Thursday, February 28, 2013

Session 3 Notes- Making and Constructionism

Here are some quick notes from this week's session. Watch to see these ideas discusses in further depth.

Dale Daugherty

-Make magazine, Maker faire
-hacking the physical world
-about participation
-people do things because they love it
-innovation start with play (this was missing in technology landscape)

maker mindset
-identified more as consumers, than the creators, shapers, and producers we really are
-grounded in the DIY world

school overly structured in managing outcomes
(do all 9 steps an everybody get same results, stripped fun out of it)****
-not enough hands-on environments in schools for kids
-not a lack of abstract thinking in school, a lack of concrete maker activities
- kids show up to Maker's Fair and are engaged, parent's may have forgotten how much kids enjoy

in best sense of making, learning about others and self
---process just as important and the essential lesson

- how do we know this has value? how do we asses?
  (what's the standardized test for making)
  why can't the making be the evidence?
- How do we bring Maker's space into schools, communities, library?
- How do we set up cultures that are accepting of projects, thinking, exploration? 

Leah Buechley

What is valuable beyond making?
making is profound part of being human, what we build and create is human culture, tremendously fulfilling work

-helping people feel agency over technology is what we try to do

Strategies for broadening participation
-maker idea accessible to wide arrange of people
-blend electronics and textiles, or electronics and paper (create hybrid spaces and cultures will lead to hybrid thinking
-we are accustomed to thinking in disciplines, making may change this
      - course on Leonardo da Vinci and the integration of his disciplines

Movement wont be equitable or unique until it is in public schools
  - right now it is about middle to upper class people who have materials, time, etc
  - important to advocate

- alarming moment in school, people may call "efficiency" into question
- subjects and disciplines that "make more money"--maker may run counter to that

Mitch Resnick

-personal ownership so important to expressing self
- can new technology get ideas into communities?
-Differences between maker/STEM
-maker is more than STEM, it is about engaging and interacting with world
-don't need to make something in order to teach something...making can produce the understanding, making is the end in itself

Question from Audience
If making is done with computers and computations does it harm because maker does not absolutely know how/why it works? Does it seem like magic?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


In preparation, please read the suggested readings (above) and discuss with your group:
* What ideas in the readings interested or resonated with you?
* How could you apply these ideas to help others learn in your own work, family, or community?

Jean Piaget wrote, "every act of teaching deprives the child an act of discovery."

In his 1994 book, The Children's Machine, Seymour Papert uses the above quote to highlight a major point of a chapter labeled, Instructionism versus Constructionism. In short, Paper discusses the notion of changing educational paradigms by emphasizing creating content (constructionism) rather than direct instruction (instructionism). 

I am a big believer in the philosophical framework of constructivism, especially in relation to education. Constructivist thinking holds that knowledge is actively created via social interaction. Active participation is thus essential to make learning relevant and applicable. I think this approach is both meaningful and empowering to children. It shows them they are important and crucial components to the learning process. Teachers do not hold all the keys, they do.

Papert calls for something more. He call for constructionism. This builds on the constructivist idea, but takes it further. While the constructivist approach builds abstract knowledge, Papert advocates for students working together to create materials. He wants to make education more concrete by meshing constructed knowledge with physical, creative outputs. In many ways, he is reversing the established thought process. Learning is expected to get more abstract as students get older. This is how school is accepted as becoming more challenging. Papert believes that students should move from abstract to concrete; creating products, inventions, and dealing with problems in a hands on manner. This is intuitive to the learner and supports the natural affinity to tinker.

Unsurprisingly, he finds great hope in computers and computer programming. Computer programming moves from the abstract to the concrete. It allows thinkers to experiment with their ideas to create their own projects. Programming and similar activities resemble more natural learning processes; there are multiple correct paths, there is not one defined right answer, creators must always tweak the product, and the process allows for a high degree of self-interest. Learners must use a tool-kit of approaches, be flexible, and be creative problem-solvers. This is in direct contrast to instructionism where one person, usually a teacher, offers one path to success, modeled on his/her choosing.

