As a long time member of the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (since 1980), I wish to express my appreciation for the life and work of Seymour Papert. He contributed widely and significantly to Ontario education through those who have learned from him since the late 1970s. Countless Ontario students grew up with Logo and Lego TC Logo robotics—and, more importantly, in learning environments that honoured their freedom to invent, to err, to create and to tinker in wonderment.
This is rather a personal glimpse although I shall provide many wonderful tributes and resources from other members of this wonderful, brilliant community.
Dr. Seymour Papert has often been recognized as the Father of Educational Computing. His impact on the early world of information technologies in schools is legendary for it was borne from his collaboration with Jean Piaget, theories of constructivism, and the ‘tutee’ concept within Tool, Tutor, and Tutee.
But Seymour has been much bigger than Logo.
What You May Not Know
But what you possibly don’t know about Seymour Papert is his significant contribution to the field of cognitive science. With Marvin Minsky, he cofounded the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT. He collaborated with Marvin Minsky on Perceptrons (1969), which temporarily reduced the focus on neural networks and encouraged increased study of symbolic models. Indeed, in the early 80’s, the exploration of neural networks rebounded and became a prominent force in Artificial Intelligence (AI) research and development. I don’t pretend to understand the ins and outs of these very technical arguments among the Newell & Simon cognitivists, artificial intelligence supporters, and cyberneticists. However, these times were central to the creation of the current theories of cognitive science.
The Human Side
I had the good fortune of spending some time with Seymour Papert. I wish I’d had more time and I wish that I’d had more opportunities for debate with him—not about cognitive science but about cognitive psychology and his dreams for schools and children’s learning.
We were at a conference together in Israel in 1987 (Second International Congress on Early Childhood Education: Childhood in the Technological Era. I helped usher him away from the throngs of people after his presentation to his hotel in another city. He was always deluged in those days and he valued his privacy. He asked me if I wouldn’t mind driving his rental car for him. He found it crazy to drive there and, of course, I was happy to oblige. On the way, we stopped in the old city and were happily walking along, browsing at the stalls. Then, I turned around and he was gone! Oh my goodness! It took me some 20-30 minutes to find him. He was contentedly sipping tea with a shopkeeper and deeply involved in a wonderful conversation about the state of the world.
Another meeting was at the Media Lab when he invited me to sit in with his graduate students to discuss the social implications of a group (gathering) of untethered, programmable turtles! You see, Fred Martin (one of his graduate students) had created what became the RCX programmable brick controlled by an IR sensor which received instructions from the computer. So the turtle no longer needed to be connected via cables! Freedom!🙂
Seymour was asking the students to think what might happen if we tried to replicate human interactions based on cultural differences. Turtles could be designed differently in some way and the sensors on each could detect the differences. People across cultures have different comfort levels with proximity to other people. Some don’t mind being close. Others like to have a little more personal space. Could we replicate that with a turtle community? This was a fascinating time for me because, once again, it revealed to me Seymour’s humanitarian sensibilities blended with his expertise in artificial intelligence.
LCSI (Logo Computer Systems Incorporated)
I started using Logo with my Grade 2s in 1980. Seymour, Brian Silverman and others started LCSI (Logo Computer Systems Incorporated) in 1981. It is based in Montreal, Canada. I switched to using LCSI’s logo shortly after that. Then my job changed in North York Schools. I became a centrally-assigned instructional leader and was able to make central purchases and decisions about professional learning at the district level. This gave me the opportunity to become friends with the folks at LCSI—including Susan Einhorn and Michael Quinn (current president). Now, that sounds like a conflict of interest (LOL), but the reality was that we were all part of the Logo community and ended up at the Logo conferences at MIT through the 80s.
Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (ECOO)
I regret that we never had Seymour at our ECOO conference. I don’t know why! It was an error. I take some responsibility for that as I was involved with both the ECOO Board and conference committees over the years (since 1980).
But, we did have a Special Interest Group for Logo (SIG-Logo) from approximately 1983 – 1989 or so. I was honoured to be its leader for most of that. In 1986, we had a wonderful conference called Look to the Learner. Many of the famous Logophiles of the day presented. (See So You Want Kids to Code! Why? for the agenda—along with some other Logo bits and pieces.)
