schools have finally begun to embrace laptops, but too many districts think that innovation ends with the signing of a purchase order. Much of the skepticism about 1:1 computing is based on the meager or unimaginative objectives of 1:1 schools. The demands for accountability are inversely proportional to the use of laptops in profoundly interesting ways.

Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon wrote a paper in 1971 called, “Twenty Things to Do with a Computer.” Few of today’s schools, with or without laptops, satisfy the goals of that thirty-five year-old document. This presentation invokes the challenging vision of the earlier document, updates it and presents ideas for using laptops in ways that offer unprecedented learning adventures.

This presentation may be a keynote address or concurrent conference presentation.

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