Papert uses the analogy of bricolage to describe the outcome of educational systems based on a constructionist approach. He writes:

"Bricolage is a metaphor for the ways of the old-fashioned traveling tinker, the jack-of-all trades who knocks on the door offering to fix whatever is broken. Faced with a job, the tinker rummages in his bag of assorted tools to find one that will fit the problem at hand and, if one does not work for the job, simple tries another without ever being upset in the slightest by the lack of generality."
The image of an intellectual MacGyver pops up to my mind. I see an eager learner willing to make mistakes and curious to solve any problem put in front of her. A learner less interested in finding the answer the book or teacher wants, but more interested in finding an answer to a question they themselves pose. I also see a learner who disappears in the modern classroom where standardized tests and instructions are the norm. How can a learner like this develop if we need more "teaching" time and less student free time?

A wonderful extension to this idea is Dale Daugherty and the Maker Movement he started. For him, constructionism goes beyond the computer to just about anything. Anything we can imagine. Daugherty argues for maker's spaces where students have the materials to create, tinker, and explore to their heart's deepest desire. Instead of being idle consumers of both materials and knowledge, one is called to be an inventor, an artist. These spaces leave no choice but total student engagement. Boredom is not an option. In a telling paragraph he speaks to how these spaces will help reinvigorate innovation:
“Formal education has become such a serious business, defined as success at abstract thinking and high-stakes testing, that there is no time and no context for play. If play is what students do outside school, then that is where the real learning will take place and that is where innovation and creativity will be found.” (full article)

It takes imagination and curiosity from educators to transform education into such places of inquiry for our children. We must be the constructionists ourselves. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Scratch and Creative Learning

For this week's activity, create an Scratch project about things you like to do.

You do not need to add me to the masses consumed with the Harlem Shake. This project is actually the brain child of my twelve year old brother. I cheated, I had somebody else do my work for me. I will go into greater detail later, but I used my brother as an all-too-willing lab rat. He wanted to learn basic programming, I wanted to see if a kid would really engage into constructive programming as quickly as advertised. I thought I was being fair. 

Scratch is a downloadable program designed to allow student to create. This creation comes in the form of intuitive computer programming. Using "blocks" and sprites (characters), users snap together commands to construct one-of-a-kind simulations, games, stories, and animations. Users engage in a very active member forum where members share codes and their unique sprites. It is a collaborative and open community where sharing is not only encouraged, it is expected. Despite the high level of sharing, Scratch is designed to give people a chance to work on personally-meaningful projects. You can take the software and diversify it to achieve a whole range of ends and personalize almost every aspect. In this way, it is simultaneously constructive and interest based (my brother made the Harlem Shake).  The whole point of scratch is to make programming simple so people can be creators using computers. I heard of Scratch many times, but never really played around with it.

The idea of Scratch fits into the framework of MIT's lifelong kindergarten group. The best learning comes from imagining, exploring, tinkering, sharing, and reflecting. It is easy to do this in the earliest of grades because traditionally teachers encourage play, which is fantastic for this model. Blocks and toys are great tools for students to create and learn from the creative process. Unfortunately, as students age, it becomes much harder to come across age appropriate medium for creative learning. Insert the computer, and Scratch. 

Coincidentally, I constantly search for new ways to keep my kid brother's brain moving. His school does not put creative learning first. I am well-versed in the approach of his school because I went there. It is drill and kill, worksheets, and stern discipline  It destroyed my natural love of learning. My brother is a highly intelligent adolescent who loves computers and has a great wit. He is fascinated by social media, especially Twitter, and I could see him creating something awesome someday in the future. That is, if his sense of humor and exploration, are nor crushed by school. He constantly texts me for new ideas. He masters new technology faster than I can give it back to him. I made the call that I would wait to explore Scratch until I was with him. I also thought it would be a fabulous idea to see how kids take to learning this type of programming. 

I was fortunate enough to go home last weekend and at first mention of "programming", Patrick was stoked. He planned to accompany my mom on an errand, but stayed in when I told him my plans. We downloaded Scratch and Patrick wanted to go right at it. I am usually like that as well. I like to learn from mistakes and that is another plus to programming. There really is no perfect, but rather a constant learning from one's mistakes. But I was at at a total loss with this technology, so I wanted to watch intro videos and other informative instruction. After two of these clips, he finally stopped me and said we were just going to do it. That is what technology fosters, a learning from doing. 

