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‘Making’ Does Not Equal ‘Constructionism’

‘Making’ is about empowering students to ‘make their own minds.’

‘Making’ is about empowering students to ‘make up their own minds’—quite literally—regardless of the artifacts being constructed. This is the view I prefer to take.

‘Making’ should focus on taking charge of, and constructing, your mind—your learning. Making objects and artifacts is a means to that end. ‘Making’ is a central tenet of constructionism, tinkering and inquiry—or ‘tinkquiry’ as my colleague Brenda Sherry and I like to say. But it is not the whole story.

Don’t equate ‘making’ with ‘constructionism’.  ‘Making’ ≠ ‘constructionism’— necessarily.  One cannot assume that because kids are ‘making’ that they are building new schema—that you are embedding them in a constructionist pedagogy.

Seymour Papert and Idit Harel in 1991 said,

It is easy enough to formulate simple catchy versions of the idea of constructionism; for example, thinking of it as ‘learning-by-making’. One purpose of this introductory chapter is to orient the reader toward using the diversity in the volume to elaborate—to construct—a sense of constructionism much richer and more multifaceted, and very much deeper in its implications, than could be conveyed by any such formula.” In Constructionism (Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1991).

The ‘Maker Movement’ isn’t Just About Electronics and Coding!

carbon monoxide detectorKinetic SculptureThe maker movement has become extremely popular in the last few years and is usually associated with the ‘making’ of things with circuit boards, 3D printers, lego, found materials, wood shops, metal shops, coding/programming and other electronic gadgetry.  It’s similar to DIY (Do It Yourself) – and ‘craft nights’. There are countless Maker Faires and Maker studios all over the globe.

But, is it only about ‘making with electronics’ and ‘coding’? No. I don’t believe it should be.

‘Making’ isn’t only about electronics and coding.

Building poems, art, music, mathematical solutions and so on are all part of the ‘maker movement’ in my mind. I think Seymour Papert might agree with me as you will read later on.

Building poems, art, music, mathematical solutions and so on are all part of the ‘maker movement’…

The Critical Part is the ‘Making of One’s Own Mind’.

Indeed, the critical part is the ‘making of one’s own mind’—the constructionist piece—not the nature of the artifact being made. As I suggested, making artifacts is the means to an end, in my opinion. Constructing one’s schema and texture of mind is the end-goal.

Now, of course, here I am telling you what I think about ‘making’ and ‘constructionism’ but I cannot think that you will merely learn it by reading. It will take my provocations and your efforts for you to construct your own understandings of these ideas—these constructs. As Papert and Harel said,

“If one eschews pipeline models of transmitting knowledge in talking among ourselves as well as in theorizing about classrooms, then one must expect that I will not be able to tell you my idea of constructionism. Doing so is bound to trivialize it. Instead, I must confine myself to engage you in experiences (including verbal ones) liable to encourage your own personal construction of something in some sense like it. Only in this way will there be something rich enough in your mind to be worth talking about.”

A long time coming!

DeweyPiagetWell, this kind of thinking and practice has been a long time coming—well, this time around! Let’s face it. Dewey spoke of it early last century when he spoke of experiential learning.

This time, since information technology has been affordable and accessible, it was Seymour Papert and his colleagues who founded this notion of ‘children as makers’ – when he coined the term ‘constructionism’.  Seymour studied with, and subsequently worked with, Jean Piaget who was instrumental in the origins of the constructivist learning theory—along with Jerome Bruner, Lev Vygotsky and others.

What is constructivism?

BrunerVygotskyConstructivism is a theory which suggests that people actively construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world and are not merely passive recipients. These understandings arise through experiencing events and then reflecting on those experiences.  If we encounter something new, we either assimilate it into our previous ideas and knowledge—our schema—or we must accommodate it by changing what we believe, therefore modifying our schema.  Or maybe we just discard the new information as irrelevant.

Regardless, we are active creators of our own knowledge. This occurs through asking questions, exploring, and assessing what we know.  It happens through inquiry.

Does this mean the teacher’s role is diminished?

Not at all. A constructivist approach celebrates the active role of the teacher in helping students to construct knowledge rather than to merely regurgitate meaningless facts. In constructivist classrooms, you will see project-based learning, problem-generation and problem-solving approaches, and inquiry-based activities where students are generating driving questions, generating potential solution strategies and digging into investigations.

You will see students making their knowledge and processes visible to the other students where it is all available for discussion and collaboration. Meaningless facts aren’t memorized in a decontextualized fashion but rather a meaningful body of knowledge is constructed and becomes part of the student’s interrelated collections of memories. The teacher’s role is far from irrelevant. It is critical as a facilitator, educator, and co-investigator.

