Since Seymour Papert wrote Mindstorms nearly 30 years ago (in 1980), it is not surprising that parts of the book seem out-dated and irrelevant today–such as the Logo vs. Basic debate. Other parts of the book, once viewed as radical, now seem totally mainstream–such as Papert's contention that all children will and should have easy access to computers in school and in their everyday lives.
But what's most striking to me is that many of Papert's ideas in Mindstorms remain relevant and provocative today, and continue to serve as a valuable framework for thinking about the future of educational technologies. Some themes that stand out:
For your blog post this week: Select a sentence or paragraph in Mindstorms that you found particularly surprising, inspiring, or provocative - and explain why.
Papert suggests that technology can be used to make abstract and difficult concepts tangible - that as children are able to fully understand a concept and its possibility space they move from understanding it in a specific context to being able to apply the concept in new and unforeseen contexts.
"If we really look at the 'child as builder' we are on our way to an answer.
All builders need materials to build with. … I see the critical factor as the
relative poverty of the culture in those materials that would make the concept
simple and concrete."
I do, however, believe that material is only one half of the equation - a purpose of action is required. If we take a Heideggerian  sense of readiness-to-hand, the materials only have meaning in the manner of which they can be applied to solve a problem in a given context. This in-order-to-ness reduces the possibility space of ways in which the material can be applied, allowing the child builder to apply their creativity in an active inventive way. Through the use problems/challenges/restraints a framework is provided in which the child can excel and improve. The solutions can range from "It works", to various optimizations for speed, space, cost, etc, and even to competitions against others or oneself.
In forming the challenges the child must solve, we must remember "Learning is not separate from reality" , the problems they solve should be tangible and in some way have the potential to affect their life. For example, Steve Wozniak would design computers on the weekends while in high school.
"I started making a game out of this, and the game was: how few of chips
can I do it in? … if you need an inverter, why add a whole chip with inverters?
I have a spare register left over on another chip and a register actually can be
used as an inverter. So I would use parts not for what they were intended but
they did the job. I needed to design my circuit with the fewest parts. So it
became interesting; it became more and more challenging. I had a real
competition every weekend with myself. How can I do a better job yet? By the
end of high school I knew I was very good because my designs were like half
as many chips as the companies were using."
One of the best ways to keep the challenges relevant is for the child to contribute as part of an organization, as exemplified in the Samba schools, these organizations provide challenges, feedback, inspiration, and paths of progression that the child can progress through. Papert expresses his desire that there will "…be manifestations of a social movement of people interested in personal computation, interested in their own children, and interested in education." , to provide this context. In recent years there has been some progress made along this front in the development of semi-public hackerspaces  where individuals can meet to carry out the Imagine-Create-Play-Share-Reflect-Imagine cycle .
As we move to more complex materials, from building blocks to circuits, the possibility space of applications increases tremendously. To foster innovation and creativity in the child, we must provide meaningful challenges that constrain the possibility space in such a way that they are able to move beyond the context in which the original concepts were learned and apply them in new ways.
I found myself agreeing with the majority of what Papert wrote. His articulation of how children are builders, his personal experience with gears as a learning model, and the Samba method contribute to how the act of learning could be more effective.
I highlighted the following section:
"Powerful new social forms must have their roots in the culture, not be the creatures of bureaucrats.
Thus we are brought back to seeing the necessity for the educator to be an anthropologist. Educational innovators must be aware that in order to be successful they must be sensitive to what is happening in the surrounding culture and use dynamic cultural trends as a medium to carry their educational interventions."
It makes sense that changes in education have to come from the ground up to be the most effective; ground-up changes will be naturally more connected to culture in some way or form, but will take extensive time. This ground-up approach directly depends on our educators and other prominent figures in peoples' lives. Papert explicitly states in Chapter 8 on pg 188, "In articulating these prerequisites for the creation of Piagetian material, we come face to face with what I see as the essential remaining problem in regard to the future of computers and education: the problem of the supply of people who will develop these prerequisites".
Even though dramatic changes will be more effective from the ground-up, the changes would incur more rapidly if decision makers do not constrain educators. Ideally, both ends should be changing their views of education in order for more effective learning to evolve.
There are so many great thoughts and ideas that have surfaced in the readings this week, it's difficult to choose just one. But choose we must!
