Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bob Tinker, playful physicist and education innovator

Today is Bob Tinker's 70th birthday. Bob is a low-temperature physicist who early in his career moved to Alabama to teach in a black college and march in Civil Rights marches. Later he led TERC in Cambridge, MA, and pioneered the use of probeware to allow students and adults to participate in citizen science. He helped develop Global Lab and the National Geographic Kids Network, alllowing kids all over the world to collaborate on environmental projects.

I met Bob shortly after he founded the Concord Consortium in 1994. At Concord he launched the first Virtual High School, which continues to stand out for its collaborative model and the quality of its courses. Although Bob officially retired as president of the Concord Consortium a few years ago, he continues to consult and collaborate on projects ranging from modeling the behavior of atoms to building "smart graphs" that teach students about what graphs tell us and how they're made.

Yesterday the Concord Consortium folks had a birthday party for Bob in the MIT Museum, a perfect location to reflect his innovative spirit and dedication to advancing the common good. As guests entered, they were greeted by a full-size cutout model of Bob that looked startlingly real. When Bob and his wife Barbara showed up, the resemblance seemed even closer: Bob was wearing the same clothes as his cutout.

Old friends ate hors-d'oeuvres and caught up, and then a few reminisced. They talked about Bob's unfailing optimism and good cheer, his encouraging ways as a mentor, and the spirit of play that constantly animates him. They saluted his skills as a writer and his unfailing willingness to write yet one more well-crafted, exciting grant application to the National Science Foundation. They paid tribute to the energizing work environment he creates around him.

So, Bob, Happy Birthday, and may you keep on playing!

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