By Natalie Harr
(Blog Post #6)
Digital Playgrounds vs. Virtual Playpens
Marina Umaschi Bers and her students in the DevTech Research Group at Tufts University are examining how technologies might be used to help our youngest learners to learn. The research team uses the analogy of "playgrounds vs. playpens" to help us understand how technology can help engage children in imaginative or exploratory play and the kinds of developmentally appropriate and playful learning opportunities that may not be possible without technology.
Playgrounds are places where children go to play and learn. Children can choose to play tag, climb a slide, rest under a tree, or imagine new games. When you think about the physical design of these spaces, playgrounds naturally support a child's imagination, playful exploration, social interaction, and motor coordination all within a safe structured environment.
Now, think about how a playground compares to a playpen. In a playpen, the walls limit a child's movement, exploration, socialization, and ultimately their playful curiosity. Bers and her students are developing technologies that allow learners to imagine, explore, and interact together as they would in a playground setting.
Meet KIWI: Kids Invent With Imagination
As an early childhood educator, I am JUMPING UP and DOWN about KIWI (now commercially known as KIBO)! This simple, easy-to-use robotics kit is purposefully designed for young children (4-7 year olds/preschool-grade 2) and can be seamlessly integrated into early learning environments.
With the pressures for more academic rigor in our schools today, the beauty of KIWI is that it engages children in meaningful, cross-curricular projects that support the development and application of fundamental academic skills that are most critical in the early childhood years -- at the same time nurturing their developmental needs for creative play and exploration. By programming the KIWI robot, children playfully learn the logic of sequencing (how order matters), mathematical one-to-one correspondence concepts, and a wealth of pre-literacy skills that are at the core foundation of all early learning.
Check out this video to learn what KIWI is and how it can support
digital "playground" learning in early childhood settings.
Video: Courtesy of the DevTech Research Group
KIWI: A "Developmentally Appropriate" Learning Technology
"Developmentally appropriate practice, often shortened to DAP, is an approach to teaching grounded in the research on how young children develop and learn and in what is known about effective early education. Its framework is designed to promote young children’s optimal learning and development."
KIWI consists of intuitive, easy-to-connect construction materials that are developmentally appropriate for early learners. Rather than "writing code" or arranging icons on a computer screen, young children physically connect tangible, wooden blocks that represent different computer commands (e.g., go left, shake, turn). Children "read" or make meaning of the words, icons, and colors located on the programmable bricks to decide what behaviors KIWI should do.
Once the blocks are connected in an appropriate sequence from left to right (just like reading), children use the robot's scanner (similar to a handheld grocery store scanner) to program each command - sequentially one at a time (one-to-one correspondence) - into the CHERP (Creative Hybrid Environment for Robotic Programming) software.
By pressing KIWI's start button, the robot comes to life and performs the sequence. Be sure to check out KIWI's FREE curriculumhere.
Video: By Natalie Harr
Bers explains how computer programming is a natural fit in an early childhood curriculum.
Children learn sequencing skills in the context of making a robot!
The KIWI (prototype) in action in early childhood classrooms.
By Natalie Harr
"Cyberlearning is about designing new kinds of applications and technology rich experiences, learning how to use them well to foster and assess learning, making the experiences work for particular disciplines and populations, and putting them in place in the world in ways that make a difference."
(Blog Post #4)
CYBER is a generic prefix that means of, relating to, or characteristic of the culture of computers. A computer is any
programmable, electronic device, that can store, retrieve, and process data (including smartphones, G.P.S. devices, tablets, and laptops). -Merriam-Webster Dictionary
LEARNING is a relatively enduring change in behavior as a result of experience. People can learn alone or with others in collaboration. Learning can be facilitated by learning environments that incorporate
information and communication technologies.
-How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School,The National Academies Press, 2000
The 21st century requires students to develop a
contemporary skill set for our global economy. Rich skills in computation, collaboration, communication, and creativity are highly valued in our modern society. As the world has evolved, so has our understanding of how people learn. In contrast to traditional teaching methods, in cyberlearning projects, students are designing, creating, solving problems, making mistakes, actively reflecting on their experiences, and gaining deeper understanding as they learn essential 21st century skills.
CYBERLEARNING is an exciting, new field of research that merges these two disciplines of study (learning & computing) to design learning technologies --technologies that can help people learn and assess learning. This innovative field uses what scientists have discovered about how people learn and how to foster learning to inform the design of these technologies. These new innovations can potentially transform who, what, when, where, and how we learn.
Virtual reality (VR) technology can be used to create computer-simulated environments that can immerse learners into a virtual world. Using computer controls, learners can interact with a virtual environment as if it's a real setting. Virtual worlds can mimic real places (e.g., a volcano, the digestive system) or imaginary settings (e.g., a planet from another galaxy) for deep exploration. Learners are then free to explore and investigate phenomena that are too big or small, too fast or slow, or too dangerous to otherwise experience in real life.
EcoMUVE: Multi User Virtual Environment
EcoMUVE: A demo video of the Pond Module. Courtesy of the EcoMUVE Development Team
EcoMUVE, for example, is a 3-D virtual world designed to immerse middle school students in simulated habitats (a pond or forest module) as part of an inquiry-based ecosystems curriculum.This Multi User Virtual Environment, or MUVE, has the look and feel of a video game, but it is used instead to immerse learners within the complexity of a specific habitat.
In the pond module, learners investigate a virtual pond and its surrounding environment during a two-week period to understand why the fish have died off. They begin by going underwater and examining the life below the pond's surface. They take virtual measurements of such factors as water temperature, weather conditions, turbidity (water clarity) and pH levels on different virtual days, working together to understand the fundamental components of the virtual ecosystem and identify the causal relationships that influence them.