One surprising and provocative excerpt from Mindstorms focuses on thinking about thinking: the idea of children as epistemologists. In the first chapter of Mindstorms Papert describes children programming:
"In the LOGO environment ...The child programs the computer. And in
teaching the computer how to think, children embark on an exploration about
how they themselves think. The experience can be heady: Thinking about
thinking turns the child into an epistemologist, an experience not even shared
by most adults. "(S. Papert, 1980, p.19)
This was surprising to me in two ways. First, it put into words to something I personally experienced late one night when writing my first program for a microcontroller. Programming (in Python) was an exhilarating experience, but one that I had no vocabulary for at the time, and until now, didn't understand what was so engaging about it. The challenge: how to communicate to a circuit my thought processes. I had to think about how the program would interpret my instructions and translate my thoughts accordingly. I had to think about thinking. It was a fascinating, deeply engaging, complex process, and one that dug its hooks into me. Ever since that night, I've wanted nothing more than to sit in front of my computer and learn more about programming. (Unfortunately I have rarely had the opportunity to do so.) Second, the idea of a child as epistemologist was surprising to me. I, like many others I'll bet, underestimate the capacity of a child to think in self-reflective ways. But given my own experience noted above, if it was engaging for me why shouldn't it be engaging for someone younger? This kind of thinking enriches the experience of the learner, no matter their age. It reaches beyond technical, mathematical, scientific learning, into the realm of reflection and of more formal, abstract concepts. Papert had a vision of computer culture:
"...one that helps us not only to learn but to learn about learning. I have
shown how this culture can humanize learning by permitting more personal,
less alienating relationships with knowledge..."(S. Papert, 1980, p. 177)
Developing a personal relationship with knowledge is an exciting vision for the future of learning. For Papert, his experience with gears gave him a personal relationship with mathematics. Gears were effective for developing that knowledge due to a few factors:
- Gears were part of the natural landscape in the surrounding culture
- Gears were part of the adult world- Papert could identify with them
- He could use his body to physically think about gears
- Gears helped him think about formal systems. (S. Papert, 1980, p. 11)
Once infected, Papert's world was about gears and mathematics. This love of mathematics continued through his life. His personal relationship with that knowledge along with his vision for learning resonate strongly for me and paint enticing possibilities for future learning.
Can learning become so effective, so engaging? I think yes, but only if carefully designed and fostered by a new breed of teacher. As described by Papert, this teacher is an anthropologist of sorts who can understand the cultural materials relevant to intellectual development, understand trends taking place in the culture-then work with these trends to provide materials and activities that are appropriate for learning (S. Papert, 1980, p.34). This is a very special teacher indeed and a world of learning in which I want to participate.
Posted by FG
By selecting this passage, SL pointed out to me the beauty of the child as epistemologist. I think it had evaded me when reading Papert's original text. My internal reaction must have been along the way of: "Most children, in fact most adults also, are unaware of their thought processes in their daily activities, but on the other hand, self-awareness is what distinguishes us, humans, from animals, so what's the big deal?"
But it's true that most of us, young and old, are probably engrossed in our actions without giving much thought to them. Now, I'm actually thinking that this epistemological approach to our activities is an exercise that we should consciously learn and practice. In other words, it takes work, voluntary work, it doesn't come voluntarily, naturally. Or maybe it would, if given a little prompting - the kind promoted by Papert and the Lifelong Kindergarten...
A note on the "new breed of teachers" that SL is calling for:
It makes sense within her argument. But it also raises important questions: who gets to select those new teachers? How will they negotiate among themselves and decide on a curriculum [no matter how informal that curriculum is]? How do they make their case to the decision-makers in education and government? What do we do with the 'old' teachers - we reform them or throw them away?
What I am trying to stress here, especially with regards to my first two questions is that no matter what shape the new system takes and no matter who/what group is at its helm, it should have a truly democratic foundation. Otherwise, we will end up with another clique of 'new teachers' [we have gone through quite of few rounds of them by now] imposing its ways and views on the rest of us.
Who gets to decide/make the rules of this new educational system is the biggest issue on my mind at this point, and my conclusion is that it should be a deliberative and representative process in the true democratic model.
Posted by SL
Papert also raises the vision of a world without schools. To your point Florence, this vision is indeed a very democratic one, where teachers are kind of thrown away in frustration with the current inability of schools to teach what is needed in ways that are effective. While emotionally this vision appeals to me, I think it's unrealistic. I do think that teachers are starting to be pulled by students toward a different approach to teaching. As example I bring up the draconian rules and attitudes about students surfing on the internet in a school setting. In schools parents and teachers are so threatened by the possibility of viewing pornography, or online stalkers, or copyright infringement, etc that they restrict access to the point of making the internet an almost useless tool. At home, or out in the world, students have the ability to surf and create and explore, yet at school they can do very little, and certainly not much that is interesting. But they are staring to pull their teachers along with them regarding this technological tool. That's a very grass roots, democratic development. Unfortunately it's happening too slowly, but maybe there are some lessons to be learned here from our youth.
In some ways I think that developing countries that are just getting access to the internet, and thus have no rules or restrictions in place, are at an advantage. Their kids are going to really get to know and explore and use the internet in ways our kids won't have the opportunity to do so. They will have a competitive advantage over our youth with regards to this 21st Century skill set.
