Not many people can say they’ve worked with a legend. But anyone who knew the respected and beloved founder of the Concord Consortium, Robert (Bob) Tinker, recognized that they were in the presence of one. Bob’s brilliant mind and genuine compassion were remarkable qualities that rarely come in the same person. Bob combined them in singular and inspiring fashion. Bob’s passing on June 21, 2017, is a source of sadness for us all, but it’s also a reason to remember his legacy and his unique personal qualities.
Bob Tinker founded the Concord Consortium in 1994 and served as its dynamic and passionate president until 2009. He saw in technology the power to revolutionize how people learn and teach. And he continually pushed the limits of educational technology and pedagogies, pursuing ever more innovative ideas with new collaborators and partners.
After receiving a Ph.D. in physics from MIT he taught at Amherst College and then became Director of the Technology Center for the Technical Education Research Centers (TERC) in Cambridge, where he ignited the field of educational probeware by developing Microcomputer-Based Labs (kits using probes and motion detectors).
Bob recognized the future of education before anyone else even caught a glimpse. When the Web was still young, he pioneered inquiry-based professional development and teaching, and founded one of the first and largest virtual schools for pre-college education. The Concord Consortium was the result of a Saturday morning coffee and discussion klatsch that grew from desks made of Mac boxes and old doors to an internationally recognized nonprofit with scores of employees.
Despite his renown, Bob remained deeply interested in the ideas of colleagues and friends, and trusted Concord Consortium staff to do their best work unhindered. He continued to serve on our board of directors until his death, sharing his vision for an educational revolution that would make science accessible to all students. He dedicated his life to realizing that dream.
Bob leaves his wife Barbara, sons Aaron and Dylan, five grandchildren, and many adoring colleagues, friends, mentees, and fans of his inspiring work and legacy.
We invite you to share your stories and memories of how Bob inspired you.
To honor Bob’s legacy, we have created the Robert F. Tinker Fellows Program. Learn more »
51 thoughts on “Remembering Bob”
There are not too many folks in this world who have both sides of their brain fully and totally functioning in harmony. Bob was such a person, on a daily basis he demonstrated and displayed his brilliance in seamlessly using Design/Creative combined with Usability/Analytics.
It was a unique personal and professional experience to work with Bob and see how his Creativity and Analytic ability worked to make life better for others.
I’ve shared personal reminiscences elsewhere, but for the record thought it was worth mentioning for those who don’t know that Bob’s PhD program was both an apprenticeship in low-temperature physics and in science education. His “Doktovater” was John King, an experimental physicist, who was around TERC quite a lot during my first few years there (I arrived in 1986). He was a stitch in workshops with physics teachers, and among other things a great advocate of fiendish-but-feasible Fermi problems. He advocated and piloted “project based” intro physics courses (and wrote research papers about the experiment), so that students were solving problems with their heads AND their hands right from the beginning. I remember him saying at an early Labnet workshop, ‘We get these smart, lovely kids coming to MIT, who can solve word-problems with ease, but don’t know how to use a screw-driver, let alone a lathe.” He was eloquent on the way that theory is developed by the invention of new apparatus for investigation — and then the theory drives new invention. Something Bob knew, too.
I actually had met John before ever going to college, because he had a place in Westport Island, Maine, and he got involved in the Country Mile School, an innovative, not to say idiosyncratic school founded by Peter Farrow, a major influence in my life. Peter, (who introduced me to Dewey before I was really able to take it on board), asserted as a foundational element of his school that any community, even our rural island community, Georgetown, Maine (pop. 495 in the winter) has the resources to educate its children well. But Peter was skilled at finding hidden resources, such as an MIT professor lurking in the neighborhood (well, just across the river).
But John King’s Doktorvater (therefore Bob’s Doktorgrossvater, if you will pardon me) was Jerrold Zacharias, a prominent physicist, but also one of the great names in post-Sputnik science education, and curriculum reform — as embodied, for example, in the wonderful Elementary Science Study. MIT, EDC, TERC, and Concord Consortium are thus part of one inventive, committed, durable kindred…
Memories of Bob Tinker – “Remembering Bob”
To Bob’s family, friends, and colleagues I offer my late condolences after returning from a long absence.
The wonderful memories shared on these pages describe Bob’s smile, kindness, irrepressible laugh, and his legacy as an inspirational friend, colleague, mentor, and teacher to all. Those very endearing traits made his ideas and interests both intriguing, engaging, and irresistible.
