Monday, November 17, 2008

Students Change the World!

Greetings from Qatar!

My entire "Learning and Technology" Online Master of Arts in Educational Technology class at Pepperdine University collaborated online to create a web site promoting the One Laptop Per Child Foundation's Give One, Get One promotion in which Americans pay $398 and get an XO laptop computer (known as the $100 computer) and a child in the developing world gets one as well. Donors also receive a $199 tax deduction. This special offer runs between today and December 31st.

This learning adventure embraced by students was an opportunity for them to develop technological, project-management and advocacy skills, in addition to making the learning case for G1G1. It was gratifying to receive email messages from students thanking me for the assignment. Having a sense of purpose makes learning more meaningful.

Check out result of the students' efforts at the following URL:

The OLPC Mission

The XO Computer

The Unique XO Interface

Superbowl MVP Tom Brady on the G1G1

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Background for Closing NECC 2008 Keynote

I thought it might be useful to share resources related to my old friend Dr. Idit Harel-Caperton's closing keynote address at NECC 2008.

In April 1992, Harel-Caperton's book "Children Designers: Interdisciplinary Constructions for Learning and Knowing Mathematics in a Computer-Rich School," received the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Outstanding Book Award.

Dr. Harel-Caperton also co-edited Constructionism with Seymour Papert. Unfortunately, it is currently out-of-print. Used copies are available and libraries may have a copy as well.

Situating Constructionism
by Harel & Papert from their groundbreaking book, Constructionism.

Learning Through Design: Observations from a Constructionist Perspective on a (Possible) Paradigm Shift in the Field - a 1991 paper by Idit Harel.

Related articles by Seymour Papert

Constructionism vs. Instructionism

Computer Criticism Versus Technocentric Thinking

A Critique of Technocentrism in Thinking About the School of the Future

Epistemological Pluralism and the Revaluation of the Concrete (with Sherry Turkle)

Papert on Piaget (Time Magazine)

What's the big idea? Toward a pedagogy of idea power

Papert Misses Big Ideas from the Good Old Days in AI (2002 interview)

Perestroika and Epistemological Pluralism
(1990 Conference Keynote)

Professor Papert Discuses the $100 Laptop Project (US State Department - November 2006)

2004 Transcript of Australian radio interview with Seymour Papert - Seymour Papert articles and papers
Planet Papert

Paper by Edith Ackerman

Piaget’s Constructivism, Papert’s Constructionism: What’s the Difference? - A fantastic paper by Dr. Edith Ackerman to help you understand constructivism vs. constructinism.

Other books of interest

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Shame on National Geographic

Wesley Fryer shared information about a new contest for teachers and kids sponsored by The National Geographic on his blog, Encourage Hands-on Science Inquiry! Winners get a trip to Australia, my second home.

Cool, right?

Not so fast!

I read Wes' post and then the National Geographic site. I have no idea what sort of "experiment" or "exploration" a kid might do to win this contest. I know of few teachers who can do justice to the spirit of the subject matter.

Perhaps the contest is really just a sweepstakes or a lottery.

The first rule of project-based or problem-based learning is that the learner must have a reasonable chance of getting their head around solving the problem, or taking a reasonable swipe at solving the problem. We frequently fail by asking students to solve problems too adult, abstract or large for them to tackle. The other common mistake is posing a problem that is overly vague. The National Geographic contest offers no clues for what a kid might do. This invariably advantages kids whose parents or teachers direct the activity.

How many teachers know what hands-on geography is? How many kids can figure this out alone? What has National Geographic done to help?

Is hands-on science/geography merely collecting stuff? Is it experimental? How does collecting American flora or fauna connect to "understanding" Australia?

If one of my graduate students authored this challenge, they would be at serious risk of failure.

Oh yeah, be sure to wash your hands with hand sanitizer. (That's one of the few details offered by The National Geographic)

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Monday, August 20, 2007

My EuroLogo 2007 Paper

Greetings from Bratislava, Slovak Republic. I'm here as one of the plenary speakers at Eurologo 2007.

I wrote a new paper for Eurologo 2007 that may be of interest to you.

Towards the Construction of a Language for Describing the Potential of Educational Computing Activities

Here is the abstract for the paper. I look forward to you reading it.


This paper represents a first attempt at constructing a language for describing the potential learning value of computers as a learning material. A lack of precision in describing the value computers add to the learning process has paradoxically made it easy for people to elevate the significance of using computers in pedestrian ways while simultaneously marginalizing higher-order uses such as Logo programming. Colleagues are invited to extend or challenge this paper’s hypotheses.

In the early 1980s Seymour Papert was dissatisfied with Robert Taylor’s metaphors for the use of the computer in education. Taylor wrote about the computer as a tool, tutor or tutee (Taylor, 1980) while Papert described the computer as “mudpie” (Papert, 1980a; Papert, 1984) and then later more generally as material. (Papert & Franz, 1987) The tool metaphor dominates most discourse regarding the use of computers in education. Educators and policy-makers alike use it to describe nearly every application of “technology.” It would be impossible to list all the examples of “computer as tool” in common usage or even scholarship.

This work attempts to define the continuum that lies between the use of computers to reinforce traditional practice and the powerful ideas Papert writes of in Mindstorms. (Papert, 1980b) While Papert’s subsequent work provides examples of the construction of powerful ideas he fails to identify less powerful uses of computers. This may be the result of simple omission or a desire to appear polite. In either case all manner of computer-based activities have been granted equivalence by an education community lacking a precise metric for assessing value. When combined with the liberal and often inaccurate use of terms like constructivist we are left with a culture of intellectual relativism in which the loudest voice sets the standard.

Dichotomies like conservative/liberal, traditional/progressive, Democratic/Republican are inadequate for describing educational philosophy and its resulting translation into practice. Papert’s instructionism versus constructionism seems a more precise way of describing one’s learning theory and the practice that follows.

It seems impossible to invent an empirical metric for measuring the efficacy of computer use in the context of education. There are simply too many variables involved in a complex system such as education. The nature of learning is even more difficult to quantify in anything but a reductionist fashion. Therefore, I propose the creation of a continuum that spans the gulf between traditional education routines possibly enhanced by the use of a computer and the sort of powerful idea construction only possible with the purposeful use of the computer. The subjectivity of the examples are acknowledge, but are intended to generate discussion.

My 2005 Eurologo paper may be found here.

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