Posted by DL
I was happy to see Papert's recognition of the importance of having students reflect on their own thinking processes. However, I was very disappointed in how little credit he gave (good) teachers in their roles of teaching, or explicitly modeling, productive cognitive and metacognitive strategies so that students may know how to productively think about their thinking. While I agree that some students may be able to figure things out for themselves (especially older students), we can't assume that ALL students have models (or the "materials" as Papert would say) around them to know how to engage productively with their own thinking. There are a lot of tacit assumptions we are making if we think a product/software/medium on its own, will induce students to think metacognitively without any modeling/scaffolding from teachers.
Not a part of Mindstorms, but another excerpt from this week's readings that really surprised me came from the article "All I Really Need to Know..." by Resnick, et al. The article describes the kindergarten approach to learning, a process that is iterative and spiral in nature: imagine, create, play, share, reflect and again imagine. Each part of the process involves creative thinking and problem-solving, requisite skills for the 21st Century workforce. Bakhtiar Mikhak pulled the following tips from 12 year olds about how to participate in creativity workshops- tips which point to the kindergarten approach to learning:
Work on things that you like
If you have no clue what to do, fiddle around
Don't be afraid to experiment
Find a friend to work with, share ideas!
It's OK to copy stuff (to give you an idea)
Keep your ideas in a sketch book
Build, take apart, rebuild
Lots of things can go wrong, stick with it." (M. Resnick, et al.)
Sometimes great wisdom comes from the mouths of children. These are tips which I intend to use extensively in this course (for example, in our first assignment) and beyond. I love learning from 12 year olds and I hope to be in kindergarten until my brain expires.
Posted by MN
Thanks for the thoughtful comment.
I agree fully that there is so much to learn from children. I taught music to kindergarden kids before, and it always impressed me how quickly they pick things up, how free they are to experiment, and how helpful it if for them to be free of convention. I am excited to share more of these learnings with the class and hear stories from all of those who are "learning from 12 year olds."
Before I plunge into Papert, perhaps it is worth briefly describing what we understand by 'learning,' since this is at the core of our discussion and work in this group. My instinct tells me that there are dozens of ways to understand 'learning,' depending on the culture and times. Scratch itself, Pr. Resnick's team writes in "Scratch: Programming for Everyone," has been designed so as to suit various learning styles and interests - maybe an allusion to the fact that learning comes in many shapes and sizes.
In traditional, conservative cultures and educational environments or families, 'learning' carries the strong implication of 'obeying': the child must first imitate what the teacher/adult does, repeat what is being done or said, and by extension, often ends up doing what the adult is essentially telling him/her to do - that is, obeying orders from the authoritative figure. In this case, when the parent/teacher reprimands the child for 'not listening,' in effect he/she is saying, 'you are not doing what I told you to do.' Listening, learning and obeying can all be interchangeable in such cultures and mentalities.
Certain education systems apply those rules in most obvious ways. In Russia, a 'good' student is someone who can recite by rote from his books/notes. The accumulation of knowledge is seen as a quality, not one's ability to critically question the material, let alone re-invent it according to one's own tastes and ideas. Creativity and personal enterprise in schools and universities in Russia are being stifled to such a degree that would be shocking to a Western observer.
I find that most educational systems in Europe, perhaps with the exception of Scandinavian countries which are very progressive and permissive when it comes to kids, are somewhere between Russia and the US - traditional but making genuine efforts to reform themselves.
I think it is important to keep these wildly different styles of learning and educational systems in mind when approaching Papert, Marvin Minsky and like-minded educational reformists, our own little group included!
This leads me to raise one essential question regarding Papert's proposal for an entirely reformed way of looking at education and learning. It seems that most of the methods he describes, from their concept to their practical application in the natural environment of daily life is geared towards collaborative learning: they support, promote and seem to promise to thrive in play and learning situations that take place in groups - which makes sense enough, since one of his core arguments - as that of our research group - is that learning with the input of others is far more natural but also beneficial than learning alone. My only question is, can these models for play and learning be applied to the individual learner? Where does the lone child come in this system? There are plenty of situations when a learner is on his own, be it an only child playing at home, or being taught at home through private tuition, a sick child in hospital, someone living in an isolated rural area, or people isolated for hundreds of other reasons, even if temporarily. Could there be a way for them to benefit from this natural form of learning, could it be applied or adapted to such individual learners?
There are everyday dozens of reasons why one may find oneself on his/her own in front of a learning situation. Missing the collaborative aspect of the proposed educational methods would be a great loss for these lone individuals, but not taking them into account when designing a new educational system and philosophy of learning would be creating a class of under-represented, ostracized learners who eventually will fall behind.
Another question came to me when reading on page 6 of the Introduction to Mindstorms Papert's description of how bringing computers into children's play and lives naturally will not only redefine their learning, but also enhance communication between the child and the computer.
He writes, "In many schools today, the phrase "computer-aided instruction" means making the computer teach the child. One might say the computer is being used to program the child. In my vision, the child programs the computer, and in doing so, both acquires a sense of mastery over a piece of the most modern and powerful technology and establishes an intimate contact with some of the deepest ideas from science, from mathematics, and from the art of intellectual model building."