Constructivism leverages the student’s natural curiosity about the world and how things work. Their engagement is invoked through respect of their current knowledge and real-world experience. Their hypotheses and investigative methods are honoured and honed.

PapertConstruct ‘a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe‘.

So along comes Seymour Papert – and in the mid-sixties – begins to think very deeply about the role of kids making things——>publicly.

This is, as I said, when he coined the term ‘constructionism’.

“Constructionists believe that deep, substantive learning and ‘enduring understandings’ occur when people are actively creating artifacts in the real world.” Papert & Harel “

Constructionism holds that children learn best when they are in the active role of the designer and constructor. But the theory goes a step further.

Constructionism “is the idea that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it’s a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe.”

Constructionism Relies on Visible Thinking & Conversation. Making May Not.

But it is not merely the act of constructing that is essential. Powerful things happen when that act of constructing mediates deep conversation with others. The very act of articulating ideas, sharing thoughts, confusions, ahas, questions, potential solutions makes knowledge building explicit. Sometimes words are spoken. Oftentimes facial expressions and body language communicate. We might draw diagrams or build prototypes. All these serve to make the thinking visible and, therefore, discussable—not only with others but for oneself. We learn our subject matter well as we think hard about it and are very intentional about constructing not only the artifact at hand but also our knowledge and success.

…constructing, or making, is not enough…

Constructionist learning is very powerful due to the rich texture of this public creation of artifacts.

Let’s look at some of Papert’s work in action.

Alright. So it is clear that today’s ‘maker movement’ has strong roots in Papert’s ‘constructionism’, in Piaget’s constructivism, in Vygotsky’s social constructivism, in Dewey’s experientialism, and in Scardamalia & Bereiters’ theories of intentional learning and knowledge construction.

However, today’s maker movement is nearly always described in terms of ‘electronic’ making—or making with coding or robotics or lately 3d printing.

Making Up One’s Own Mind

But, I maintain that the real focus should be on helping students to ‘construct their own mind’—for to do so helps them to ‘take charge of their own learning’—which is not just a matter of student agency. It is also a matter of intentionality and skill in knowledge construction. The wraparound of a knowledge-building culture is essential in a ‘making’ environment to reach this goal.

So What Do You Make?

As Papert said, and I totally agree, it matters not whether one is making a sandcastle on the beach or a theory of the universe. I think what is important is that we understand the breadth and depth of constructionism and related theories and that we don’t merely equate making with constructionist learning.

So what do kids make? Have them make what moves them. Make something that matters. Make something hard. Have ‘hard fun’ as Seymour would say. But, above all, focus on crafting the surrounds—the culture—that encourages and supports kids in constructing new knowledge. Focus on the building of the mind as they are creating their public entities—be they poems, songs, multimedia presentations, other works of art or indeed more ‘maker faire’ robotics-based artifacts.

Make up your own mind on how to do this best.



Invent to LearnThere are now many books on the topic of ‘making’—but, these two are deeply rooted in a constructionist approach to ‘making’ because all of these authors have been central to building of this theory as colleagues of Seymour Papert.Guide to 3D printing

“Using technology to make, repair, or customize the things we need brings engineering, design, and computer science to the masses. Fortunately for educators, this maker movement overlaps with the natural inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing.”


Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 2.15.25 PM

Idit Harel at ISTE

K-12 Learning Platform

GlobaloriaIdit Harel is the founder and CEO of this online platform for courses in STEM, computing, game design and coding.

Relevant Posts


Project Based Learning: Don’t Start with a Question

End with a Question through Tinkering-Based Learning

Do you have to start project-based learning (PBL) with a question?

(Oh, wait a second! Am I starting this post with a question?)

This is something many people ask. I understand why this is so. Often teachers who are learning about Project Based Learning are encouraged to help students to develop a ‘driving question’ to guide their project. The Buck Institute, for one, suggests that PBL ‘is organized around an open-ended Driving Question’.

Tinkering-Based Learning (TBL)


Awesome graphic: Page by Giulia Forsythe – @grantpotter Tinkering, Learning & The Adjacent Possible

I am going to suggest we consider an alternative I will call TBL – Tinkering-Based Learning!

‘PBL’ is a human-made construct

As I have said elsewhere, ‘PBL’ is a human-made construct. And, whoever defines it, does so with a bias—from a set of beliefs. Do you think, perhaps, that starting PBL with a question is derived from our deeply engrained western, scientific approach? Or perhaps if we consider PBL to be solely inquiry based, we might think that a question, or formulation of a problem, is most definitely the beginning step?