With our first few attempts, we were truly overwhelmed. We didn't understand a single thing and I sensed he was getting frustrated. At one point I though he would give up, that this was too hard for him. We both love baseball and wanted to create a baseball game. That wasn't going to happen. I also eased off the reigns a bit. I stopped giving suggestions and let him do more exploring. This is where he was at his best. We raised problems and thought about solutions. We slowly tried things out and inch by inch overcame our infantile knowledge. We also totally changed our plan. We decided to design a new game based on what we had learned. We had no problem switching based on what we learned. Why? We had absolute freedom. I can't image what would have happened if we were forced to stay on our baseball idea. We were practical and became excited at our new knowledge. We called an audible and tried to created a game where buffaloes ate cheese-puffs.

We were having a good time, but suddenly Patrick closed the computer and said he would come back to it. He wanted to eat and do something else. I thought that he was over it, but that was not the case at all. He came back in 45 minutes, refreshed and ready to go again. I honestly feel that he took time to reflect on what he was doing and come up with a game plan. The reason I say this is because he took new approaches and changed ideas when he sat back down. It was total self-regulation and metacognition based on learner autonomy and engagement. It was not long before things clicked for him. Literally. 

When he finished the rough sketch of the game, he quickly turned to a new project. He didn't even ask me for permission or hint that he was embarking on a new voyage. He scripted a dance party in his mind and soon had mock strobe lighting timed with character movement. He finished in like 30 minutes. Brimming with confidence, he took suggestions from the family, and tweeted out his creations. That is the bottom line, they were his creations. He basically started from nothing and came up with something unique. It really showed me the unbelievably power of this program and creative learning. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Session #2 Interest Based Learning

This week's discussion was driven by guests Mimi Ito, a cultural anthropologist who studies connected learning, and her brother Joi Ito, an activist for open material and a critic of 'formal schooling'.

There are three main ideas I take away from this week

1. You need a diversity of motivation

     Mimi noticed that in highly successful learning communities this is often a common feature. In organic, high-functioning learning communities, there are a variety of members willing to take myriad roles and responsibilities. In many of these groups, there is not a single standard that all are being compared to. This allows for all to contribute at different levels and for the common good. When there are multiple roles and ways of recognition, the system does more than produce winners and losers. It produces a places where people are willing to explore, create, share, contribute, take chances, and do things for the end goal. When people can concentrate on their contribution to the group, without the burden of a single standard of comparison, magic can occur.
     How different is this model than that of schools? Students are all judged against each other by a single standard, specifically grades. This fosters ruthless competition and gives no incentive for students to work together and value contribution because it may spoil the individual accomplishments of one.  This also does not allow for one's interest to be recognized as the standard measurement is already predetermined. It is like my 5'9'', toothpick frame going into the ring against a heavyweight.
     Joi went on to add that this is a particular problem in places of higher education such as "Harvard". If students all have to do the same thing to get in and have the same profile, there is very little diversity of motivation in the group. Most of the group is motivated by individual carrots and sticks and may have a hard time sharing and collaborating with people.

2.  You can do just fine in school without learning

      I know this first hand because I was a professional at it. Mimi used two terms to coin the model of schooling in the United States, institutional instruction and corporate education. A better visual, though, was when she said that she found it quite easy to "crack the code" to school success. This meant she learned early on how to please teachers, abide by cultural norms, and follow the rule-based system.
       Joi, on the other hand, couldn't play by the rules. He could not compartmentalize knowledge and break it into history, math, and literature. He wanted a grand theory and hated how schools would not offer it. Worse yet, if he did not abide by the other team's rules, he lost. When he tried college, he noticed science was all words and numbers. To him, that was antithetical to his intuition. Science was hand-ons.
      What do we do for students that cannot and/or do not want to "break the code"? Why can't we meet them where their interests are? Why can't school reflect what they like? Mine craft? Pop culture?