Following this development, we then have what we could call an 'empowered' child, one with more influence over his tools and by extension, immediate environment. How is this affecting his relations with his co-players? If the child is aware of his power to program his computer or toys, of his influence and control over them, could he extend these feelings of empowerment to his playmates? - and the same question goes for any adult learner and his group members. It would be interesting here to see how this new empowered relationship with one's tools is affecting or changing, if at all, the relations between the participants in the play/learning experience. Papert's scenario assumes that the children/participants are all well-adjusted individuals who will automatically lovingly share their creations and experiences with others by their own will and enjoy doing so. Yet, judging by the statistics related to bullies in schools and colleges nationwide, it is clear that such social and psychological phenomena have to be taken into account for the system to work on a large scale.
Having expressed my only doubts and concerns about the proposed methods, I have to say that I personally can only dream I had had the opportunity of at least sampling them while growing up and going through the educational system in my home country, Belgium.
Papert's findings, as well as those of the Lifelong Kindergarten group deeply resonate with me first of all because I have skipped Kindergarten entirely, given that my mother decided that my brother and I would start going to school when it was compulsory, that is for the first year of primary school at 6-7 years old. Till then, play for me was at home, alone. Secondly, my own experience of struggling with mathematics throughout my 6 years of primary school and 6 years of high school, from algebra to geometry and other math subjects, despite private tuition during weekends and summers, tells me that Papert is right on target when he describes the importance of a nurturing, loving even environment for the learning and practicing of math in an effective manner. My biggest stumbling block with math was that I never understood 'what the point was' - what their use and purpose was in real life, I was struggling to translate those abstract concepts into concrete occurrences in real life.
The "positive affective tone" he refers to is indeed missing from traditional schools' environment. But to a larger degree, their absence in the child's life generally can affect that child's capacity for learning. I find Papert so right on this that I am tempted to link his findings in Mindstorms to a paper I once read on fatherless daughters and the negative effects of their family situation on their mathematical abilities - having myself lost my father to cancer when I was 14 months old, I have no recollection of him.
"The effects absent fathers have on female development and college attendance" by Franklin B. Krohn and Zoe Bogan [College Student Journal, Dec 2001] explains how in a family, in the home environment, it is often the father who indirectly, subconsciously introduces his children to mathematical concepts and related spheres, through his own interests and pursuits. This theory is based on a traditional view of 'male' interests that says that men are more likely to be scientifically-minded than women. Even if this is a huge preconceived idea, it is still quite true that the absence of a father who will show an interest in the mathematical results of a game for example or in the geometric designs of his new home or woodwork constructions in his workshop may instill his child with a wonder and interest for such areas too.
It would be complacent of me to attribute my mathematical deficiencies solely to this aspect of my family background, but I found this paper, as well as Papert's notion that a demonstrated love for the subject matter do have an impact on a child' learning abilities quite interesting.
Just a couple more remarks:
John Dewey was right to look back at earlier societies to see what kind of play children engaged in: in classical Greece, play and learning were seen as equal activities and concepts. Children's education and learning of any skills was based entirely on imitation of adult behaviors and activities, thus seamlessly embedding the simple fun but real little tasks adults would give them to do into their daily lives [such as helping their mothers with cooking for girls, going on battle reconnaissance trips with their fathers for boys, etc.]
Papert's description of the learning child as a 'builder' inevitably reminded me of Minsky' own "society of mores" and the learning blocks, "whole and parts" that all play a role in a child's healthy development and acquisition of mental skills. The paper on Scratch was for me a sober reminder that Papert's proposed, perhaps too Utopian for many still, model of natural, painless education and introduction of computers into our lives has not taken root in our society as he hoped.
Perhaps one moment where his Utopian side comes out the most strongly is when he suggests on page 179 that computer programming could and in fact should become for children "an exciting, recognizable activity of adult life." From my own personal experience: I have grown up without a computer in sight, let alone any adult using it, and I suspect this is still the case for many children and people around the world. It is clear that he is speaking here from the point of view of someone with the privilege of access to computers.
To respond to one last concept described in Mindstorms, I have to say that I fully agree with Papert that the current traditional educational systems in most countries of the world is largely dictated by political considerations - which brings me to the point that how we choose to educate our children, what kind of tools we put in their hands and how much freedom we let them have over these tools all boils down to power and control. A child's innate ability to learn and to imaginatively create is as far as I'm concerned beyond question. It is adults, parents, educators, schools' directors and curricula designers - and eventually those behind the 'politics of education' - who are deciding and controlling what children and students learn.
Could they, deep down, be afraid that somehow, given too much freedom and power, these children could somehow be uncontrollable?...