Many influenced by Seymour have spoken at ECOO
Gary Stager (keynote many times), Sylvia Martinez (keynoted in 2015), Artemis Papert and Brian Silverman (keynoted and ran Minds On Media centre in 2014), David Thornburg (featured speaker several times), Norma Thornburg, Bonnie Bracey (featured), Mitch Resnick (keynote), Ron Canuel, Judi Harris, Margaret Riel, Brenda Sherry, and many more have shared his work and his influence on their own practice over the years. Indeed, I also have shared much Logo related work and thinking many times as a speaker—both featured and regular.
I miss Seymour’s presence. He was severely injured in a motorcycle accident several years ago. His strength of passion and genius should not be missed. Read his work.
A Last Word about Logo
If you have not explored using Logo with kids, I can still recommend that you do this. I am sure it must fit a 21st Century Skill or two. :-) There are many versions available. Seymour Papert was the Chair of the Board of LCSI for many years and they have, in my opinion, made the best versions of this computer language.
Please check out some of these wonderful resources and tributes to this revolutionary educator.
- Daily Papert – http://dailypapert.com/
- MIT: https://mitpress.mit.edu/blog/tribute-seymour-papert
- MIT Media Lab: https://www.media.mit.edu/people/in-memory/papert
- Seymour Papert: Revolutionary Socialist and Father of A.I. in Forward: http://forward.com/…/remembering-seymour-papert-revolution…/
- National Public Radio (NPR): Here is the NPR story on Seymour Papert (with audio) – http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016…
- Lego Foundation: http://www.legofoundation.com/…/2016/honoring-seymour-papert
- Conrad Wolfram: http://www.conradwolfram.com/home/2016/8/2/seymour-papert-1928-2016
- The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/educati…
Thank you Seymour.
And thank you to all in that community who have impacted children in Ontario and beyond.
…and obviously the other stuff too!
Click on this picture to make it larger and more readable!
I continue to hear that we need ‘pedagogy before technology‘ and that it ‘isn’t about the tools, it’s about the learning‘! Well, I am somewhat frustrated by these relatively simplistic statements. But, before you shoot me, understand that a strong emphasis on both pedagogy and learning are foremost in my mind. Also, let me clarify that this is somewhat a new educational battlecry—one that didn’t exist when many of us started with kids and these technologies back in the late 70s. We just took it for granted that we were implementing these tools in deep and significant ways! (After all, you either took a constructionist/constructivist approach or you adopted the beliefs of CAI (Computer Assisted Instruction—aka Institutionalization! LOL)
It is only since decision-making was taken out of the hands of classroom educators that computers (and other technologies) have landed unceremoniously in classrooms, along with expectations that they will be used effectively. This has gained momentum since the onslaught of cheaper tools such as tablets, Chromebooks and BYOD and even more decision-makers and policy-makers have arrived on board (finally)—because they have a ‘device’!
So, trust me. I get why we are hearing this battlecry. People didn’t necessarily come to it themselves and now we have a plethora of devices and not enough forethought and preparation.
Having said that, it is dangerous to claim that it is not about the tools. It is also about the tools. Read on, and click on the links, to find out why I think so.
I have decided to make this graphic representing these ideas that I have written about in the previous posts:
If you would like to see an interactive version, please click on the link below.
What affordances do technologies provide for deep learning in students?
One of my favourite books ever – got a revision in 2013!
I will quote the simple example I have repeated for years as a teaser for you to think about your classroom and how it is designed. Also, think about working with your students to understand design as they are making their artifacts in these revised constructionist classroom cultures of design thinking.
This book will also help you to think seriously about the affordances that newer technologies provide for deep learning within, and among, students. The book is not focused on that topic—but might be a provocation for you to think about it!
“If I were placed in the cockpit of a modern jet airliner, my inability to perform well would neither surprise nor bother me. But why should I have trouble with doors and light switches, water faucets and stoves? ‘Doors?’ I can hear the reader saying. ‘You have trouble opening doors?’ Yes. I push doors that are meant to be pulled, pull doors that are meant to be pushed, and walk into doors that neither pull or push, but slide. Moreover, I see others having the same troubles—unnecessary troubles.”
