Thursday, July 22, 2010

Reading: Mindstorms

Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas -Seymour Papert
  • “Constructionism”- It differs from constructivism in that it “looks more the idea of mental construction.” The computer is seen by Papert as a powerful tool for supporting children’s learning- for learning in a self-directed, self-motivated way, in the course of programming. Rather than seeing the computer as a mechanism for instilling knowledge and skills via workbook like exercises, Papert’s programming language, LOGO, allows children to take control of the computer, learning about mathematics through the experience of mathematical concepts.
  • In most contemporary educational situations where the children come into contact with computers it is usually the computer programming the child. In the LOGO environment, the role is reversed: The child, even at preschool ages, is in control: The child programs the computer. And in teaching the computer how to think, children embark on an exploration about how they themselves think. Thinking about thinking turns the child into an epistemologist.
  • Our culture is very rich in materials useful for the child’s construction of certain components of numerical and logical thinking. Children learn to count; they learn that the result of counting is independent of order and special arrangement; they extend this “conversation” to thinking about the properties of liquids as they are poured and of solids which change their shape. Children develop these components of thinking pre-consciously and “spontaneously,” that is to say without deliberate teaching. Other components of knowledge, such as the skills involved n doing permutations and combinations, develop more slowly, or do not develop at all without formal schooling.
  • Piaget distinguishes between “concrete” thinking and “formal” thinking. Concrete thinking is already well on its way by the time the child enters the first grade at age 6 and is consolidated in the following years. Formal thinking does not develop until the child is almost twice as old–The computer can concretize (and personalize) the formal.
  • Many children are held back in their learning because they have a model of learning in which you either “got it” or “got it wrong.” But when you learn to program a computer you almost never get it right the first time.
  • This potential influence of the computer on changing our notion of a black and white version of our successes and failures is an example of using the computer as an “object to think with.”
  • Critics have pointed to the influence of the allegedly mechanized thought processes of computers on how people think. McLuhan’s dictum that “the medium is the message” might apply here: If the medium is an interactive system that takes in words and speaks back like a person, it is easy to get the message that machines are like people and that people are like machines. What this might do to the development of values and self-image in growing children is hard to assess.
  • Ways to take educational advantage by mastering the art of deliberately thinking like a computer, for example, in a step-by-step, literal, mechanical fashion. Some children’s difficulties in learning formal subjects such as grammar or mathematics derive from their inability to see the point of such a style.
  • By deliberately learning to imitate mechanical thinking, the learner becomes able to articulate what mechanical thinking is and what it is not. The exercise can lead to greater confidence about the ability to choose a cognitive style that suits the problem. “Style of thinking”
  • The intellectual environments offered to children by today’s cultures are poor in opportunities to bring their thinking about thinking into the open, to learn to talk about it and test their ideas by externalizing them. Access to computers can dramatically change this situation.
  • The computer is not a culture unto itself but it can serve to advance very different cultural and philosophical outlooks.
  • The educator must be an anthropologist

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