Here the Frankfurt School of thought and especially Herbert Marcuse come to mind. In "The New Forms of Control" from One-Dimensional Man, Marcuse describes how the way technology is designed suggests anti-democratic forces seeking social and political control over its users. "Questioning Technology" by Andrew Feenberg offers pretty much the same theories on the use [or rather abuse] of technology design for the self-interests of a controlling elite - certainly very useful theories to keep in mind when reading Papert's own take on our current educational system...
Posted by SL
FG, what an incredibly thoughtful post. There are so many ideas here, much food for thought. As for the lone learner: I think that the collaborative nature of learning need not be denied to children who are isolated. Online learning communities like Scratch hold great promise for them. They offer community and collaboration remotely, in ways that scaffold the learning experience and in ways that learners can tailor to their own interests. While competition can be an issue, the wisdom of the many usually prevails, and all in all, the common wisdom of the group is usually kind and inclusive.
Architects, Computers and Powerful Designs.
For me, the most surprising part is that even though I change the word "children" into "architects" and "writing" into "design" from Papert's Mindstorms, the contents will greatly fit with the context of the current architectural situation. For a long time, the development in computer technology and the use of CAD/CAM in design process has provide a huge impact on the way architects work and accordingly changed the way people see what a good design is. In terms of the use of computation, current massive consumption of off the shelf software does not mean that architects are truly using the computer for creative design. Most of the time, the powerful ideas came from somewhere else, but computation. Designers use computers to simply realize or to visualize the idea. (In a lot of case, the design concept is more efficiently represented by diagrams, sketches or physical models then computer simulation) People are still locked in computer-aided design stage and do not shift into a computer-using design stage. Papert's methods of using of computers may quite easily solve this problem.
[Page 5, Introduction]
One of my favorite parts is Papert's approach of using computer on bigger scale and on a higher level of effects, his vision of systemic approach in education of computer. As I remember I also was Michael. Personally I thought I worked hard enough yet my outcomes fluctuated heavily. When my works had a great result, however I did not understand why and how that happened. The school cared about the students' academic results and teachers concentrated on how their students win over such a competitive situation. Teachers are struggling with what to teach and students are struggling with how to learn quickly. Instead, teachers should care about how to teach and students should enjoy the process of the learning. While I was reading the Papert's book, I thought how much more creative my design would be and how meaningful my life would be if I had read this book early.
[Page 720 What's the big idea? Toward a pedagogy of idea power]
Posted by ZH
i am really glad you related this topic to architects. actually this is also what i am thinking about when i was doing the reading. But, I do think computation has already made a huge impact on the design itself, not just as a visualization tool. A very critical example is that, when the scripting was introduced into architecture field, so many architects are engaging using codes to create the new forms because with computer, they can deal highly complex forms and details.
As we can tell the impact on the design from the tools changing, are there any chances that it will inspire us about the way to design the tool or toy for children ???
or is it possible to create a tool which will help children to create a tool to make things by themselves?
One more note on the readings:
Where does competition fits into these models for collaborative/group learning? It seems the concept is absent from Papert's Mindstorms and similar proposed systems of education and learning methods. Yet, to pretend it does not exist in our society, in our schools and colleges, as in the labor market, especially in today's economically uncertain times, seems to give an inaccurate picture of the world and might be counterproductive in the end.
This is an issue that as developer of the Open Park platform for journalists to collaboratively cover the news, I am grappling with everyday. It is a challenge to introduce these news-reporters to the new practice of non-competitively working together and share their resources, but it is one I am acknowledging and working hard to solve creatively. I am taking the bulls by the horns here:)
Posted by DG
The challenge of collaborative work vs competition style as I'm sure you know has to do with the incentive/reward systems. Here are a few ideas that might increase collaboration in your system.
- a) Track the subjects an author contributes to, allow the top authors in that subject to be listed on a given page (or display them in a tag cloud).
b) Assign stories to individuals interested in so that if an author wants to maintain their "rank" in that topic, they will be forced to collaborate/co-author.
- Display an individuals centrality in the social network constructed using co-authoring as a link, this encourages individuals to co-author/collaborate with a wide variety of individuals.
- Display each individuals Erdos, or some other famous person, number.
- Offer the best stories to those willing to collaborate on them.
Just a few ideas, I hope they help.
Posted by FG
These are great tips, thank you DG!
I am familiar with the various incentives and motivational methods that some Web sites and news projects have put in place so as to attract outside contributors and create engagement - the ratings system of stories such as that on Slashdot come to mind. But although the total sum of these articles and contributions forms a final product that has been 'collaborated on' - the news Web site - this model does not amount to true, cooperative, non-competitive collaboration between the contributors. I am actually trying to get the news-reporters, even from different news organizations, to actually work together on a story, so yes, a clever, but fair and efficient incentive-reward system is the way to go. I'll definitely keep your list in mind!
Posted by ZH
I really learned a lot from Papert's paper. It is surprising that it was written nearly 30 years ago. Obviously, there are so many points are very inspiring to us. However, here, I really want to talk about his concept of "object-to-think-with".
