Now might be a good time to revive a bit of this weblog.
I am so very exhausted with the way content, links, and content are scattered across social media networks. I have long thought that having this space is vital to not only owning the content, but that it gets captured and organized in a way that allows me to further digest it.
There’s another thing…
This week I step back into formal learning by starting a course module as part of a program for a certificate in school leadership. At this point, I have no sights on a specific leadership role, save that I want to make an impact based on my experiences and the powerful ideas I have come to know. Whether I use this space for the course is TBD. There’s a good chance that some of it will spill over to this more public space.
This morning I learned that Dr. Seymour Papert died yesterday at his home in Blue Hill, Maine. Dr. Papert was a pioneer in the world of computers and children, the LOGO programming language, co-founder of the Artificial Intelligence lab (now CSAIL) and a founding faculty member of the MIT Media Lab. Papert has also been called the “father of the maker movement” for ushering the constructionist learning theory into schools decades ago. Each time I speak to a group of educators, parents or students it is grounded in what I have learned about constructionism, a theory of learning by Dr. Papert inspired by his work with Jean Piaget. So great is Papert’s influence on my thinking that I can never know learning as I did before.
While I never met Dr. Papert in person, over the past 10+ years I have grown to know him through studying his work and through many friends, mentors and colleagues who have shared personal accounts of working and spending time with him. His work has been shared with me first hand by many close friends and colleagues. Dr. Gary Stager, Sylvia Martinez, Dr. Cynthia Solomon, Dr. Edith Ackerman, Artemis Papert, Brian Silverman, Dr. Claudia Urrea, Dr. Mitchel Resnick, and many others were my open door to the work that Dr. Papert pioneered in thinking and learning with computers. Dr. Papert’s words will forever be foundational in our thinking, learning, and work in education.
I hope that those that have known him will continue to share his important work with new generations of educators and learners. This closing excerpt from a post by Paulo Blikstein captures how we might honor and continue the work Papert laid down before us.
In the famous Gears of My Childhood preface to Mindstorms, Papert states what he has always considered“the fundamental fact about learning: Anything is easy if you can assimilate it to your collection of models. If you can’t, anything can be painfully difficult.”
Education needs a collection of models demonstrating the impact of implementing Seymour’s ideas in school. Maybe then they will not anymore be painfully hard to implement, but a lot easier. And it is our job to build those models. So go forth and construct.
There is no better way to thank Seymour Papert than to live out his vision of learning. Dr. Papert, you will be dearly missed. Rest in Peace.
“The phrase “technology and education” usually means inventing new gadgets to teach the same old stuff in a thinly disguised version of the same old way. Moreover, if the gadgets are computers, the same old teaching becomes incredibly more expensive and biased towards its dullest parts, namely the kind of rote learning in which measurable results can be obtained by treating the children like pigeons in a Skinner box.”
– Seymour Papert <strike(1980)(1970)*
Apple is on the wrong side of history with its Classroom App. Everything about the app screams distrust. It’s heavy on content delivery (as if learners don’t construct knowledge), control (did I say you could tap that icon?), management (apparently, computer literacy is dead), locking out students (Johnny went to the Wiki one too many times), and shared devices (let’s call it collaboration!). Read the Getting Started with Classroom, it’s all there.
Alfie Kohn put forth a compelling case for being skeptical about announcements like this one in his post about The Overselling of EdTech:
There’s a jump-on-the-bandwagon feel to how districts are pouring money into computers and software programs – money that’s badly needed for, say, hiring teachers. But even if ed tech were adopted as thoughtfully as its proponents claim, we’re still left with deep reasons to be concerned about the outmoded model of teaching that it helps to preserve — or at least fails to help us move beyond. To be committed to meaningful learning requires us to view testimonials for technology with a terabyte’s worth of skepticism.
The less we trust students the fewer opportunities they have to develop the very agency over their own learning that we aspire for them. Our skeptical eye is much needed in these days of edu-preneurship, edtech startups and the dreamy influence of Silicon Valley giants.
*UPDATED:Gary Stager pointed out (below) that the quote is from 1970 though the paper I cited is from 1980. This further emphasizes that Apple and most other computer hardware/software companies don’t know history and continue to ignore research on learning.
“You realize how there’s no ceiling and how everyone is going to be able to contribute to everybody else’s learning no matter where they came from, when they got here or where they were at.”
In this short (1:35) video reflection, Angela Jochum, an ICT Integration Coordinator at the Frankfurt International School, shares her experience at Constructing Modern Knowledge 2014. The phrase that stays with me is when she talks about on there being “no sense of hierarchy.”
Her reflection illustrates the absence of a hierarchy that is prevalent in many educational settings. A hierarchy constructed of perceived, and often intentional, divisive levels between the “smart” kids and “dumb” kids. Unfortunately this is plays out in classrooms (and teacher lounges) around the world where kids are ranked and sorted by grades and test scores. Angela’s is describing how CMK is wholly a different experience.
At CMK, people from various educational institutions (i.e. – schools, museums, etc.) come together for four days to do projects they’ve never done before. CMK participants often feel a bit uncomfortable the first day. Angela experienced the notion of learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. From what I recall, her self-selected project group also consisted of a kindergarten teacher and a AP physics teacher all learning together to do things each of them had never done before.