The EcoMUVE development team, composed of Chris Dede, Professor Tina Grotzer, Dr, Amy Kamarainen, Dr. Shari Metcalf as well as numerous master's and doctoral students, explains their work below:
"The first module represents a pond ecosystem. Students explore the pond and the surrounding area, even under the water, see realistic organisms in their natural habitats, and collect water, weather, and population data. Students visit the pond over a number of virtual "days," and eventually make the surprising discovery that, on a day in late summer, many fish in the pond have died. Students are challenged to figure out what happened – they work in teams to collect and analyze data, and gather information to solve the mystery and understand the complex causality of the pond ecosystem." -The EcoMUVE Development Team
EcoMUVE is released under a FREE license from Harvard University. REGISTER HERE for access to EcoMUVE downloads and curriculum. EcoMUVE is funded by the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education.
follow-up research: eco-mobile
The EcoMUVE project team received funding from the National Science Foundation and Qualcomm's Wireless Reach initiative, for a new follow-up research project called EcoMOBILE. (Ecosystems Mobile Outdoor Blended Immersive Learning Environment). Stay tuned to learn more about this augmented reality (AR) technology in a future post.
Common Misconceptions about Cyberlearning
By Natalie Harr
"Would you rather that your children learn to play the piano, or learn to play the stereo?"
(Blog Post #5)
In the article, Pianos Not Stereos: Creating Computational Construction Kits (1996), Mitchel Resnick and his colleagues from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab pose the question,
"Would you rather that your children learn to play the piano, or learn to play the stereo?" Playing the stereo means choosing and listening to pre-recorded music. Playing the piano allows exploring and constructing sequences of sounds, rhythms, tempos, harmonies and styles of music. Stereo players are consumers; a piano player creates.
One can think about educational technologies the same way. Resnick and his colleagues point out that there is a lot of "emphasis on the equivalent of stereos and CDs" in our educational technologies "and not enough emphasis on computational pianos" in what we make available to learners.
Video: Courtesy of PhET Sims
PhET Interactive Simulations (see above) are widely used in classrooms today to help learners visually comprehend physical phenomena (e.g., forces of motion, gene expression, molecular shapes) that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Through the use of graphics and click-and-drag manipulation tools, PhET simulations are interactive enough to help students explore cause-and-effect relationships, connect them with underlying scientific concepts or real-world scenarios, and envision what cannot be easily observed in the real world. Resnick would say that PhET is a consumer technology; learners can choose a pre-created simulation to work with and manipulate it.
Just Think About It
PhET is a highly valuable tool for exploring "what happens when" scenarios and to help learners construct mental images of invisible phenomena. But just imagine if learners could build their own computer simulations -- trying things out and making decisions on how to best model the complexities of the physical world -- then running their simulation to see what happens. With that said, let's check out the technology below...
Scratch Jr: A Technology Toolbox for Young Creators!
This new cyberlearning technology called Scratch Jr. supports young learners from ages 4-7 as producers of expressive media.
Using a touchscreen device, children can create their own interactive stories and games by dragging and connecting graphical programming blocks to make characters and stories come to life.
And, it's a FREE app for Android and i Pad tablets!
Resnick (cited at the beginning of this post) would say Scratch Jr. is a "creator" technology; children can playfully design, build, model, and test their own ideas using this digital toolbox. This kind of technology provides opportunities for deep, multidimensional learning that could not be made possible with a consumer technology. Educational technologies, such as Scratch Jr. -developed by Marina Bers and the DevTech Research Group- are designed with a constructionist approach to learning. In this approach, educational technologies are allowing learners to be creators. Stay tuned for more posts regarding Scratch Jr.
How Do They Come Up with These Technologies??!!
Constructionism: A Brief Timeline
I. The Beginning (1967-1980)
Logo: Learning by Programming
In 1967 Seymour Papert and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed the first version of Logo; a groundbreaking computer programming environment to support mathematical learning. Since then, Logo has undergone several iterations and became widespread with the dawn of personal computers in the 1970's. It has been used by young learners, novices, and experienced learners alike as a tool to develop simulations, games, and multimedia presentations. The most popular LOGO environment has featured a turtle icon, whose actions are controlled by the input of computer commands. In 1980, Papert published his highly influential book (especially in education) called Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas.
II. Logo Legacy continues (1990's)
For the past twenty years, Mitchel Resnick (a protege of Papert) has been developing a new generation of educational technologies that draw on the work ofSeymour Papert. In the article Pianos Not Stereos: Creating Computational Construction Kits (1996), Resnick and his colleagues describe three technologies they developed at the MIT Media Lab that draw on the constructionist approach to learning:
StarLogo was designed to help students "construct worlds in the computer" to explore the behaviors and patterns of decentralized systems (e.g., ant colonies, traffic congestion).
MOOSE Crossing was an online community that provided students a way to collaboratively create and interact within virtual worlds.
The programmable brick, a computerized and programmable Lego (e.g., reactions to sound, light, motion) block, now serves as the basis
for Lego robotic kits today.
III. educational technology (today)
Lego MindStorms (based on the programmable brick shown above) andScratch are two widely used educational technologies from Resnick's MIT Media Lab that aim to support "learners as creators" in their own design activities. These technologies have been implemented into schools and other learning environments across the globe.
IV. Educational Technology (of the future!)
In upcoming blogs posts, we will explore the "next generation" of learning technologies such as KIWI, Eco- MOBILE, Scratch Jr., InquirySpace, etc., that all have foundations in this constructionist approach to learning.