He used his gear as an example to introduce this concept " first, they were part of my natural " landscape," embedded in the culture around me. This made it possible for me to find them myself and relate to them in my own fashion. Second, gears were part of the world of adults around me and through them I could relate to these people. Third, I could use my body to think about the gears. I could feel how gears turn by imagining my body turning ... ..."
Actually what this concept makes sense to me is more than what he said. Especially for children, the object could be more like an motivation or self-interest point than the "hobby" itself. Please imagine, which one makes more sense to a kid - a specific cartoon book with Micky Mouse or "reading" ?
In another words, do you think a kid is reading cartoon book with Micky Mouse is because he likes that book with the pictures of Micky Mouse or he likes reading? i would say which one is right, but i do think it could be a question related to Papert's paper.
When i was a kid, i still remember that every birthday i was so look forward to going to the shop to buy a toy i really like, for example, the army figures. I carried them everywhere i went and played them all the time. Somehow I can not tell whether i like the toy itself or i like playing them.
Thus, I really think it is a good way to start with object. If the object could be well designed for the children, which has the enough potential to play with, to create new things with and so on, it could be a good solution to the idea of "Piagetian learning" - the object becomes a self-interested tool which drives children to explore the knowledge and skills of learning, especially in a non-teaching condition.
Posted by JL
The following paragraph is the excerpt that I chose because of its imagery and relevance to my life:
"Those children who prove recalcitrant to math and science education include
many whose environments happen to be relatively poor in math-speaking
adults. Such children come to school lacking elements necessary for the easy
learning of school math. School has been unable to supply these missing
elements, and, but forcing the children into learning situations doomed in
advance, it generates power negative feelings about mathematics and perhaps
about the learning in general. Thus is set up a vicious self-perpetuating cycle.
For these same children will one day be parents and will not only fail to pass
on mathematical germs but will almost certainly infect their children with the
opposing and intellectually destructive germ of athophobia."
Ever since middle school, I've had "literatureophobia." I was a very slow reader and an even slower writer. With non-english speaking parents, the environment I grew up in made those "elements necessary for the easy learning of school" english virtually inaccessible. Like Papert said, I defined myself as inept in reading and writing; I was "mathematical" and not "liberal arty." This labeling is indeed a germ that infects the mind. Every reading and writing assignment was done with a complete unwillingness and lack of motivation to do the assignment. These negative feelings only became huge barriers to my improvement.
This excerpt reminded me of the paper "Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality and Development" by Dweck. Dweck' s research identified two types of learners: incrementalists and trait learners. Incrementalists believe that their intelligence can be enhanced while trait learners believe that they have a fixed amount of intelligence. Dweck's studies showed that incrementalists increased their sense of motivation for a difficult task, while trait learners had a tendency to give up.
It is amazing how your own mind can limit itself. According to his research, everyone should have a "can do" attitude with a sprinkle of "nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it." Such flowerly phrases might actually serve a mental purpose.
Posted by SL
Yeah, I'm still angry (40 years later) that even though I showed every sign of being mathematically talented, as a girl I was discouraged from pursuing math-like topics. So I became a mathophobe and avoided anything that looked or smelled technical. Yet, everytime I would enter a machine shop, a hardware store or get near a computer or an erector set, I just wanted to stay and play. Somehow I still was able to muster that "can do" attitude. I think if, like JL, had the language barrier to confront as well as the gender barrier, I would have been more of a trait learner and probably given up. That's an overwhelming challenge. This brings up inclusiveness in our approach to teaching and learning- much like what FG discusses above. How do we include, not exclude our learners? I think the new (for me), more open world of mashups and knowledge sharing holds great promise. Learners are not entirely dependent upon teachers or their methods for knowledge acquisition, but use the support and inclusiveness of other learners to help them. The teacher can guide, but the learning process is integrated in the social construct, much like the Scratch online community.
Posted by SK
Papert's writing is made all the more interesting and readable by his inclusion of anecdotes that serve as analogies to explain his main points. One of these, the story of the "samba school" was most provocative to me because it seemed an inadequate metaphor for its time, but an idea that holds great potential in light of communication technologies developed since then.
Papert acknowledges some of the shortcomings of his argument for LOGO environments as samba schools. Perhaps the most interesting is that:
"LOGO environments are artificially maintained oases where people encounter
knowledge ... that has been separated from the mainstream of the surrounding
culture, indeed which is even in some opposition to values expressed in that
surrounding culture. When I ask myself whether this can change, I remind myself of
the social nature of the question by remembering that the samba school was not
designed by researchers, funded by grants, nor implemented by government action"
This is a roadblock to samba school-style learning not only because students' priorities will not be aligned with such an education, but because even if a community did recognize the value of learning in a certain way or about certain things, it may not contain the necessary people to share the requisite knowledge. In the case of the samba school, kids learn about dancing from skilled dancers who live within their community. This is great model for learning about, creating, and enhancing cultural traditions, but it is a poor model for problem solving. Problems facing a community are often a result of a lack of knowledge or perspective from the people who live in a given area. Learning math or computer programming from a neighbor who does those things professionally will, while allowing for some effects of individual creativity, mostly perpetuate local approaches to solving problems.