Don’t get me wrong! I love ‘questioning’. It is important that teachers learn how to question effectively—to ask ‘fat’ questions, to provide ‘wait time’, to ensure that everyone in the class has a chance to think deeply rather than selecting the student that has quickly raised her hand. It is equally important that students learn to generate ‘driving questions’ and not merely ask simple questions. They should be thinking ‘fat’ questions – not ‘skinny’ ones!

…students should learn to generate ‘driving questions…

Nor am I knocking the scientific method – I merely think that is one way of approaching learning and solving problems and becoming an educated person. It has a significant role in education.

However, I don’t think that generating a question is the only way to begin effective project-based learning. It likely depends on your purpose—on your learning goals for the students.

Is writing a poem a project? Is creating a song a project? What about creating a multimedia artifact? Painting a picture? Building a Lego car and making it run? Is building a computer program with Scratch a project? Constructing a paper maché volcano?

…let projects emerge out of play—out of tinkering.

Starting out PBL event in your classroom might begin with a passion, a curiosity, or maybe a wondering. Or maybe it’s just a result of tinkering. Perhaps, projects are sometimes play? Or perhaps projects emerge out of play—out of tinkering?

Flipping PBL

Okay here’s an idea. How about flipping PBL? Instead of starting with the question, why don’t we end with a question? Start with tinkering and encourage the emergence and evolution of fat questions related either to their processes of learning or to the content/subject matter at hand.

Let the goal of your project be to formulate questions.

After all, many say that ‘to question is the answer’. If so, then should kids not come out of excellent project based learning scenarios with great questions? Should the product not be a deep and driving question?

Perhaps these questions are focused on assisting them to develop their metacognitive abilities—to help them understand how they learn, how they approach tasks. Are they linear? Are they ‘multitasking’? Do they like ‘mucking around’? How do they deal with ambiguity? Do they like ‘hands on’ or ‘minds on’? How did that approach work for them? What would they do differently next time?

Perhaps the questions that emerge are related to the content or project artifact.

reflective thinking

Adaptation of the Rolfe Reflective Model:

Reflection is generally considered excellent educational practice and is often included in PBL. I have often used ‘reflection starters’ to assist students in thinking deeply about their learning. You could tailor those reflections to evoke questions.

  • Now I don’t understand…
  • Questions I now have are…
  • A confusion that has come up for me is…

Perhaps they could do a ‘wondering’ – individually or collectively – to reflect on their project.

“I wonder…how the potato production in Prince Edward Island is being impacted by global warming?”

Their responses could then be discussed and crafted into significant questions that may, or may not, be pursued.

Ok. So maybe you are saying to yourself, “I always have kids reflect at the end of a project.” That’s great! It is a significant step and can promote the consolidation of learning and perhaps also the transfer of learning to other domains or problems.

I think it is a superb way to end a project.

Don’t keep the lid on too tight!

I just don’t think you have to start a project with a driving question. Set up a context. Design an environment. Invite playfulness. Encourage tinkering. Nurture curiosity. Don’t keep the lid on too tight!

Tinkering Based Learning may lead to results you never could have predicted!


Share with us an occasion where this has happened in your teaching/learning.



Hey teacher. Think you don’t have impact? Think again.

Peter dunlace 1970Hey teacher. Think you don’t have impact? Think again.

I had lunch yesterday with a former student of mine. It was my first year teaching. I was 21. She was 10. It was the early seventies. It was some forty years ago.

She proceeded to tell me how I changed her life through an art lesson on perspective and, specifically, on ‘how to see’ and to draw a tree. Her description was detailed and formidable. The actions I suggested and the emotions created in her changed the way she has looked at things since.

This former charge of mine then continued with countless other intricate stories of her learning and my teaching. I listened in amazement—and, admittedly, with much pleasure.

One of the things she said she loved most was that I was present. I listened and genuinely seemed to care.

I was flattered at having such a profound impact on this person.

Not All Good

But, I know, it wasn’t like that for all students in my classes throughout the years. I am sure not all had the benefit of my good side. What about those times when my weaknesses were in play?

My moodiness.

My skilful switchblade of sarcasm.

My impatience and dreadful dismissiveness.

What about those times?

What impact did that have on some children?

Hey teacher. Choose your impact.