3. Three fields that need to overlap and interact

      -the high-stakes, individual, market-oriented, competitive achievement field
      -the field with our interests, passions, and desires
      -the field with our community, friends, and family

      How can students navigate all three fields and have an appropriate mixture of all impact their learning in positive ways? What field needs more integration into school? Should school be the only place in a student's learning ecosystem? How can we encourage more overlap?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Formal vs Informal Education

These quotes come from the following blog post.
Joi Ito blog posts: Formal vs Informal Education

"I completely agree that improving formal education and lowering dropout rates is extremely important, but I wonder how many people have personalities or interests that aren't really that suited for formal education, at least in its current form."

"I wonder how many people there are like me who can't engage well with formal education, but don't have the mentors or access to the Internet and end up dropping out despite having a good formal education available to them."

"Is there a way to support and acknowledge the importance of informal learning and allow those of us who work better in interest and self-motivated learning to do so without the social stigma and lack of support...?"

"Or... is the answer to make formal education more flexible and capable of supporting a wider spectrum of types of learning to enable people like me to "make it through the system"? Oddly, as my informal education has finally started to reach limits in certain areas, I find myself increasingly reaching out to formal education institutions for the rigor and depth that I need to explore my areas of interest."

Some of my thoughts...

Who gets to decide what is formal education? Who gets to decide on the hierarchy of subjects? How can we foster motivation if we have outdated curriculum? How important is motivation? 

Week 2 Gears of My Childhood

Seymour Papert (1980): Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas (Foreword: The Gears of My Childhood)

Seymour Paper was fascinated by automobiles and gears from a very young age. Some of his earliest memories revolved around the rotation and movement of these circular objects.  He found pleasure and passion in these devices. He also believed that working with differing devices did wonders for future mathematical development. He saw gears as multiplication tables and was comfortable with equations. The gears became a very important part of his intellectual development in two ways. First, they served as a model for future knowledge. All young people need models for future knowledge. Second, it stimulated his love of learning. The following two paragraphs of his work explain how essential it for kids to discover their "gear sets".
A modern-day Montessori might propose, if convinced by my story, to create a gear set for children. Thus every child might have the experience I had. But to hope for this would be to miss the essence of the story. I fell in love with the gears. This is something that cannot be reduced to purely “cognitive” terms. Something very personal happened, and one cannot assume that it would be repeated for other children in exactly the same form.
My thesis could be summarized as: What the gears cannot do the computer might. The computer is the Proteus of machines. Its essence is its universality, its power to simulate. Because it can take on a thousand forms and can serve a thousand functions, it can appeal to a thousand tastes.This book is the result of my own attempts over the past decade to turn computers into instruments flexible enough so that many children can each create for themselves something like what the gears were for me.

Activity (hashtag #lcl-gears):
Read Seymour Papert’s essay on the “Gears of My Childhood” and write about an object from your childhood that interested and influenced you (and share with your group).

My grandmother says I used to walk around the house with my glove, ball, and hat begging people to play with me. When one grown-up turned me down, I was not discouraged, I simply moved on to the next. Eventually, I would find someone to play. Lucky for me, I didn't have to nag big humans for long. I had a little brother just 14 months my younger. As long as I can remember, all we needed was a ball and we could come up with some athletic competition. We had quite the imagination and had a blast playing in our front yard. This was and still is one of my biggest passions, baseball. Playing baseball motivated me to learn to read. I woke up early in the morning and scanned the sports section of the newspaper hoping my favorite team, the San Francisco Giants had won the previous night. I studied the statistics and quickly understood what a .300 batting average meant. Baseball was my framework for everything. It also lead to my general disinterest in school. I wanted to be outside playing and they made me sit in a seat. When important games were played during the day, I wanted to listen. I will always remember sneaking a transistor radio into 4th grade and laying on it during class so I could hear an important Giants game. The older nun didn't have a clue. I gobbled up every Sports Illustrated and Baseball America issue I could get my hands on until I was told I couldn't bring it in for free reading. From then on I staged a protest. If I was unable to read what I wanted, I would not read. This was a general frame of mind for much of my schooling. If people told me what to do, I did not want to do it.

Marshmallow Experiment

The Challenge

18 minutes
20 sticks of spaghetti
1 role of tape
1 role of string
1 marshmallow

Develop a free standing structure to hold the marshmallow

                                                                       The Supplies


As the timer started, spirits were high. The materials sat in front of us and we tried to come up with a plan. A few of us just wanted to start building and see what happened. The other half wanted a clear strategy. Within a minute or two, we agreed that we needed triangles because they were the strongest base. Initially, we worked together to build three triangular bases that would serve as a foundation for some sort of tower. Score, I thought, collaboration at its best.