Of course, our modern definition of community has been dramatically altered with the development of the Internet. Papert's book was written at a time when any learning community was necessarily tied to a geographic area and information exchange between such communities was primarily facilitated by "researchers, funded by grants, [and] implemented by government action." Today, students and teachers have access to other people, their knowledge, and their perspectives from around the world with communication and collaboration made possible across the web. Students can - and increasingly do - learn in a samba school style by chatting, reading blogs, or watching YouTube videos of the "expert dancers" in whatever field they have interest. I remember learning about programming in this way. Nobody in my suburban middle school (despite its large size and ubiquitous access to computers and the Internet) knew enough about web application development nor thought it an important enough skill to learn to lead me with examples or point me towards appropriate resources. I found a community of people online with whom I collaborated to make Web sites and, in the process, learned a lot about the "mathetic" ways of thinking that Papert hoped LOGO would encourage.
The idea of community-based learning seems somewhat optimistic and premature without the modern conception of a global community facilitated by the web. But perhaps now there are huge opportunities to develop technologies (such as ubiquitous rapid prototyping machines that would allow physical creations to be shared, evaluated, critiqued, discussed, etc across the globe) and encourage behaviors (such as participating in online communities and forming mutually-educational relationships with web-based pen pals) that build on the advances since Papert wrote Mindstorms. It seems as though the work done with the online Scratch community further extends Papert's hopes for computer programming as a learning tool, and I wonder what other skills and modes of learning can grow with a focus online.
Posted by SL
I share your vision of a global community facilitated by the web, and I have two words for you: Fab Lab. We're trying to do exactly what you describe in your last paragraph- develop and deploy technologies that allow designs to be shared across the globe and encourage the growth of global communities of practice. Our work is still very rudimentary, but progressing. Want to experiment with online skills and modes of learning?
Posted by DL
I found the paragraph where Papert talks about how he hopes to "make transparent the barriers separating discipline" especially inspiring (p. 184), as it relates to my personal interest and research. I, too, strongly believe that we are at a point in time where it seems foolish to be making distinctions such as Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. With new knowledge gained from the advancement of technology, it is harder to justify why we categorize high-school "science" into these three arbitrary domains. At best, these categories provide one way of learning about the history of science; and at worst, traps us in an out-dated paradigm that prevents us from developing unique ways of thinking and innovations/discoveries that crosses these disciplinary boundaries.
Posted by DG
I can't agree more. I think that allowing individuals to explore topics that interest them and contextualizing other domains with respect to the topic of interest is the best way to provide an integrated learning experience. For instance, if a child is interested in trains, you can teach them about the history of the railroad, steam power, transportation systems, shipping/logistics/math/operations research, model building, painting, architecture of train stations, industrial design, etc... The key is to integrate it in such a way that it all fits together.
Posted by JC
In response to DG, I have to wonder if there are schools that are attempted to break down these barriers and integrate the learning experience to be cross-discipline. From what I have read of Olin School of Engineering, the methods there are attempting to do this at a college level. It would be nice if any lessons learned or methods would trickle downward.
Posted by VC
The Papert quotation I chose does not, at first glance, seem particularly quotable: "Programming the Turtle starts by making one reflect on how one does oneself what one would like the Turtle to do" (28). It goes beyond the idea of "children as creators". Giving kids programming knowledge gives them agency and allows them to control or manipulate their environment-however small-which ultimately gives them the mindset that helps them think, learn, and succeed. I spent a few of my college years teaching fitness and nutrition to middle school girls in a low-income, urban area, and there was a huge difference in academic performance between girls who believed they were capable of doing something (really, anything) and the girls who thought nothing in their lives could change. Perhaps the gap between programming knowledge and self-esteem is too great of a leap, but the effects of giving kids the opportunity to make something work will hopefully spill over into other areas of their lives.
Posted by RC
"I believe that the computer presence will enable us to so modify the learning
environment outside the classrooms that much if not all the knowledge schools
presently try to teach with such pain and expense and such limited success will
be learned, as the child learns to talk, painlessly, successfully, and without
organized instruction." (p. 9)
This sentence is exceptionally provocative to me because Papert suggests that schools as they were then (and in many ways even now) will eventually become obsolete and need to be reformed. I was particularly interested in his discussion of samba schools as a model of non school activities that can engage children and foster education. This made me reflect on my elementary school years, ~10 years ago, to observe if indeed schools were starting to reform. Although many classes in my childhood were taught in a lecture style where the teacher would dictate the correct methods, a few classes did adopt styles that Papert recommended. Science class in my elementary school was taught as a series of experiments. The classroom was split into tables that seated 4-6 people. Sometimes the teacher would brief us about the experiment first, but for most of the period each table collaborated to complete these experiments with little help from the teacher. There was a large emphasis placed on hypothesizing what we anticipated would happen (both individually and then as a team) and reflecting after conducting the experiments. Each team would share what they had learned and the class would learn from each other. Although I did not realize it then, this class taught me to think about thinking as well as to better express myself and my ideas. Although classrooms still have quite a ways to go before become painless and successful, I think they are starting to transform.