Visible Thinking – A View from the Past :-)

Transfers on the Train of Thoughts

As colleague, Brenda Sherry, and I prepare for the OTF CONNECTS webinar session titled Making Student Thinking Visible: How Can Technology Help?, I came across this article from the distant past <g>.  We didn’t call it ‘visible thinking’ back then – we usually referred to it as ‘making your thinking explicit’.  But, as with many solid, worthwhile constructs, they are not readily adopted and so often reappear decades (or centuries!) later under a new name with new advocates and with a new dream that maybe this time things might stick and better the lives of students.

So it is with ‘visible thinking’.  Of course, there are LOTS of new ideas and strategies that Brenda and I are bringing to the presentation – based on Project Zero’s “Making Thinking Visible“!

I have replicated “Transfers on the Train of Thoughts” here as is — except I have parsed it and added a couple of titles for clarity. This was written for, and delivered at, a SIG-Logo conference called “Look to the Learner” that some of us ran for the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (ECOO) in March, 1986.

Look to the Learner Poster SmallerTRANSFERS ON THE TRAIN OF THOUGHTS

©1986 Peter A. Skillen
Program Leader – Computing in Education Centre
North York Board of Education

People caught in unfamiliar contexts…are liable to be judged as stupid…”

For decades, if not centuries, a persistent problem for educators has been that of getting the student to apply knowledge learned in one domain to another distinctly different domain. It is not that the knowledge does not exist within the learner. It appears to be a problem of triggering the retrieval of that knowledge when immersed in a different problem-solving context. Carl Bereiter, Marlene Scardamalia and others (Whitehead, 1929) refer to this contextually restricted knowledge as “inert knowledge”.

“Human beings learn through participation in various contexts and spheres of action. Home, street, workplace, supermarket, bank, airliner, the faceless but nonetheless real world of bill-paying – these are a few of the many contexts with which one must become intimate in order to function as a modern adult. People caught in unfamiliar contexts, such as a person taking an airline trip for the first time, will blunder, hesitate, and act not quite right in a dozen ways that people familiar with the context never even think about. Newcomers to a behavioural context are therefore liable to be judged as stupid. By the same token, people behaving in a context that is much more familiar to them than it is to the observer are likely to be admired for their mental efforts.” (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1983, p11)

…So, we’d better teach students to think about their thinking!

We need to explicitly teach students to think about their thinking.

“The hope is that we might be able to find ways to help students discover knowledge about knowledge, thereby setting the stage for acquiring truly domain-independent skills, such as how to reflect on the knowledge they already have, and to identify the causes underlying the mistakes they make.” (Brown, 1985, p184)


“Cognitive skills of information management; strategies for problem solving that cut across domains of knowledge; such metacognitive skills as planning, monitoring, and learning how to learn; communication and critical inquiry skills will come to be valued more highly.” (Pea, 1985, p93)

Schools have traditionally taught subjects and therefore emphasize knowledge specific to that domain. This method, of course, is replicated in other domains. But this methodology perhaps leads to a collection of “knowledge packets” that can only be accessed when one invokes the context or culture in which the knowledge is embedded.

How do we solve this dilemma?

1. Thematic Integration

In order to overcome this dilemma two distinct approaches have occurred in educational environments – one more strongly than the other. I shall propose a third. The first scenario is familiar to most elementary school teachers: thematic integration. One should not teach a period on reading, then one on writing, followed by math, etc. There rather should be a thematic approach to the classroom environment. In this way “Pioneers” maybe the chosen theme and the classroom is alive with multidisciplined activities dealing with pioneers. For example, a centre might be set up for students to write about pioneers; a candle-making centre might be arranged to allow the students to explore early candle-making methods; the dress-up centre may have 18 and 19th century clothing and so on. This approach is certainly more meaningful than a “traditional” one, in that there is a connectedness and relevance to the use of the subject matter skills to learn about pioneers. But it does not meet the needs of learning generalizable skills outside of that domain.

2. Teach Heuristics

Another approach, although less popular, is that of teaching heuristics to students. These are generally problem-solving strategies that are studied in either a domain-free or a single domain environment. The hope here is that the student is able to recall the appropriate heuristic when confronted with a new problem.

3. Teach Thinking Techniques – an Eclectic Approach

What I propose is a more eclectic approach.

But before I describe techniques that have been successfully used in classrooms, I would like to draw one further observation. Some people, when adopting Logo, have understood its attendant philosophy as one of a playground where unfolding of learning and development will occur naturally as a result of interacting with the Logo environment. I encourage free exploration and a playfulness as an integral part of any learning activity – but not to the exclusion of other forms of activity. Ron Ragsdale (OISE) reminded me of a quote from Corinthians.

“Everything is permissible,
But not everything is beneficial.
Everything is permissible,
But not everything is constructive.”