Individualization Phase

I, the collaboration zealot of all people, suggested that we each take a base and work on it. The purpose being this would save time and allow us to concentrate on the tower later. At this point in the challenge, we stopped working together and it became and individual project. We barely talked to our team and tried to complete our individual tasks. From afar it seemed all was well, everyone was on point and things were getting done. Upon closer inspection, seriously problems were brewing. When we came together with a few minutes left, we noticed that the bases were different sizes. Some were functional, some were not. In short, the lack of communication had doomed us. Things looked bleak. 

The Rush

With the clock ticking, we all came together to try and fix our problem. We had three quasi bases, only one of them really functional. As two of my team members were holding the bases, attempting to make them work, I grabbed the tape and went for an Eiffel Tower prototype. I basically just did it with no discussion. At first, there was some hesitation. When my team members saw that taping all three bases together worked, they started constructing the tower. We started working together again, and in two minutes threw something together. It worked! Our final product was around 20 inches, which according to the TED talk was pretty decent.


I will let you all draw your own conclusions. The things that interest me most are the following.

1) Motivation, specifically why were we so excited to make this work when absolutely nothing was on the line? My team members are not even part of the class. This is especially interesting because Wujec claims that as people are tempted with incentives, performances decreases. What does this have to say about school? I am an ardent critic of rewards and punishments including grades. Is this another example?

2) Why did my group decide to switch to individual work for a majority of the experiment? What does this say about the nature of groups? Is this commonplace? Is this good for innovation? 

Week 1 Lecture

Before a brief session with Mitch Resnick, lecture #1 started with course introductions. The course is a big experiment for online learning. The goal being how to use new technologies to create more meaningful online learning experiences. Things will work, things will not work. There will be experimentation, there will be tinkering, there will be some switch-a-roos. We have to be flexible and help each other out. 

As the session began, Professor Resnick continually said we will learn a lot. It was crystal clear that he was part of the we. This is the first time the course is offered online and with the sheer number of students, over 24,000, it is going to be a nutty challenge. 

He began with the example of Singapore. Singapore consistently is near the top of international tests regarding schooling. Employers noticed these 'high achievers' could barely function in the working world. They needed explicit hand holding, could not handle new situations, and lacked creative thinking. This is not what one would expect. In travels to Singapore, Resnick noted a robotics club in which kids created the most unbelievable creations and thoroughly enjoyed the process. When he asked a teacher why this was reserved for after school she remarked, "we can't do robots in class, they need to be drilled in math!"

Welcome to 21st century schooling folks! When we need creative thinking the most, it is really not allowed. Instead of innovation, we get teaching to the test. Resnicks words are most telling, "if we live in a rapidly changing world, why is a fixed set of facts going to help us."

The opposite to this information-deposit model of education is kindergarten. Kinder is all about collaboration and creation. The goal of this class is to engage people and make spaces more like kindergartens. Fabulous concept. You look around a classroom of small humans and they are vibrant displays of happiness. How can we switch the paradigm of schooling around to this?

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, Resnick believes the media/medium for creativity was never readily available before. Blocks may work for small children, but since they do not for older students, teachers default to the old stand by--delivering information. Can technology change this? Starting around minute twenty five he describes how simple programming software like allow for students to collaborate and create. He shows unbelievable examples of student innovation and creativity, even charting the growth of a teenage start-up. If you have the time, I encourage you to watch.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Messing with Google +

I never really tried Google+, but I just started a community for my small cohort. I actually like it and think it might work well for the class. It appears to be a great platform for discussion and collaboration. We will see.  Here's to trying new things!

Week 1 Reading: All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking)...