I treasure the many opportunities I had over the years to learn from him – first, as a science teacher and eventually as a colleague. How lucky we were to have Bob as a Concord, MA parent as our school district was beginning to implement technologies in learning. He volunteered his time to help develop a plan and design a parent/family survey that led to the towns appropriating significant funds to purchase hardware, software, and professional development. Then, over the years, I had the great opportunity to collaborate with him at TERC and in many National projects. On one of the many flights we shared to various meetings, I will never forget the time he excitedly showed me the “first” portable computer. It weighed over 24 lbs. and filled the space under the seat in front of him. I remember, too, many conversations witnessed as he exchanged ideas with Mary Budd Rowe, EDC colleagues, NSF program officers, and many others.
This brilliant, visionary, and pioneering leader in science, technology, and learning leaves a legacy that will continue to evolve by those he influenced, a “who’s who” of these fields, as written by the people on these pages. I know my own learning and thinking was inspired and influenced by Bob Tinker who modeled how curiosity, the love of “tinkering”, and the power of science and technology can generate ideas, innovations, and learning.. with fun!
Thank you, Bob Tinker, for all you were, did, and have contributed through those who learned from you.
Carolee S. Matsumoto
It is with great sadness that I heard of the passing of Robert Tinker.
His work was of great influence in my professional life and in the lives of many students.
Among his MANY accomplishments, Bob was a major creator of the National Geographic Kids’ Network while he was at TERC. It was way ahead of its time in connecting students around the world in ‘being scientists’.
I was pleased to implement it widely across many Toronto schools in the late 80s. Some of my colleagues from those days may recall using some of these science kits!
This was truly a highlight of my educational life. Its impact continues.
It was my good fortune to have met Bob on several occasions (once at the Concord Consortium which he led) and one other time with Barbara Tinker in the Soviet Union (at that time). We were attending the East-West Invitational Seminar on New Technologies in Education sponsored by the Soviet Academy of Sciences.
Needless to say, those were fond memories and Bob’s brilliance, charm and contributions will be missed.
1. The Voyage of the Mimi—1980s—I was a 5th grade teacher who had access to the materials and, while I was not the teacher of 5th grade science, I began to explore the resources as a way to heighten my students’ curiosity. As we experimented with the probes I was both learner and guide. I was overwhelmed as I witnessed the “Intersection of Joy & Learning!” This was a life experience that made my heart swell on behalf of what was awakened in those students! Thank you, Bob, for helping me become a better teacher.
2. The Virtual High School—around 1996/7—When the concept of the VHS was presented, I was The Director of Technology in a small district. Learning online? Teaching students in different states via computers? What???
Well, that learning journey involved a willing, although somewhat hesitant teacher, a visionary High School Librarian, and several seniors who took the initiative to explore new ways of learning. Many insights, greater self-awareness, the opportunities for the students to interact with their peers, albeit through Lotus Notes, the reflection on their learning, and the guidance and challenges provided by their virtual teachers had a profound effect on everyone. At the end of that first semester, one of the students who excelled and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, stated she didn’t know how she would be able to sit in her soon-to-be college classes now that she had this opportunity to learn virtually!
As teachers, we often learn more from our students as we guide them. As I mentored those students, I reflected on my own learning and thought…I would like that opportunity, too, and, thus began my pursuit and earning of my Ed.D. through Pepperdine U. (Virtual & Face to Face). Thank you, VHS students, and THANK YOU, Bob Tinker for dreaming. I owe you!
I don’t remember meeting Bob Tinker; he was always there. We were involved in many mutual efforts, usually sparked by his creative genius. Two major ones involved Student-Scientist Partnerships: Bob obtained the funding and I created and implemented the conference in Washington, D. C., wrote the proceedings and finally edited a book on the topic. The second involved “The Journal of Science Education and Technology” which I founded 25 years ago. Bob served on the editorial board, contributed several articles, and reviewed some as well. A legend, yes. An inspiration, yes. Not only will he be missed, but he will always be remembered.
I was introduced to Bob and his vision in the early 90’s. Bob always had vision and the rare gift of making that vision reality by facilitating a lot of people to come along. I always enjoyed visiting Concord, always came away energized. Thank you for that gift. RIP.