A sense of extreme permissiveness sometimes invades the Logo world. I don’t think this was the intent of the originators of the language. It was designed to allow people to become reflective about their own thought processes – to think about their thinking. The activities which I propose allow the learner to be self-determining and in control yet focus the student on developing reflective skills. (This does not, by any means, negate the need for play and exploration!


Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 12.17.19 PM

In the thematic approach I outlined earlier in the paper, I suggested that people usually choose a content theme – but at other times I would recommend a process theme be the focus. As an example I use a theme called AFTERBUGS.

“What a refreshing change to see young excited learners reveling in learning from their mistakes – rather than being ashamed of them.”

The intent of this activity is that students monitor their own learning processes by actively looking for mistakes, or bugs, as evidenced in the outcome of their task. The importance of children taking charge of their own minds cannot be over-emphasized from both and the affective and cognitive perspective. (Incidentally, the social, interactive payoffs are quite high too!)

When children are enthusiastic and analytical about going back to their tasks (hence analyzing their previous and present thinking processes) they have taken a large step toward the more profound goals of education. How can this be achieved in the classroom? It started with Logo and the original idea arose from the grade 2-3 students in the class. In working with Logo it became clear that one rarely got it right the first time.

Children soon got used to the notion of having “bugs” in their programs. These are not bad things – rather they were things that had to be fixed.

Bug hunting became an game.

With some nurturing of this attitude the children started bug collections. They had imaginary (to an adult!) jars in which they collected their bugs. Whenever they solved their difficulty (bug) they would remove it from the jar and squish it. Now, because we had constructed a large papier-mâché turtle as part of our classroom Logo culture, one of the children suggested that we feed the bugs to the turtle rather than destroying them indiscriminately. This was very entertaining and motivating.

The next occurrence was astounding and revelatory for me as an educator. The children started looking for bugs elsewhere in their classroom lives – not just with Logo! They would actively seek mistakes in their math, spelling, reading and so on.

An unusual situation for a classroom one must admit! What a refreshing change to see young excited learners reveling in learning from their mistakes – rather than being ashamed of them.


Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 12.18.56 PMAnother technique that can be used is WATCH ME THINK. This is essentially a situation where a more novice student would watch a more expert student as he/she performs the task. In addition to watching the student, however, the ‘expert’ is asked to think out loud. This allows the ‘novice’ to get at some of the thinking processes that the expert is using.

The outcomes, once again, are not specific only to Logo. This strategy can be used during the solution of other problems; in arithmetic, or writing stories, spelling, reading text. This technique of ‘thinking aloud’ has normally been used in research settings where the researcher is attempting to understand the strategies underlying the actions. Again, the payoffs are not only cognitive ones.

It is assumed by many people that experts solve tasks with ease, with little difficulty. This is clearly not the case. It is therefore of affective benefit to the novice in that he/she can observe that:

“Oh, I’m normal – it’s okay to have ups and downs when I’m trying to solve a problem. It’s natural.”

Think about young writers. The models they have for writing are generally the finished product; a linear, error-free piece of text. One could easily assume that the author sat down at a blank page (or screen!) and wrote fluidly from beginning to end and voilà it’s complete! This, as we are aware, is rarely the situation.

The novice benefits greatly from getting at the procedural knowledge that the expert uses in pursuing this task. Similarly, in Logo, looking at a finished product does not always help the novice in achieving similar goals. To watch someone use his/her techniques for proceeding with a task can be a powerful tool. “What” does not necessarily help with “How”.

(One must not assume from this discussion that I negate individual explorations of problem-solving. This is certainly not the case. Remember, my preference in educating is to be eclectic; providing as wide a variety of techniques as possible to suit and enhance idiosyncratic learning styles.)

It is clear, once again, that the Watch Me Think exercise focuses the students attention on thinking about thinking.


Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 12.22.59 PMThis is an activity that emphasizes the use of metaphor – specifically what I call procedural analogy. I make the distinction and use the term ‘procedural’ quite purposely. The rationale for this is that I wish to emphasize the “how“, or process knowledge, as opposed to the “what” or propositional, declarative knowledge.

Metaphors are used widely in cultures to clarify the meaning of a construct or idea, but they’re also used to ground the information in an emotional or affective context. Metaphors have been used to illustrate the flow of control of Logo procedures or to teach recursion.

“Metaphors can ground information in an emotional or affective context.”

