David Thornburg

David Thornburg

Speaker: David Thornburg

The country’s premiere educational technology futurist

Speech Topics Include:

  • Gadgets and Geegaws – The Cornerstones of STEM Education
  • “ET” Comes Home: Arduino Robotics in the Classroom
  • From the Campfire to the Holodeck: How Place Matters in Education
  • Mobile Learning and the Disruption of Education (with Norma Thornburg and Sara Armstrong, PhD)
  • Seeing Tomorrow, Today: How to Find Emerging and Future Educational Technologies

David is an award-winning futurist, author and consultant whose clients range across the public and private sector across the planet. His razor-sharp focus on the fast-paced world of modern computing and communication media, project-based learning, 21st century skills, and open source software has placed him in constant demand as a keynote speaker and workshop leader for schools, foundations, and governments.  His current work on new learning spaces resulted in the creationg of the Educational Holodeck – and immersive, interactive, learning environment suited for interdisciplinary exploration of academic topics through realistic simulations.

As a child of the October Sky, David was strongly influenced by the early work in space exploration, and was the beneficiary of changes in the US educational system that promoted and developed interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills.  He now is engaged in helping a new generation of students and their teachers infuse these skills through the mechanism of inquiry-driven project-based learning.

His educational philosophy is based on the idea that students learn best when they are constructors of their own knowledge. He also believes that students who are taught in ways that honor their learning styles and dominant intelligences retain the native engagement with learning with which they entered school. A central theme of his work is that we must prepare students for their future, not for our past.

In addition to his work with technology, David also consults on the relationship between classroom design and learning.  In this capacity he is Senior Consultant to the architecture firm, Fielding Nair, and is currently writing a new book, From the Campfire to the Holodeck: How Place Matters in Education.

David splits his time between the United States and Brazil. His work in Brazil also is focused on education, and he has spoken at conferences and consulted for firms and educational institutions throughout that country.

Gadgets and Geegaws – The Cornerstones of STEM Education

This dynamic presentation, aided by numerous gadgets, geegaws, widgets, and doohickeys, makes the strong case that every child needs the chance to learn by tinkering with real stuff! We have migrated into a head-based world as far as education goes, but, as Seymour Papert pointed out, this is not enough. We all have the need to build things with our hands that can be shared with others. This model of “constructionism” is the logical outcome of the constructivist model well known to all. It represents the domain of lasting knowledge fueled by student activities and projects, some of which have strong curricular connections, and all of which support discovery and experimentation.

The presenter, who has been a tinkerer since his early years, illustrates not only the power of this approach, but shows strategies and tools to bring true hands-on learning to kids of all ages. Whether it is primary-grade students building rubber-band cars, or high school students building and programming their own automated machines using interfaces like the Arduino board and programming tools ranging from Scratch to C, we’ll explore concrete methods for bringing engineering and technology into your STEM program in powerful ways. See how to transform apparently useless things into powerful learning experiences and rekindle the joy that comes from playing with new gadgets of all kinds! In this session we will (probably) not blow anything up.

“ET” Comes Home: Arduino Robotics in the Classroom

Too often STEM is interpreted as just science and math, with engineering and technology taking a back seat. Remember the movie, ET? Well, in this workshop ET stands for engineering and technology, and we bring both these topics to the forefront with the use of an inexpensive and amazingly versatile gadget, the Arduino, an interface board with a programmable chip that forms the bridge between your robotic constructions and computer programming. Depending on the needs and interests of the students, the Arduino can be programmed using everything from the Scratch language to C. It can even be controlled through Hyperstudio!

As for the devices you can build, the sky is the limit. Recycled materials combined with a few motors, lights, and sensors of various types can be turned into projects of varying complexity. Best of all, while these projects are definitely hands-on, they are minds-on as well. Students develop problem solving strategies and learn some simple electronic theory normally explored in a Physics classroom.

In this day-long workshop, you can work by yourself or in groups of up to five members.  Each individual will get his or her own Arduino and assorted components to build many projects. Best of all, the hardware goes home with you at the end of the workshop so you can share what you’ve learned with your colleagues!

Participants are asked to bring their laptop, clean recycled materials – corrugated cardboard, soda bottles, etc. along with glue and some hand tools – and the ever-present duct tape! If needed, soldering iron(s) will be provided.

From the Campfire to the Holodeck: How Place Matters in Education

In the 1990’s, the presenter published a book in which he described four learning spaces occupied by all learners during their studies: the campfire (lecture space), watering hole (collaborative space), Cave (reflective space), and Life (application space). This updated presentation explores the powerful role physical and virtual spaces can have on STEM education. One environment that embodies these spaces is the Educational Holodeck, and demonstrations of this environment will be provided illustrating the exploration of academic topics through, for example, space exploration.

Mobile Learning and the Disruption of Education (with Norma Thornburg and Sara Armstrong, PhD)

We live at one of the most important times in education’s history where we are witnessing a disruption whose magnitude has not been equaled since the invention of the mass-produced book. The astounding growth of smartphones and tablets has brought highly connected learning tools into the hands of many learners, and this trend will reach most of them very shortly. With students entering the classroom with access to the Library of Congress in their pockets, purses and backpacks, it is little wonder that many educators are concerned that students are using these tools to “cheat.”

In fact, the so-called cheating is a product of asking students questions for which the Internet provides an easy answer. In the context of the move from data through information and knowledge to understanding, Traditional textbook driven didactic teaching has diminishing value. The mark of an educated person is based less on what he or she knows and more on what they are able to do with this knowledge aas they apply it in their lives.

This speech explores alternative pedagogical models in which the power of ubiquitous mobile technologies is coupled with inquiry and student projects to transform learning in powerful, fundamental ways.

Seeing Tomorrow, Today: How to Find Emerging and Future Educational Technologies

Have you ever made a “trendy” technology purchase, only to see your investment end up in the dust bin a year later? Anyone who uses or purchases modern technologies wants to be sure that the tools they have are as up to date as possible. Yet, no matter how hard we try, it seems that last year’s tools are headed for the storage closet before we know it.

If only we could anticipate “the next big thing,” we could make better technology decisions. Far from the arcane art of gazing into crystal balls, today’s futurists use a variety of approaches to see if a new device or capability is a fad or a long-term trend.

This dynamic presentation, based on a doctoral level course on the topic, shows a variety of lenses through which technologies can be seen with the goal of identifying those that not only meet today’s needs, but have the power to last. Each of the strategies described is illustrated with examples of current technologies – some of which may change the ways we learn and work. Examples aside, this session is not a laundry list of modern tools, but a description of proven strategies that let you craft your own visions of the future – visions that will make differences in the lives of those with whom you work.

Come and learn how science fiction, ideas from evolutionary biology, “wild cards,” “disruptive technologies” and the basic “laws of media” can help you the next time someone asks you about the long-term prognosis for the latest gadget to catch your eye. And, if you work in the technology industry, you should see how the forces we explore impact your own work!

The presenter, who has been called “the country’s premiere educational technology futurist,” has spent a vibrant career both as a technology inventor, and proponent for the effective use of technology in education. His insights inform leaders in education and corporations from small start-up companies to members of the Fortune 500.


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