I met Bob in 1989 and had many opportunities to interact him and his commitment to improve what happened for children in schools. He was truly a futurist when it came to the role of technology in education. We spent some wonderful time at a conference in Hungary that I will never forget. He was always upbeat and optimistic about the future of STEM education. He truly impacted the field. Bob we will really miss you!!!
Thinking about using technology in education is necessarily thinking about ideas and tools created or somewhat inspired by Bob. Thanks Bob!
I was always moved by Bob’s laughter – which came in startling bursts, filled with delight. And I was always so impressed by the way he could turn a phrase, asking questions in meetings or crafting such elegant and compelling prose in grant proposals – written directly from the heart.
He was such a good listener, and … he was willing to become a friend. This is remarkable. I was also quite impressed with the depth of his relationships – with co-workers, colleagues, and family. Such a high level of humanity on all fronts.
Bob Tinker recognized talent, competence and integrity; hired it, and left it alone to perform at its best. He loved generating and listening to the innovative ideas of his students, colleagues and employees. He recognized hard work and was happy to provide fair compensation for it. He was proud to be building a healthy working environment of scientific excellence, innovation, educational excitement and teamwork.
As Director of Finance and Human Resources at Concord Consortium in its formative days, I spent 10 exciting and fulfilling years working with Bob. Under his leadership, I was able to actualized my natural talents and grow my professional skills. I am grateful for my time with him and for the tone he set for the organization.
Bob remains the only person I know who enjoyed waiting until near a deadline to write a million dollar plus proposal, sitting down, focusing, and walking away with a finished product in one sitting.
Bob mostly felt he didn’t need to get involved with sticky financial or human resources challenges. (After all he hired trusted managers to do that, right?) He preferred focusing on solutions to big scientific and educational dilemmas. But when called upon by those managers to considered a major organizational issue, he would take a deep breath, listen attentively, present well-considered options and make decisions that were always informed, respectful, and caring.
I remember Bob’s joyful smile and exuberant energy. I cannot get away from the image that Bob‘s passing leaves a giant hole in the membrane of enlightened consciousness. The combination of his brain and heart made an invaluable contribution to the research and development community. And yet, I hear him chuckling at that grand image. I hear his playful voice saying to his students and colleagues, “What’s new and exciting out there? Let’s get on with it!”
I had posted the comment below on my facebook page on June 23rd. Today, I was planning a first advisory board meeting for an NSF project and was reminded that Bob was on the board. His voice will be much missed.
June 23 at 12:54am ·
So sad to hear that my friend and colleague Bob Tinker passed away today. Bob was a pioneer in learning technologies who was consistently brilliant, and also humble and so generous to anyone in his orbit. I’ve worked with Bob on so many projects over the past thirty years. I especially treasure our long conversations about using computational modeling in STEM. Bob founded the Concord Consortium and has nurtured there a climate of imagination, ingenuity and genuine collaboration that continues to elaborate and expand on his visionary ideas. A big loss for all of us. Hard to believe I won’t be able to call him and get excited together about ideas.
I can’t imagine the world, let alone STEM Education, without Bob in it. So many people have had such wonderful stories about Bob and as Inread them I found even more reasons why he will be so missed. I think it was 1979 when I first met Bob. He was starting TERC in Cambridge and I was starting the Microcomputer Resource Center at Teachers College in NYC. We shared ideas about fundraising, microcomputers, (Apple II’s then!), the state of software development, and how mathematics education (my content area) and science education (Bob’s area) would be changed. I would see him at NECC (pre ISTE) conferences, where he always had new ideas to share. The last 12 years I worked in DC, I got to see him when he came in for NSF or other meetings. He never seemed to age…and always had that wonderful smile on his face. That’s how I choose to remember Bob.
It’s hard for me to capture the impact that Bob had on my life. He is the one who helped me get my first real job at TERC. He encouraged me to go to graduate school for science education and recommended that I go to Michigan to work with Joe. He was always there to connect and support me through Concord and different project. I wouldn’t have the professional career that I do if it wasn’t for him. I am eternally grateful for his warm mentorship and support. I will miss him deeply.
My remembrance of Bob is on the Concord Blog at http://blog.concord.org/remembering-robert-f-tinker (Thanks Cynthia McIntyre for making the post.)