I believe these to be valuable tools in assisting learners to understand constructs or operations which might otherwise be too difficult for them. What is more important (and more difficult to implement) is to encourage the learner to create his/her own metaphor for that abstract concept under focus. This may only be possible after the construct is understood by means of using a given metaphor. But the ownership over the self-created idea is certainly more powerful, less extinguishable and more generalizable than a teacher-given one.

“Ownership over self-created ideas is more powerful, less extinguishable and more generalizable than teacher-given ones.”

And once again, of course, the student is thinking about thinking. So the child is essentially saying to herself, “Okay, I have this idea and way of doing things – what else is like that?”

An example, published before – but worth mentioning here, from a grade three child (Jeffrey) who was coming to grips with the notion of a larger problem being broken into its smaller parts is repeated here for the sake of continuity.

Our grade 2/3 class had the opportunity to watch the overpass of the space shuttle piggybacked on a jumbo jet. When we returned to class, a discussion about space naturally erupted. One child asked if Earth was in space, and in asking the question, we determined that yes, it must be, because it wasn’t sitting on anything. The discussion continued until Jeffrey piped up.

You know it’s sort of like Logo.”

The class stopped, and looked at him curiously, as I did myself.

“What do you mean?” I asked him curiously.

“Well, Earth is like a procedure. It’s like a sub-procedure inside of the solar system. The solar system is the super-procedure and the solar system is like a sub-procedure inside the universe. The universe is like the super-procedure.”

Jeffrey personalized and consolidated his understanding of procedures and sub-procedures through making this analogy. Again it is to be noted that the learning is moved from the context of Logo to other domains. This helps to remove the “functional fixedness” that is common to many types of learning situations. The child not only may be able to transfer the knowledge about breaking a large problem into smaller parts – but more importantly may use metaphor or analogy in other learning situations.

“The child…more importantly may use metaphor or analogy in other learning situations.”

To summarize, the activities that I have described here serve two purposes. Firstly, the children will learn the content more efficiently and will be able to transfer that knowledge to other learning domains more readily. Secondly, they will acquire some metaskills of learning which they can apply in new learning contexts – analyzing work for errors of thought, watching a more expert person in solving a task, and metaphor usage to better understand the concept.


Bereiter, C. & Scardamalia, M. (1983) Schooling and the growth of intentional cognition: Helping children take charge of their own minds. In Z. Lamm (Ed.), New Trends in Education. (pp. 73-100). Tel-Aviv: Yachdev United Publishing Company.

Brown, J.S. (1985). Process vs. Product: A perspective on tools for communal and informal electronic learning. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 1(2).

Pea, R. D. (1985) Integrating human and computer intelligence. In E. L. Klein (Ed.) Children and Computers. New Directions for Child Development, no. 28, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


The Technium: Multiplexing vs Multitasking

See on Scoop.itMindful Education

“Starner replied that he multiplexes rather than multitasks. Multiplexing means doing tasks that reinforce each other. For him, taking notes and having conversations are tasks that parallel and enrich each other. They are multiplexed. On the other hand, he doesn’t try to manage email during a conversation or while walking down the street. That would be multitasking. “If the wearable task is directly related to the conversation, the the user’s attention is not ‘split’ and multiplexing can be pretty effective.”

As Thad Starner explained to me, distraction can be avoided by multiplexing rather than multitasking…. We have no difficulty absorbing all at once the music of a parade, the sight of uniformed marchers, bright sunlight, an autumn breeze, a pain in one’s knee, the smell and taste of hot dogs, and the clasp of a loved ones’s hand.”

Peter Skillen‘s insight:

I love this distinction. NCTE’s notion of ”managing multiple streams of information’ makes sense when viewed as multiplexing. People have been interpreting this as multitasking – and this has been grossly incorrect in my opinion

See on


Should We Gamify Meditation? ;-)

I ask this somewhat in cheek. In fact, it is rather an oxymoron.


Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 5.08.05 PMThere is a lot of evidence about the positive effects of mindfulness these days. It is becoming ‘de rigueur’ in the K-12 education space. For example, Mindfulness Without Borders offers workshops to schools. So does the Mindfulness Institute. The Association for Mindfulness in Education and also attend to this issue. Just to name a few.

On a personal note, I studied transcendental meditation when I was 20.  That is also when I first learned of Jon Kabat-Zinn – although I didn’t take the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course until a few years ago.

Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or as an end in itself. The word meditation carries different meanings in different contexts. Meditation is often used to clear the mind. (Roughly taken from Wikipedia.)


