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.