I met Robert Tinker in late 2007 when he agreed to help us (a gaggle of Rhode Island science educators) craft a proposal to the MSP-NSF Program on short-notice. He quickly wrote much of the proposal, and to everyone’s pleasant surprise it was funded, essentially as submitted, in 2008. It currently is funded through 2018. The goal of the Rhode Island Technologically Enhanced Science project—or RITES as Robert Tinker aptly coined it—is to effect systemic gains in STEM literacy throughout middle-high schools in the state. And with additional funding current efforts (RITES+C) include computational literacy as well. Bob brought other assets to the proposal preparation, primarily the resources of the Concord Consortium, and without his involvement I doubt we would have been funded. Crucially, he also agreed to be a co-PI for the first stressful and chaotic years, and without his guidance the viability of RITES would have been problematic.
RITES learned much from Bob about how to attain funding in the competitive STEM arena and carry out complex multiyear efforts. But we learned something more intangible, yet more valuable from him. Bob advised us in a way that was always empowering. Thanks in large part to his wise and gentle support, as RITES evolved so did we all. He was our Yoda.
Thank you Bob, we’ll miss you.
In behalf of RITES,
I was shocked and saddened by the news about the passing away of Bob. My relationship with Bob started when I was hired as a Curriculum Writer and later the Evaluator of the Global Lab Project. Bob took an interest in me and began mentoring me even without me knowing it. He would loan me books on project-based science, share articles and news about STEM, about involvement of underrepresented groups in science, and so on and so forth. He would invite us to his house for cookouts, organized retreats and send us to conferences to learn about new ideas and innovations. He was never too busy to meet with me to discuss project or personal matters. When it was time to form a committee for my doctoral dissertation, I asked Bob, and without hesitation, he jumped right in and the rest is history. As an outside committee member, Bob played the role of a supporter and mentor, and always advocated on my behalf. He made sure that the committee put my interest front and center. I successfully completed my dissertation, graduated and moved on to start a career as a science educator. Bob has always been there for me and we kept in touch, until, my life as a professor and later college dean took over. Bob you will always be on my mind and I will never forget your contribution to my personal and professional development.
Last year, I published a book on project-based science instruction and in the acknowledgement, I said “Finally, special thanks to Dr. Robert F. Tinker former Chief Scientific Officer at TERC Inc. and President Emeritus of Concord Consortium for his support and mentoring during the embryonic stage of my PBSI journey…” The first person, I wanted to send the book was Bob, but I kept procrastinating. The other day, I said to my wife, I need to send Bob a copy of the book. I have been saying this since the book came out. She replied, “Yes, stop saying it and do it.” I prepared the package on June 29 and my plan was to send it the next day. Before going to bed, I checked my email and while going through the MSPnet.org news sent by Joni Falk, I saw the announcement “In Memory: Robert Tinker, Ph.D.” I was devastated and all night replayed the wonderful moments and adventures I spent with Bob and my GLP colleagues, sometimes theorizing about “project-based science” ad infinitum. I wish that I acted sooner to show Bob the fruit of one of the seeds he planted. Bob, we will miss you, but the revolution you started in science education will live on.
“Chee Jaama suma harit.”
Bob is the rare person that is so special that you remember the first time you met him like it was yesterday. His seminal work on micro-based labs was the impetus for IBM to develop one of the first collections of sensors and special software that amazed,m inspired and educated students to the finer points of science for decades. Bob is one of a kind!
Thank you Bob, you changed my life. I owe you more than you ever knew, due to your vision, trust and enthusiasm.
Bob was so much a part of the Exploratorium and my life there that it was hard for me to remember the first time I met him. He was the kind of person that once you did meet, it felt like you knew him forever. Working with him always meant you were working on something that was ahead of its time. Whether it was developing electronic guidebooks for museum visits, using computers with sensors as tools for inquiry or integrating technology and media into classroom settings, Bob always was the “thoughtful evangelist”, someone who brimmed with enthusiasm but tempered that with a deep understanding of pedagogy. I learned so much from his work and his thinking. He was a true pioneer that laid an amazing foundation for all of us to build on.
I am so sad that Bob is no longer with us. I worked with Bob in the early 2000’s. I have never forgotten his enthusiasm for this work. Bob was a truly exceptional individual who combined gregariousness, warmth, unbounded creativity and an impressive depth of knowledge. His love of learning was contagious and sparked joy for science with so many kids. I think of Bob as a national treasure.