I have also played around with biofeedback.  I have found it quite useful.gsr2image
“Biofeedback is the process of gaining greater awareness of many physiological functions primarily using instruments that provide information on the activity of those same systems, with a goal of being able to manipulate them at will.” Wikipedia

Biofeedback may give you insights into meditative practice and indeed may assist you in reaching goals of ‘calmness’ and ‘stress reduction’.  There are many more biofeedback tools available these days due to advances in technologies and in neuroscience. Some give you feedback on muscle tension, some on skin temperature and others on skin conductance (galvanic skin response -GSR*).  (It is, in fact, a GSR device that I have owned for some 25 years.) These are all indicators of psychological or physiological arousal. So, if you can ‘meditate’ in some fashion and reduce the arousal, you will get good feedback on which techniques work effectively for you.

Major Research

Important to note that this is not some pie-in-the-sky notion — the Affective Computing Group at MIT Media Lab has been investigating many educational issues leveraging biofeedback devices.  Susanne Lajoie at McGill has also been studying education with this lens too. And, you can bet that the big publishers are involved as well!  (But, that’s a topic for another day!)


And guess what!

With all the advances in computer technologies and biofeedback devices – and, with the onslaught of ‘gaming’ and ‘gamification’, there are a slew of biofeedback games available both online and downloadable!
I am actually not familiar with any of those at all but am simply asking myself – and you – the question.

Should we gamify meditation?

*SideNote: Heck. If you are into robotics, get yourself an RCX Lego brick and make a GSR yourself — but, be aware only do this with your RCX on battery power. If it’s plugged in, you could electrocute yourself!

GSR from RCX brick - courtesy of

GSR from RCX brick – courtesy of









Csikszentmihalyi worries! Should we?

By Ehirsh (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Ehirsh (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In his latest essay, “The Triumph of the Virtual”, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes his initial excitement for video games. He was happy that they engaged kids differently than the passive watching of television but then states that he did “not imagine the engagement offered by the new technology would become a Pandora’s box containing bait for the reptilian brain to feast on”.

Engagement of video games has ‘become a Pandora’s box containing bait for the reptilian brain to feast on’

“The incessant warfare (the child) takes part in is not virtual to the child, it is his reality…at a superficial cognitive level they’re aware the game is only a virtual reality, but at a deeper, emotional level they know it is not. After all, it is happening to them”, says Csikszentmihalyi.

Csikszentmihalyi is clearly a world renowned expert in motivation, happiness and creativity. You likely know  his work on ‘flow’. In fact, you are perhaps a real believer and apply it in your educational practice with students.

Csíkszentmihályi described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Flow CC by benarent NC SA

Flow CC by benarent NC SA

“To achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur. Both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results.’” Wikipedia

Many schools have ‘flow’ rooms or, at least, try to design educational experiences to engage students in the ‘zone’ – or a state of flow.*

“We are headed for ‘a quantum leap into an abyss of insubstantiality’.”

Csíkszentmihályi fears that ‘in one or two generations children will grow up to be adults unable to tell reality from imagination’. We are headed, he suggests, for ‘a quantum leap into an abyss of insubstantiality’.

What do you think?

*Note: It has been central to my ‘way of being’ in classrooms for many years. I even had my most recent classroom – and, indeed, have this blog called “The Construction Zone’. (‘Zone’ doubles for ‘state of flow’ and for ‘zone of proximal development’ (ZPD).



To Question IS the Answer!

Respecting the Student’s Desire to Know

questionsIn this climate of standards and assessment, can we afford to respect the student’s desire to know?

Or, can we afford not to?

I would suggest that respecting the student’s own ‘driving questions’ is a major strategy in the achievement of those standards.   Following this assumption, we need also to provide the tools for investigation and to create a school or classroom culture of support and expectation. In order for this model to work, students must learn the requisite metacognitive skills.

“If students are not able to assume control of their own learning, we do them them a serious injustice.”

Who is Pulling my Strings? CC by mellyjean  NC-ND

Who is Pulling my Strings? CC by mellyjean NC-ND

Where is the ‘locus of control’?

I have always been amazed at the arrogance with which we as a society assume control of a child’s learning as they enter school.  From birth and before entering school, children are immersed in a complex, unstructured learning environment.  And assuming supportive caregiving, these children learn a wealth of information.  They learn the major part of a language (or even more than one!), much about mathematics, science and the world around them.

“Please consider the amount a child learns before s/he enrolls in school.”

How do they do this?  Inquiry.  Natural inquiry.  Curiosity.  Questioning.  Problem solving.  Resolving discrepancies.  Trial and error.  They are in charge of their own ‘curriculum’.  They set their goals…ask their questions… generate their strategies… invoke them… and consider the outcomes.  This is obviously an extremely powerful recipe for success.  Please consider the amount a child learns before s/he enrolls in school.