CMK attendees experience something that is not like a most conferences where attendees shuffle from hall A to hall B listening to one-direction presentations. They hear wacky and whimsical ideas that seem to have no place in serious professional learning. They wander the plethora of learning kits, google what an Arduino does, peruse volumes of books, and wonder what the point of it all is. Oh! They listen, chat and dine with stellar educational heroes too!
Everyone learns at CMK. Largely, it is about experiencing what it is to be a learner again. Learning from and with others. In doing so, we can begin to empathize with our children, our students and fellow teachers in the modern landscape of learning.
In February, a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Things interview with Joe Hudy was posted on the Make blog where he shares projects, experiences, tools and people that inspire him. In response to the tools he can’t live without question, Joey says “my calculator watch because I don’t know my multiplication and division tables.” This is a 16 year old who doesn’t know his math facts.
How does a kid who admittedly does not know multiplication and division tables get named one of the top ten smartest kids in the world?
My hunch lies in how he applies math as opposed to how school teaches math. Nearly all math is taught and problems are presented in abstract forms. Typically, math is taught in sequential and increasingly difficult series of skills and courses. Always preparing for the next level or concept with nary a meaningful use in sight. “You’ll need it in middle school” is not good enough. What Joey has done is make the math he uses concrete, applied to the projects he designs and makes. I’m quite sure he has collaborators and teachers who help him figure out what he needs to know and do. When the time comes for using math, he uses the tool he finds best, his calculator watch. It’s not hard to imagine Joey coming to a problem, lifting his wrist, punching a few keys, finding an answers and moving on to the next step in a real project.
So why do we fret over math tables? What’s the real purpose of memorizing math facts? Do the benefits truly outweigh the consequences of emphasizing math facts to young children?
Each time I read Papert’s essay about the gears of his childhood, I feel a little remorse for some of the more episodic moments I had growing up. Though that remorse fades as I realize that all is not lost and consider my “gears” more as seeds for later realization.
When I was 9 or 10 years old, I remember waiting for the delivery truck. Everyday. For two weeks. It was such an eternity for me. I was awaiting an RC car kit. One I had saved for with money I had earned. The Grasshopper had a 380 motor, shocks, big sandpaddle studded rear tires, an ABS resin chassis and a 2-channel radio with 1 servo.
Upon arrival, I tore through the box and sorted out the pieces. I remember reading through the directions taking it all in. Wondering if I could complete the kit. Several days later I finished putting the Grasshopper together and drove it in the driveway until the battery died down. I raced my friend, who had a similar car, and as all boys do, crashed the car numerous times. I often went “under the hood” to tweak a screw here and there. I even tested the servos to be certain they were calibrated even though there wasn’t anything really wrong with them. I loved peering in on the moving parts, unhooking and reattaching wires, and testing how the shocks worked. I was so amazed that one could control a machine remotely from several hundred yards away.
Despite having this early interest, and having a a mechanical engineer for a father, the tinkering and kit building faded. While I didn’t go into engineering or other related field, the experiences I had with putting the car kit together, along with having a space to do so, we had a great basement with plenty of tools and workbenches, was the dormant seed for my current interest in tinkering and making for learning.
I want the children I work with, including my own child, to have a variety of these “gears” experiences. I don’t mean that it must involve actual gears as Papert’s and, at least partially, mine did. I want children to experience Papert’s powerful idea around constructionist learning. My goal is to create a Maker Studio in my school where children can tinker and make using not only digital technologies that have garnered so much attention, but ones that bridge the physical world with the digital and vice versa.
If you know me, you know I’m a big proponent for play for children. Even big children. While I agree with what is being said in the video, we can’t ignore the modern world we live in.
What constitutes play with computers? Is it video games? According to Dr. Marilyn Benoit video games aren’t what they mean here. I’m inclined to agree, the type of play being described is free play. Free play can be though of as unscripted, no rules or loosely defined rules where children are open to try new personalities, ideas, skills without the fear of evaluation from another. While most video games tick off some of these, I belief they are in violation of the first, they are not all unscripted.
So, what does this free play with computers look like? I’ve got a few ideas and I love to keep the suspense so… I’d like to hear from you first. What does play with computers look like if it isn’t video games?
Wisdom is both foresight and hindsight. Papert et. al, possessed tremendous foresight that never ceases to amaze me. I’m also amazed at the current lack of hindsight for this very work…
“We were sure that when computers became as common as pencils (which we knew would happen) education would change as fast and as deeply as the transformations through which we were living in civil rights and social and sexual relations. I still think this will happen even though the time needed is turning out to be a little longer than we imagined and the process more complex. When it does happen it will use the ideas that we worked so hard to develop back then.”
Making is learning. Remember John Dewey’s phrase “learn by doing.” It’s a hundred-year-old educational philosophy based on experiential learning that seems forgotten, if not forbidden, today. I see a huge opportunity to change the nature of our educational system.
I’ve been a growing supporter of the Maker movement over the past couple of years and I hope that it’s starting to pick up steam in some places in American culture. At least it then has a chance to seep into schools.
I’ve always felt that EdTech is too screen-based and that the EdTech community needs to do better melding with the arts, science, math and technology (TechEd). The good news is that there are real and doable opportunities for schools and teachers to do just this within the Maker/DIY movement. Today.
The most important thing I have learned the past six years is that there’s so much more to educational technology than the Web 2.0, interactive whiteboards and video games. I think this movement illustrates what I’ve believed for some time now… that children of all ages be active and, not only engaged, but empowered through concrete, yet meaningful learning experiences.