I came to work at the Concord Consortium in 1997 while I was finishing my PhD. I had been familiar with Robert Tinker’s work through my graduate studies, and I named my dissertation project, a tool for students building dynamic models, “Theory Builder,” after his 1993 paper on modelling and theory building.
I was proud to be part of the Concord Consortium team for almost 10 years. Bob and I had many lunches together, and interesting chats about science, technology, and innovative educational tools. He was warm, friendly, and a wonderful mentor. At one point during my tenure with Concord, he recommended me to the Harvard Graduate School of Education to teach their Educational Software Project Design course, and that great experience also helped make many valuable connections.
Thank you, Bob, for your kindness, inspiration, and encouragement.
I first encountered Bob through his pioneering work with microcomputer based labs. I was fortunate to have John Layman, one of Bob’s early collaborators on MBL, as my thesis advisor at the University of Maryland. I referenced Bob in my work with temperature probes and still refer back to his comprehensive ‘A History of Probeware.’ Bob’s pioneering work with probes and sensors has profoundly influenced the world of science education and portended the importance of sensors in our modern world.
On one occasion, my wife and I joined John Layman, Bob and his wife Barbara to enjoy Arena Stage’s play ‘Legacy of Light.’ And now, with Bob’s passing, I am comforted to consider the all-encompassing legacy of light that Bob leaves the world.
Bob was a mentor and an inspiration. In my early days at TERC he encouraged me to write my first proposal saying “you just need a great idea and passion in your belly.” You always knew when Bob was near from the laughter in the hallway, and the good conversation that ensued. The halls at TERC seemed a bit dead when he left to create Concord.
He was of course always innovating and experimenting with new ideas, but he was also genuinely interested on the impact of the innovations (positive and/or negative) on learning. As a young researcher I reported on findings on how a section of curriculum written for the motion probe increased students misconceptions rather than decrease them. “Oh he said, we need to go to lunch so I could hear more… and he took me out to lunch, so interested and invested in learning about the student experience and also in developing a young researcher. He gave so much to so many – inspiring them to pursue careers dedicated to STEM education, including me. I will miss him.
To my dear friend, exuberant mentor, and fellow airman gone west.
High Flight – John Gillespie Magee, Jr
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
Bob’s life was filled with kindness and creativity. The posts here and on Facebook look at multiple facets of his rich life. One that might not be well-known is how Bob and colleagues built an organization, the Concord Consortium, with almost no internal politics. Everyone was treated thoughtfully; there was little sense of hierarchy, of trying to advance faster than another person for a raise or promotion, of watching out for back-stabbing colleagues, and so forth. This wonderful legacy, which continues with Chad Dorsey as CEO, is largely a reflection of Bob’s values and personality, including the people he hired. It is too rare to find an organization that has been so creative and productive for decades in which there has been so little mean-spirited behavior. I would also note among Bob’s accomplishments his stunning success as a grant writer. Amazingly, Bob actually loved writing proposals—a task most people dread. His proposals were so well written that readers often enjoyed turning the page to find out what would come next—a rarity in any field. Like many others, I consider myself fortunate to have had Bob as a boss and as a colleague.
The following is my posting in memory of Bob on the NC State University Friday Institute for Educational Innovation web site (http://www.fi.ncsu.edu/news/in-memory-of-bob-tinker/)
Robert “Bob” Tinker, a brilliant, creative educator who received the 2013 Friday Medal for Educational Innovation for his many contributions, passed away yesterday. Our condolences to his wife, Barbara, who was his life partner for 50+ years of good works going back to their contributions to the civil rights movement, to his beloved children and grandchildren, and to all of the Tinker family.
I will always remember when I first met Bob in 1985. I visited TERC, which he led from its early days to its becoming a national leader in STEM education. It was then based in an old funky house in Cambridge, and Bob’s office had a bit of the look of the space of a mad scientist, with electronic parts, soldering irons, and open computers scattered about. Bob showed me the science probes he was developing to interface with Apple II computers, along with data analysis and graphing software. With contagious enthusiasm and joy, he explained his vision of how these would allow students of all ages to “do real science” – collecting and analyzing their own data. I knew enough to recognize that this was a great idea – he was creating the computer-based lab that has become a major part of hands-on science – and that this was a person worth getting to know.