All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten

Mitch Resnick

The above chart is Mitch Resnick's rendering of the kindergarten model of learning. He argues that this model based on imagination, creativity, play, sharing, and reflection is ideally suited to the changing nature of the 21st century. Traditional kindergartens are full of exploration and collaboration, true markers of innovative learning. He describes this process by the following example:

“In traditional kindergartens, children are constantly designing, creating, experimenting, and exploring. Two children might start playing with wooden blocks; over time, they build a collection of towers. A classmate sees the towers and starts pushing his toy car between them. But the towers are too close together, so the children start moving the towers further apart to make room for the cars. In the process, one of the towers falls down. After a brief argument over who was at fault, they start talking about how to build a taller and stronger tower. The teacher shows them pictures of real-world  skyscrapers, and they notice that the bottoms of the buildings are wider than the tops. So they decide to rebuild their block tower with a wider base than before.  This type of process is repeated over and over in kindergarten."

He believes that schools should become more like kindergarten. The opposite is occurring; kindergarten is becoming like the rest of school. As an educator, I absolutely agree with this. Most kindergartners come do school excited and eager to learn. Why? I believe humans are naturally programmed to learn. It stimulates them, fulfills them, and gives them purpose. Schools, with worksheets, homework, manipulative reward systems, and outdated curriculum, systematically squash the intrinsic learning drive of most little humans. That is one thing the United States education system does fantastically well. 

Resnick sees great potential in technology. In the past, it was very difficult to acquire the materials necessary for students to reproduce the cycle referenced above. Wood blocks work for the primary grades, but they simply do not as students get older. Computers and other advanced technology may hold the answer. These technologies hold great creative energy for students of all ages. That is if they are used appropriately. Too often kids are given computers to repeat math facts or to look up information. They need to be used to encouraged creative diversity. In this way the cycle can be reproduced. As Resnick says, "We explicitly include elements and features that can be used in different ways."

Beside the highlights above, one of the most interesting parts of the article was the discussion on play. Resnick writes, "But as children grow older, educators and parents often talk about play dismissively, referring to activities as “just play,” as if play is separate and even in opposition to learning.” This statement carries a ton of weight to me. I firmly believe children have too much pressure on them, most of it unnecessary. Children can learn so much from tinkering and playing with their peers. Great discovery is gleaned from such play. In fact, play and learning are linked, emotion well being and cognition go hand in hand. Rote memorization, teaching to the test, and rigorous instruction complemented by hours of meaningless homework, does not allow for kids to learn and grow in meaningful ways. As Resnick points out, it also leaves them ill-prepared for the demands and innovation of a brave new economic framework.

Friday, February 15, 2013

My Small Group and Intros

This is my first experience with a MOOC. For all you newbs, who like me have no knowledge of this concept, it stands for massive open online course. I am enthralled with the idea of open content and open software and the prospects for creativity/collaboration. I believe fundamental tenets of the 'open' movement  like shared knowledge, collaboration, innovation, connectedness, freedom, and creativity should be the basic frameworks of our schools. Instead, schooling is competitive, individualistic, out-dated, hierarchical, non-social, non-emotional, and filled with manipulative rewards and punishments. I am hoping my experience in this class will make school more of the latter for my students and classroom. 

The class is a rad experiment; the topic, the name, the idea, and, I assume, the people I will be working with give me hope that educational change is possible. I am excited to learn from not only experts, but also "regular" people who have backgrounds in many different fields. I am very interested to see if interactive online communities can produce authentic dialog and collaboration in a large classroom setting. In a class of over 24,000 people, we have been split into mini groups or communities. These pods will work intimately with each other throughout the course. It is possible to interact with the large group via Google+, but the small group is meant to be your cohort of sorts. In exchanging emails with my cohort, it is clear we have a very diverse set of people from all over the globe. This should make the class an absolute amazing learning experience for me. 

Here are some examples of "cohort" members

- A retired educator from Ontario, Canada
- Four individuals from Indonesia, two interested in web designing and/or programming
- A Vietnamese individual interested in IT and education
- A software/web developer from Vietnam
- A lifestyle magazine editor from Thailand
- A writer/ developer from England, living in France
- Someone who just switched to Advertising after working in Post-production/ Visual Effects. From Philly
- An architecture student who moved to U.S. three years ago from Vietnam
- An individual from Jakarta
- An education specialist and teacher from Philly
- Someone from the United States, now based in Singapore
- Someone working insurance in Thailand


Sign Up

I received this email and jumped on the amazing opportunity to learn about creative learning from experts in the field.