Mark Brannan on Flickr NC SA

Mark Brannan on Flickr NC SA

What is learning? Cognitive and…?

Think of learning, if you will, as having two major distinct aspects.  One is cognitive.  The other is ‘other aspects of self’ – including social and affective. In this latter area I would include passion and motivation… the ‘heart’… the ‘fire’.    Often learning has been divided into ‘process’ and ‘product’.

However, I wish to propose that we consider both the ‘product and process’ as ‘content’ – in some ways the cognitive aspect.  Perhaps we as educators still spend too much time on the ‘product’ aspect of this false dichotomy, yet we do acknowledge and attend to the ‘process’ to some degree.  We do address to some extent ‘how to learn’ and we teach strategies for this to students.

We turn process into product!

The humorous part of this, of course, is by the very nature of doing so, we turn ‘process’ into ‘product’ as well.  It becomes something else to be tested and measured.  Please understand that I do not negate the importance of high standards for either product or process.  I have incredibly high expectations for students and would expect high quality results in both these areas.  It is how we get there which I question.  And the theft of the locus of control for learning in order to focus on curriculum delivery is not the way to get high standards in either the short term nor, in fact, for our larger goal of life long learning.

“The theft of the locus of control for learning…is not the way to get high standards.”

Bring Love - Gain Expertise!

Bring Love – Gain Expertise!

Don’t steal. It’s not nice! :-)

It seems that what we need to do is more fully support the project-based learning model.  It is a ‘natural’ model that can be improved and enhanced through some formalization at school. But we shouldn’t rob those children of the most powerful and necessary attributes of learning – those of passion and being in charge of self… of all the meta aspects… of all the ‘fire’ and intrinsic reasons to learn.

So imagine a child as she moves from a world in which she has been the author/producer/director and actor of her own learning to that of mere actor… taking direction from others as to what to learn… to say… to perform.  And it is for the next 12 or more years that this is the case… except for glimpses when she is asked to ‘do a project’.

“Children enter school as question marks and leave as periods.” (Neil Postman)

Wide-eyed radical?

Lest you think I am some sort of wide-eyed radical who would like to see the curriculum tossed out the window, let me assure you, that is not the case and it would be simplistic to dismiss me as such.  It is not I who is the radical one.  It is, on the other hand, radical to take a healthy, inquisitive, self-motivated learner and to institutionalize that learner to the extent that robs them of their passion and motivation in the name of ‘curriculum delivery’.

“It is not I who is the radical one. Those who institutionalize healthy, inquisitive, self-motivated learner are radical.”

Take time to find your way

Explore the landscape.

Curriculum as a landscape to be discovered

Do I disagree with the curriculum content that exists in government documents?  That is a question for another discussion, but for purposes of this article let me answer ‘no’.  I believe it is necessary to have this breadth and depth of a knowledge base articulated and available in some organized fashion.  It provides a landscape to be discovered, explored and understood through the school life of a student.

Who manages the learning?

What worries me is the way in which it is approached.  Let me continue with my previous description of kids before school.  Before kids enter school they essentially command both aspects of learning – ‘cognitive’ and the ‘other’.  Upon entering school, the ‘cognitive’ is the focus.  The ‘other’ is essentially taken over by the teacher.  The management of learning is under the teacher’s jurisdiction.  It then becomes necessary to contrive activities to engender ‘motivation’ or ‘passion’.  And this gets to be the case progressively as the student proceeds through the grades.

Things people assume about me.

  • Don’t assume I negate the benefits of ‘direct instruction’.
  • I am not laissez faire.  I expect and demand high quality work.
  • Don’t think I let kids run amok.  I am a strict disciplinarian… in that I do not tolerate ‘slacking off’.  But I do like a certain amount of ‘chaos’ in my classrooms.  But that chaos relates more to ‘active learning’ than to ‘fooling around’.

So… how do we do it?

So how do we start towards this vision?  As I suggested, we need to perhaps further adopt a project-based learning (PBL) model.  And I believe that students’ driving questions are at the heart of many types of project-based learning.  This blog contains many posts related to PBL, questioning, the zone of proximal development and the role of information and communications technologies:

Just how powerful is the role of one’s own question in learning? It may be the single most important factor in learning… both in school and outside school.  Passion – the emotional force of a driving question – raises one’s motivation, increases energy and focus, carries one through uncertainty and difficulty, and heightens one’s own expectations.

“Once you have learned how to ask relevant and appropriate questions, you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.”
Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner//


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