Bob was always a step ahead of everyone else in seeing the educational potential of emerging technologies and in developing innovative models. His work on the National Geographic Kids Network and the Global Laboratory Project demonstrated the potential of the Internet for networked citizen science projects. He went on from TERC to start the Concord Consortium and built it into a leader in the use of technologies in education. There, he started to first Virtual High School in 1997, which continues to serve students today and influenced so many of the virtual schools created since. In fact, the still running EDC EdTech Leaders Online professional learning program that I began in 1997, with Barbara Treacy and Kristen Peterson, was influenced by discussions with Bob about the potential of online learning. He was also ahead of everyone in developing educational applications for mobile devices – I remember him demonstrating a set he built for the Apple Newton, long before mobile devices were common.
When he received the Friday Medal in 2013, Bob said: “I’ve been fortunate enough to get paid for doing what I really love. And what I really love must be in my genes, because there really could not be a better name than Tinker to describe what I do.” His love of his work, along with his brilliance, creativity and generosity, came through in everything he did. I’ll always remember Bob for his great energy, openness and generosity in supporting the work of others. I greatly enjoyed and benefited from every interaction I had with Bob over the 30+ years I’ve known him, and am deeply saddened to know that we won’t ever have a chance to get together again. But there is no doubt that Bob’s legacy of important work and impact through inspiring and mentoring so many others will live on. Rest in peace, my friend.
Rarely does someone’s surname so genuinely match their personality. Bob’s natural curiosity, enthusiastic sense of wonder, and innate capacity to “fix” things served as an inspiration for so many.
I met Bob back in the days of TELS/WISE when I was helping a contingency of teachers in NC unleash their students on many of the models and simulations that he authored and worked tirelessly to improve upon. He was an advocate for all students and I’m convinced that witnessing their accomplishments is what propelled his work forward through all these years. Bob became interested in my doctoral research during those early days and he provided more assistance throughout that very tedious process than my entire dissertation committee combined. I’m sure that many contributors to this page would agree that his professional conversations always placed far greater emphasis on learning more about what each of us were working on, compared to sharing about his own accomplishments. If Bob felt a particular idea was off-track (or at times in our relationship – an entire concept), he possessed the unique capacity to provide constructive feedback without ever invoking a sense of failure.
Bob was a quintessential educator and his mentorship did more to shape my vision towards student learning and the effective use of instructional technology than anyone I’ve ever known. His guidance continued through this spring and I am honored and grateful to be included among the countless individuals that he touched during his time on this planet.
Rest in peace my friend.
When Bob hired me to work at TERC 27 years ago, it was done in a very Bob-like way – with great good will, enthusiasm and a strong sense that things would work out, even if the details were not clear and the way was not pre-ordained. For many years, sometimes in the face of less-than-ideal circumstances, Bob was a fount of optimism. I attribute this to his ability to see good intentions in everyone, his unlimited ability to find wonder in the world and his deep commitments to education and beyond. In a very different vein, I remember how supportive he and Barbara were of the art show I staged for myself at TERC; they bought the only piece of art I ever sold as a gift for their son.
And even though I hadn’t seen Bob in the last few years, I find it hard to imagine the world without him – but then I remember the thousands of colleagues and students whose lives have been changed by him and know that he’s still here in spirit.
As I think about Bob today, I see and hear him laughing, always a joyful, open, interested response to the people, questions, and ideas in play. I will miss laughing with him.
I remember when earning my master’s in science education, my thesis focused on the potential learning of this new technology in ’95 called probeware.
A seminal article by Timker opened my eyes to the power of capturing data in real time, data that would otherwise be unobservble, and empowering students conduct repeated trials, zoom in on data, creating overlays of graphs over video of actual phenomena, etc. Ultimealtey this tech enables students to spend more time on analyzing the data captured to use as evidence in their arguments and explanations versus spending so much time in creating a pristine graph.
I was fortunate to interact with Bob in several efforts across my tenure at NSTA. A true champion for Learning that will be sorely missed and not soon forgotten!
It was always inspiring and exciting to work with Bob at TERC and later on to collaborate with TERC from the Center for Science and Math Teaching at Tufts. We collaborated on many projects that I believe led to some substantial good for students trying to learn science. The work was always original. Bob collected an outstanding group of people around him at TERC and later on at the Concord Consortium. My best to his family.
With great sadness,
Bob created an environment in which creativity, curiosity, and joy flourished. It was coming into his orbit 26 years ago that started me on my current career, and I’m guessing there are scores, if not hundreds of people who would say something similar.