He continues to explain that the “design of the door should indicate how to work it without any need for signs, certainly without any need for trial and error.” In other words, a flat panel on the door tells you to push whereas a rounded bar tells you to pull. An indented handle invites sliding the door. But this is often not the case!
So, read the book just for your own interest!
But, more importantly, think about what you provide to students and how it invites their actions.
I experienced something wonderful this week.
It was an event which perhaps has finally convinced me that this time it is different—this time we might have crossed the chasm…that well-documented adoption chasm.
The Think Tank for CECCE (Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est) did indeed bring together a wonderful panel of ‘experts’—but, let’s be clear: expertise is something that is both distributed and collective if transformation is to occur.
That collective was present in that room that day.
I was extremely nervous participating on that panel as one of those ‘experts’ – yet indeed honoured that my ideas were invited.
I introduced myself as the OG—the ‘original gangster’ (or, indeed the ‘old guy’)—because I have been involved since the late 70’s in the movement to transform education leveraged by the affordances of digital technologies. Among other things, I expressed my frustration at the lack of institutional traction to date. It has been an exciting journey these past 40 or so years but also has been challenging as efforts were thwarted or ignored.
But, the CECCE initiative is the one thing in this recent flurry of the past several years that has given me pause to reconsider. We might be at the tipping point.
My colleague and friend, Brenda Sherry, and I have often spoken about the peaks and valleys of the trends related to educational technologies and their impact. I have experienced several chasms*.
First Appearances – We smelled a revolution!
When microcomputers first arrived on the scene in the late 1970s, we saw an uptake and educational technology conferences were full. Mind you, the ever present discord between CAI (Computer Assisted Instruction Institutionalization) and constructivist/constructionist, student-driven approaches was evident.
These were the heady days of Seymour Papert, Logo, constructionism and ‘student-in-charge’! I headed up the Special Interest Group for Logo in Ontario. I was a regular at the Media Lab for their Logo conferences.
We were engaged in global projects focused on environmental and peace issues. Kids were using technologies to do research with other kids and subject experts across the world: National Geographic Kids’ Network, Global SchoolHouse, iEARN. Heady times indeed.
We smelled a revolution!!
But, alas, it slowed down.
Then, after our excitement with the onset of hypermedia (the ability to click on a link and go to another page) in HyperCard in the mid 80s, we saw the development of hyperlinking on the internet. Thus was the birth of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s.
We saw ‘non-computer users’ get involved with technology. This meant members of the general public—but, more importantly for us, we watched as system leaders in education took notice. They not only took notice, but they took charge. They started networking schools and pouring vast amounts of money into educational technology.
Once again, the excitement rose as the newer technologies afforded greater opportunities for student construction with new media. Global projects were easier and more accessible to greater numbers of students. Information was readily accessible. We saw the potential for great empowerment of students.
We smelled a revolution—again!😉
But, alas, not everyone saw the vision.
And, things slowed down.
Third Round – The Ubiquity of Portability
The ubiquitous nature of technology and the social aspects have changed the cultural consciousness. This has empowered more individuals across the strata of decision-making. People who normally hadn’t taken to technology have become immersed. They have come to feel the empowerment that earlier adopters felt with previous, albeit lesser, technologies.
But, here we are. We are here.
Others have described eloquently the nature of the CECCE day. See Heidi Siwak’s The Ottawa Think Tank on Transforming the Learning Experience and Brenda Sherry’s inspirational observations regarding students’ comments in Think Tank: Transforming the learning experience.
I wish to simply thank some people for helping me to realize that I may have been too skeptical this time around! (Although I’m still at it—so I obviously had a good load of optimism deep inside!)
First of all, thanks to Eugénie Congi, Superintendent of Education for her leadership and vision on this project.
- Josée Beausoleil, EEAS au CECCE
- Marc Côté, 21st Century Director – Pedagogical Services
- Jean-Marc Dupont, educational learning advisor to 21 c for CECCE
- Melissa Riley, Teacher on special assignment with CECCE in 21st Century Learning
- Sylvie Tremblay, Executive Superintendent of Education
- Bernard Roy (Director 2010-2015)
I know I’m missing folks from this team. Forgive me. Please add them in a comment!
Friends on the Panel – from Afar
I must thank:
- my old friend, Sylvia Martinez for her continued passion in this field.