Posted by DK
There are many inspiring thoughts and ideas in Papert's book and I agree with many things he suggests. Contrary to voicing my enthusiasm about things I find agreeable I would like to point out one or two thoughts I have regarding his value assessment about thinking more like a mathematician.
No doubt, there are enormous advantages to thinking logically and reasoning about things in the world around us. I think it becomes a more complex problem when we consider other things children learn in Kindergarten like drawing. Drawing with a computer or the drawing-like designs or artifacts of creative processes that are the output of a program are defined by a single symbolic representation. This representation is defined by the creator of the program that is being used. This means that the child has no way to reason about that representation unless it is specifically made aware of it.
Logic creation of something that was imagined might need several "look at" iterations. In other words a child or student should be encouraged to rethink his/her representation of what is being created in Scratch for instance. All too often do we find ourselves being content with what our software or programs produced and are willing to accept something that is not what we wanted.
Papert talks about the possibility that we could learn to not have difficulties with being wrong and I agree, but I don't think that programming lends itself to such reflective thinking as it can be frustrating and structures of logic sequences are hard to recreate.
I am not proposing that the representations used in Logo or Scratch of lines and geometric shapes are wrong. We should however consider that the playful act of drawing and seeing things in these drawings is a fundamental way of thinking that redefines the representations of what is seen or discovered in the drawing. By continuously using a single representation of what a line or a rectangle is or how a turtle can move this way of thinking is being inhibited. These representations should be redefined over and over again to make sure the concept of representation becomes clear and does not turn into an obstacle.
"…And giving children the opportunity to choose one style or another provides
an opportunity to develop the skill necessary to chose between styles. Thus
instead of inducing mechanical thinking, contact with computers could turn out
to be the best conceivable antidote to it." (S. Papert, 1980, p.27)
Papert recognizes the potential of introducing different thinking styles and I think this could be integrated at a very early stage in the conceptualization of Scratch or other visual programming languages themselves or at the introduction of the language.
One possible way of integrating the re-definition of representations is expanding Prof. Resnick's spiraling process. The imagine–create–play–share–reflect–imagine loop might accommodate redefinitions of representations in a nested loop between imagine and create. That way a student is asked to think about what was created in the computer before others can comment on the entirety of the project including the story line, music and movment.
Posted by VR
Inspired by Jean Piaget's model of children as builders of their own intellectual structures, Papert presents a well-articulated vision which has blossomed into a highly effective meme. It is interesting to note the influence of Froebel's Gifts (Kindergarten) on artists and architects like Frank Lloyd Wright. By physically manipulating shape primitives and playing within the inherent constraints, the child is able to experience the effects of additive/subtractive logical booleans. Constructive play becomes a math lesson situated in a creative context. Logo and Scratch both embody this approach and the communities of players that have formed around these platforms for creative learning have consequently been empowered to share their discoveries in a distributed, limitless way. One of the core concepts in Papert's MINDSTORMS asserts:
"It is possible to design computers so that learning to communicate with them
can be a natural process, more like learning French by living in France."
As a researcher in the Media Lab interested in the educational opportunities that will emerge through the curated use of well-designed Augmented Reality systems, I couldn't agree more. What if we could teach children about math by taking a short walk outdoors? Flower petals, tree branching and river beds are fertile ground for exploring the beauty of mathematical relationships in nature.
Inspired by Papert's idea that we could design a natural bridge between the way we compute and the world, similar to how we learn French in France, we must stand up, move away from the desk, engage the child's whole body and learn in context. Consider a tiny, very portable computer (like an iPhone or something smarter and AR-enabled) that would let a teacher guide children through a 'math tour of flowers' pointing out logarithmic spirals, phi ratios and Fibonacci sequences. As children explore their surroundings, using all of their senses, this new "computer" could help them learn, truly embedded in the world. I envision scenarios where children gather around a tree and see it, smell it, hear its branches slowly moving in real space as their Augmented Reality graphics system overlays a LOGO turtle that climbs up the tree drawing a line and annotating the branch-off points, angles, and trunk/branch/twig thickness values. The child's is then asked to synthesize the observations and come up with the relationships between the various components of the tree. Using these building blocks, the child could later build her own tree in an animation or even grow extra sub-branches for the tree she is looking at based on the structure she learned.