When I think of Bob, I think of his joyful enthusiasm and boundless energy. He always had new ideas to share, and he was always interested in hearing other people’s ideas.
My immediate reaction on hearing of Bob’s passing was that some very, very lucky organism received an incredible dose of optimism, energy, and good karma as its spirit and his merged yesterday. Bob was kind, creative, and inspired others. I will miss him.
Bob’s enthusiasm for his work was unparalleled. The world of inspired hands-on physics education will miss him!!!
I remember hearing about Bob when in graduate school in the 1990s. He was one of the pioneers in using educational technology to engage youth in analyzing real scientific data. We worked as a team from SRI’s Center for Technology in Learning with some of his data exploration tools on the Thinking with Data project, led by Phil Vahey. I remember using the tools he helped create and being impressed with the potential to engage young people in real world data about the environment. He was part of the constructivist movement to provide “electronic crayons for young scientists.” He was a lion, right up there with Seymour Papert and Jim Kaput. What a wonderful renaissance in instructional design they all helped to inspire. Together, they served as collective reincarnation of John Dewey to so many educational researchers.
I will cherish the wonderful conversation over coffee that Bob and I had about 2.5 years ago on a rainy Feb morning at Douce France in Palo Alto. We were hoping to collaborate on a proposal involving CT and science+engineering learning. We chatted about many things besides, and he spoke of the old days and his collaborations with Roy and SRI. Between his impactful contributions to the field and his demeanor, he felt very much like an academic father. (It is a sad coincidence that Bob’s passing occurred at the same time as my own father’s passing yesterday in faraway India). My last interaction was over a video conference call for Sherry Hsi’s InSPECT project advisory board meeting earlier this year. Always an enthusiastic intellectual powerhouse.
Today I got out my 1975-1976 version of Integrated Circuit in Teaching, A Guide to Tinker’s Toys. I got it at a workshop I attended as a teacher, run by Bob, here in Portland in about 1977. I learned a lot about op amps, timers, and circuits from Bob. We kept in touch over the years, and I was pleased when Bob stopped by our office one time, not too long ago, on a trip to Portland. Bob was full of ideas and he always tried to come up with low-cost, innovative ways to teach kids science. It is a great loss for science education.
I met Bob at TERC in my early days of developing STEM and Distance Education. He was an inspiring educator and had a major influence on my career going forward. His influence will live in those whom he influenced and inspired.
I remember meeting Bob in the basement of Tech Square in 1971-2. He had his hands dirty (as usual) working on a series of modules for technical education (early TERC). As I remember, he was particularly fascinated by the refrigeration cycle at the time. We kept in touch through the years as his career morphed again and again. Bob was prescient in making contributions to STEM education before anyone else and being a mentor to so many who now contribute to the field. I miss him, his giddy laugh, his infectious enthusiasm, and his genuine warmth for students and colleagues.
I wrote a blog post remembering Bob.
Thinking about Science is an article I revisit periodically and find renewed inspiration about how education should be. Thanks Bob
Bob Tinker completely changed the way I thought about science education. His infectious spark for making things better continues to challenge me today. I am so honored to have been a witness to that seminal time in in the 80’s for math, science, and technology education. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I honestly can’t remember a time that I didn’t see Bob smiling.
I met Bob in the 1990s and the thing that struck me the most about him was his awe. Awe of the physical universe, awe of the humanity of a classroom, awe of ideas that could change how we teach and learn.
Bob was a cherished colleague since then. We worked on grants, we worked on professional training, and I always admired the way he could build not only organizations but also relationships to make the field more effective.
When I was a young scholar, Bob gave me his most important gift: his ear, and his enthusiasm. Politics have a way of dashing hopes and dreams on rocks. Bob was a man who could walk into a viper pit with a heartfelt smile and genuine enthusiasm for the possibilities. And more often than not, he got people to drop their pettiness to do something awesome.
The last time I hung out with Bob he was doing a mitzvah for the field. Giving feedback to people who needed it, and helping bring people who didn’t need to disagree together. These are things that make academia more than a game, but a fight for what’s important. Bob was A Force For Good In The Universe. And he did so without an ounce of guile or selfishness.