- Will Richardson—we have shared laughs and great thoughts.
- Garfield Gini-Newman – much learning together from Ontario Teachers’ Federation events
- Jacques Cool – a regular friend from Twitter—we finally met—and felt a real kinship
- Heidi Siwak – who is teaching me about integrative thinking
- Chris Dede – an inspiration to me for several decades now
- Alec Couros – friend and colleague whom we have had at ECOO (BIT)
- Marius Bourgeoys – an educator whom I wish to know better
- Michael Fullan – a man who has obviously had incredible impact on this team and many others across Ontario and the world
- Brenda Sherry – my optimistic friend and colleague who shares the same deep passion for education as I do. She keeps me real and balances my skepticism with her hard work for a transformed educational future.
Normally, one could skip reading the ‘credits’ as I am listing them here.
But, for me, this is not an insignificant moment.
I truly have been transformed by what these people have accomplished and by how they welcomed this OG into their family.
I thank you all.
Notes: *This is somewhat different from the standard chasm described by Geoffrey Moore.
Global Dignity Day: making ‘dignity’ understandable for students
One of our goals as educators is to nurture students into becoming decent human beings who will make the world a better place—for themselves and for others.
This is why many teachers are engaging in global projects that are authentic and, therefore, meaningful to young people.
The Global Dignity Day initiative achieves this and it allows people to get involved with as much effort as you wish. You can do a little—or you can do a lot. This makes it very accessible to all of us and still results in deep understanding of what dignity means to people across a wide range of our global experiences.
You can see lots more detail about Global Dignity Day at the main site or at your specific country site. Canadian educators, please check Global Dignity Day Canada. It has been my privilege to serve on this committee for the past several years along with some wonderful Canadians who care deeply about our young people.
For a quick visual overview, watch this amazing video from Global Dignity Day Canada 2015. If you wish to know more, or have any questions, please check the sites or simply ask me. I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction.
It would be wonderful to have you join us this year for Global Dignity Day 2016!
A Connected Educator Month 2015 Event starting on October 1st!
Join Brenda Sherry and me in a collective, month long, discussion to:
- extend and deepen our understanding of the term learning
- participate in a knowledge building approach to collaboration
- model deep practices for our professional learning environments (colleagues and/or classrooms)
Brief Description (see full site for details)
We will spend the month exploring, unpacking, and discussing what we mean by the term learning. This will include:
- building background knowledge through sharing and reading resources related to the topic
- introductory Twitter Chat
- co-creation of a slidedeck of our ideas
- reflective Twitter chat
- contemplative rewriting of our slides
- culminating creation of reflection statements
We will use a knowledge-building approach to this event.
“If Knowledge building had to be described in a single sentence, it would be: ‘giving students collective responsibility for idea improvement‘. In Knowledge Building, students work together as a community to build and improve explanations of problems of understanding that arise from the group itself.” (We will be the students in this project!)
So please join us! Go to What Do We Mean By Learning Anyway? for all the details to get started!
Peter Skillen & Brenda Sherry with the support of OSSEMOOC
This thoughtful e-book, Learning Out Loud, is a collection of thoughts written by Ontario teachers and produced by TVOntario.
Lest you think it is all text—it isn’t! In addition to links to many relevant blog posts, there are many video clips included—it is produced by TVO after all.🙂
There are four chapters:
- Shifting from Teaching to Learning
- Who Owns Learning?
- What Conditions Support Learning?
- How Do We Share Learning with Others?
You have to read it yourself!
I am proud to be an Ontario educator—and to have been part of this (r)evolution into digital age learning since the early 70s.
Another blast from the past!
Encouraging students to program (code)—even at young ages—is not new. It has also been alive all these years—certainly since the introduction of microcomputers into schools in the late 1970s. It just did not ‘take hold’, nor grab the media attention, nor grab the hearts of those who enthusiastically embrace it today. Or perhaps those latter folks are new to teaching and are excited about the possibilities. If so, I encourage you to ask yourself why you want kids to program.
Interestingly, however, many of the same issues are arising. “We need a coding curriculum at the elementary school level!” is one such example.
Please enjoy this article from the ECOO Output, September 1986.
If you’ve been around since this time, enjoy reminiscing!