Gears of My Childhood

tamc0356Each 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.

Prescription for Play

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?

Taught to Question

When I was in graduate school, the professor in my very first class session began by instructing us to question everything. He was passionate about this declaration, clearly evident in the spraying spit as he glared out at us. This was an exercise science, physiology and biomechanics program based heavily upon peer-reviewed research. He instructed us to question each and every word that he vocalized and assigned in our class meetings and readings. Let me reiterate… we were instructed to question the very research that would instruct and inform us during our time in the program. I learned that this is precisely what happens in any reputable field of research. Again, question that which most people look to as authoritative and primary source documentation of a subject.

I was taught to question.

Lately, Twitter is failing me. Today I had an exchange on Twitter where I put this to practice in my own community of practice. While the exchange was hardly equivalent to the research mentioned above, I had a question in regards to the practice of creating fake Facebook walls for historical/fictional characters. I didn’t “get it”. I questioned it. I stated it seemed contrived and also seemed like an online worksheet. I also asked what was next… what action/learning experience follows the creation of and discussion around a “fakebook” profile?

I wanted to know.

Back to my mention of peer-reviewed research. I believe a community of practice (made up of peers in a practice) should allow this line of questioning in whatever spaces are available/used. I respect those that were posting the information, they’ve taught/shared a thing or two with me before. Because of this I felt comfortable tweeting my questions. Apparently it was not welcomed and received as me merely liking to argue. Nothing could be further from the truth. You can imagine my disappointment.

I claim no expertise in any niche or corner of education or the EdTech community of practice. What I do claim is the right to question, as a participant in a community of practice and for the benefit of those in the community and those I work with/for, the content that is posted within the community. Since we are striving to teach our students that posting on the Internet results in feedback and critical questioning, I think we would do well to remember this as we post there as well. I certainly try to. If I don’t, it is your right to call me on it.

Being taught to question was one of the most important and powerful lessons I will always remember. It has served me well and will continue to do so.

I will still question. You should too.

Digging Deeper

29 years ago Dr. Seymour Papert wrote the text below.  It was recently shared again over at my daily dose of sanity, The Daily Papert.

“I know. I think schools generally do an effective and terribly damaging job of teaching children to be infantile, dependent, intellectually dishonest, passive and disrespectful to their own developmental capacities. I think that the examples I have  given of learning in a computational environment provide a glimpse of a context for learning in which socialization would be based on a potentiation of the individual, an empowering sense of one’s own ability to learn anything one wants to know, conditioned by deep understanding of how these abilities are amplified by belonging to cultures and communities.”

Papert, S. (1982) Tomorrow’s Classrooms?. In Times Educational Supplement March 5, 1982 (pp. 31-32,41)

I think these words reveal how we can start to use technology to help us think, not just different, but deeper about what real learning looks like.  They also provide a guiding light that schools can use to navigate along a path of teaching and learning that is more meaningful and valuable for everyone involved.

What we need is visionary people who step out of the ordinary and lead with their heads, hearts and hands (Lehmann, 200?). For examples of Papert’s thinking and learning click through to his work.  Don’t take it for face value (i.e. – just programming), dig deep and think about the learning process and ask yourself how it might look in other contexts.


The Dichotomy of Work & Play

This is hardly Earth shattering, though, at the same time, there is so much right and so much wrong with this exchange. These students clearly enjoyed learning at the National Museum of Play, but it felt a whole lot different from what they are accustomed to.

During a time when it seems that children are liking school less and less, do we really feel as though the only way for them to succeed is to coerse them to develop a work ethic?   Professor Mary Jane Treacy suggests we meld of the dichotomy between work and play:

I think we really have to break that dichotomy of play and work, so if you’re a student and you go and you work at your classes and play is something that you do afterwards. And I really think that that’s a false dichotomy and we need to change that, so I’m gonna have to bring those together. We first have to do that among ourselves, the faculty.

What if that so called work ethic we so desire in schools was actually a play ethic?  What if the process of playing developed the very habits, tendencies and dispositions that we wish to invoke through a forced “work ethic”?

What if we really believed that “play is our brain’s favorite way of learning”?

I Have Questions: Gaming

A little background, I’m currently attending a two-day training on Quest Atlantis, a multi-user virtual environment game.  While listening to the rationale for QA, questions that have been stirring about in my head finally leapt out of my head and into Evernote for me to capture.  While the training wasn’t the best place to pose these questions, for obvious reasons, I thought I’d pose them here for some of your thoughts.

  • If there are viable alternatives in the real world, should educators use simulations and games?
  • Are games being used as an easier alternative to real world learning experiences like project-based or service learning opportunities?
  • How do we create situated learning experiences, in the real world, similar to those found in video games?

Learning by Doing

Learning by Doing by briancsmith

Learning by Doing, originally uploaded by BrianCSmith.

This is all the motivation I need. I spend far too much time behind a screen. Twitter used to ask “What are you doing?”. I think it’s a fair question.

What ARE you doing?!

Moving on…

I’ve moved this blog over to  I will no longer be using for hosting my blog.  Thanks for the memories, I just wanted a little more control.  Now, I need to write more.

If you’ve been subscribing, thank you and change your subscriptions to this new feed…  If you haven’t please consider doing so… kthxbai.