I regret that we weren’t close friends. I regret that I can’t offer sympathy to his family and closest from the vantage point of a confidant. But I want everyone to know that Bob Tinker made it clear that being a scholar and mattering in the grand scheme of things were not incompatible, but aligned; that being a person of character and values didn’t mean being marginalized; and that awe, delight, curiosity, and childlike wonder are some of the most powerful forces in the universe. May we all live up to his example, as a scholar, a scientist, an activist, a father and husband. He was a man who will be missed. God bless those left behind, and rest in peace, Dr. Robert F. Tinker.
Bob and I never connected over science or technology (my weakness!), but as an administrator for 15 at Concord Consortium, I had the opportunity to weather many ups and downs with Bob. Celebrating CC’s good fortune was a joy, but it was when things were bad that allowed me access to the kindest parts of Bob. He had an extraordinary fondness for each person who worked for him. He felt so responsible for every staff person that was hired at CC – not only for their intellectual engagement, but also for the general well-being of that person and their family. Every lay-off hurt him deeply, and he worked endless hours to avoid that outcome – even at the expense of his own health. I am heartbroken at my loss — at our loss — and am only consoled by the knowledge that Bob’s life was certainly one well-lived! (Well, that, and an awful lot of fun and funny memories!)
I had the honor and the pleasure of working with Bob for many years at TERC. As a non-techie, I was blessed by his interest in my work regarding learning disabled kids: he freely and enthusiastically devoted his energies to computer-based projects to help these students overcome barriers to learning science.
His creativity and brilliance were matched by his kindness, optimism, and generosity of spirit. My condolences to the family and to those at TERC, Concord Consortium, and beyond who worked with him. We shall miss him sorely but at the same time smile as we recall the friendship and collegiality he shared with us.
I have been crying today. So many memories. I first met Bob at an APS/AAPT meeting. He had computers and probeware all over his hotel room. We all played in these new “toys,” much to the chagrin of the hotel maid who thought he was crazy to have all of this computer gear in his hotel room. TERC was in its infancy and I was so surprised at the next NSTA meeting when TERC had a big reception. Who knew?
The best part of course was collaborating with Bob and the CC. Brainstorming sessions at Legal’s in Kendall Square or lunch in Concord. Always a chance for great conversation.
We were finalist for a math science partnership grant from NSF. Bob casually mentioned that Leon of course would be there for the meeting at NSF. When Leon Lederman walked in I almost fell over. Bob of course began to coach Leon on what to say. Not often you get to hear a Nobel prize winner being coached.
What I remember most about Bob was the twinkling in his eye and the unflinching idea that we could inspire and help children. God bless him and his family.
In the early days of the Instructional Technology Program (ITP) at UC Berkeley (starting around 1987), we had the honor of having Bob Tinker present his Universal Lab Interface (UL) device, which eventually found its way into the introductory physics labs on the Berkeley campus. He also demonstrated a programming language called cmututor for us. At the time, it was running on the Andrew graphical user interface, which was also developed at CMU. We were initially interested in cmututor, but our interests shifted to HyperCard and its programming language, HyperTalk, soon after Bob’s visit.
As I recall, we ended up using the ULI devices in our physics labs with an interface developed in HyperCard.
At time, we also had Joe Redish come out to demonstrate the Comprehensive Unified Physics Learning Environment (CUPLE), which he developed with Jack Wilson. CUPLE also worked with the ULI devices we had set up for Berkeley physics department. But, as I recall, the CUPLE software only ran on Windows, and we were using Macs in the physics lab. CUPLE, as I recall, was developed with ToolBook, a HyperCard knockoff. In any event, we never got around to using CUPLE at Berkeley.
The HyperCard based ULI interface for the Macs was fine, but I thought it would have be even better if we could have combined Tinker’s ULI device with the Redish-Wilson CUPLE software.
As a young middle school science teacher, at the beginning of my fourth year at a progressive school, I had the privilege to attend a retreat in October of 1991 where Bob Tinker brought together K-12 classroom teachers and scientists to share equally with each other perspectives on how to be effective science educators. It was a brilliant, inspiring and highly collaborative concept and an amazing experience. It made me feel respected and valued as a K-12 educator and has had a lasting impact on my teaching to this day, 26 years later. The idea that students could contribute to real-world data-gathering through probeware and “ubiquitous computing/ubiquitous science” were among the concepts that I remember the most from that retreat. What a vibrant and thriving legacy Bob Tinker leaves!
Condolences to the Concord Consortium. I am awed by this man’s contributions to education.