Don’t say, “We are finally paying attention to the pedagogy!”
It is unacceptable.
Pedagogy is why we started so many years ago!
How many times do we hear the following these days?
“It’s not about the technology, it’s about the learning.”
“We have to think about pedagogy instead of focusing on the tools.”
But the most disturbing claim suggests that ONLY NOW are we thinking about pedagogy before technology—that everyone in the 70s, 80s, 90s and early 2000s paid attention only to the hardware, the software and ‘teaching the tools’—devoid of pedagogy.
…ONLY NOW are we thinking about pedagogy before technology
Please don’t say that. It’s absolutely incorrect—and, in fairness, rather hurtful to many who have had dreams of the kinds of things we are hearing more widely today. We have fought, and fought hard, for effective uptake through those decades in the face of those who ignored, and dismissed, us as outliers.
…some veteran, and influential, educators ignored us in the past…
And, it is not only some who are new to education who are guilty of this. We are seeing some veteran, and influential, educators who ignored us in the past, now moving us all forward with discussions of new pedagogies.
How we wished for their voices three decades ago. Imagine where we might be now.
Build Upon the Past
However, now we have a new generation of educators who, in many cases, have embraced the affordances of technologies. We welcome your enthusiasm, your energy and your building of effective classrooms for our learners.
…we must build upon that which has been done in the past
I believe that it is important that we must build upon that which has been done in the past and move forward from there. If we start fresh—as if it is all new—we are not leveraging the successes and failures of previous times. We must learn from our experience.
To do this, one needs to know the history of educational computing.
I will share some of my experiences and observations having started on this journey in 1977.
This will require a series of posts. 🙂
A Series of Posts
I could do this by topic—coding, global projects, inquiry, science and math investigations, leveraging productivity software for inquiry, and so on. Or I could do it chronologically—which is the way I shall choose to approach this very rich history.
- Developing thinking and metacognitive skills through programming (coding) with grade ones in 1977, the Logo movement of the 80s, programming in HyperCard and HyperStudio in the 80s and 90s, teaching kids HTML through the 90s
- Connecting kids through global projects in the early 80s with a command line interface on our computers, a Day in the Life project run with the Soviet Union via fax machines, National Geographic Kids’ Network collaborative science investigations in the 80s with teams of students from around the world, Global Schoolnet, FrEdWriter and FrEdMail (free wordpro and email networking for kids in the mid-80s), iEARN (International Education and Resource Network)
- Being mathematicians, scientists, and engineers through building robotics and making in the mid-80s with Lego TC Logo robotics kits
- collaboration – in addition to the collaborative global projects mentioned above, we had the development of CSILE (Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environments) in the mid-eighties; ThinkingLand (late 80s), and Journal Zone (early 2000s). These were environments focused on creating knowledge building communities in our classrooms
- Inquiry-based uses of productivity software (mid-80s onward)—using drawing tools, databases and spreadsheets for mathematics & science inquiry of geometry, speed, acceleration, etc.
- Exploring, tinkering and creating in Virtual Reality (Mandala and CitySpace) in the 90s
- Multimedia creation (HyperCard, HyperStudio, Web Creation, desktop publishing, Laser discs)
- Beginning in 1982, we deliberately focused our formalized professional learning on curricular implementation by including curriculum and/or pedagogy in the workshop titles (Math Investigations using Spreadsheets; Planning Ahead with Outliners; Metacognition and Programming in Logo)
This is just a sampling of topics.
The next post will tell the story of how—and why—we got involved with microcomputers in the late 1970s. It will include a description of the educational context of the 1970s—the student-centred, inquiry-based, open-classroom, student-in-charge environments where we were believers in a Piagetian constructivist approach and had dismissed the Skinnerian behaviourist, operant-conditioning principles of earlier decades.
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.
Gavriel Salomon wrote the following piece in 1998 – several years after the World Wide Web was launched but years before the recent distractibility of the Internet – with Twitter, Facebook, and many other social media attention-getters!
It is clear that technology shapes our behaviour in ways we may, or may not, understand. The Butterfly Defect is worth considering if you are responsible for students.
This is not just about attention issues but rather speaks about habits of mind.
These technologies, like other things in our environment, provide us with models with which to think – not always knowingly and not always beneficially.
This section is from an essay called “Novel Constructivist Learning Environments and Novel Technologies: Some Issues to Be Concerned With”.
“The Butterfly Defect
This raises yet other questions. Hypermedia programs of the kind widely touted and widely used in education are non-linear, perhaps the way cognitive webs of meaning are. However, the connections they display, and particularly the ones students build into them, are anything but logical. In fact, such programs are deliberately based on casual associations and on visual fascination, luring the user to wander from one item to another which happens to be associated with it. In fact, this is not just a private case of hypermedia and multimedia; it is the defining attribute of the hottest thing in town: The Internet.
There is nothing wrong with bouncing around, as hypermedia and the Internet invite one to do, except that this is typical of bottom-up, unguided exploratory behavior, as contrasted with the developmentally more advanced search behavior which is top-down, metacognitively guided and goal directed (Wright & Vliestra, 1975). Search, unlike exploration, is neither guided by the lure of shiny buttons, nor does the finding of simple associations satisfy it. If students can emulate the organization of information in hypermedia for the organization of knowledge in their minds, matching their maps of meaning to those they construct on the computer, would they not organize it in the same associationistic way hypermedia are organized?
The questions thus concern two interrelated developments. One development concerns the structure of students’ webs of meaning. Could students’ cognitive webs of meaning come to reflect hypermedia characteristics, consisting of flimsy associationistic connections? The second development concerns the mental activity associated with those webs: Would students come to acquire a tendency to mentally hop around their own cognitive webs in a hypermedia-like manner?
These possibilities can be called The Butterfly Defect: Coming to think or to prefer the style of thinking in a hypermedia mode—”touch, but don’t touch, and just move on to make something out of it”. A teacher recently interviewed by Oppenheimer for a biting article about educational computing in The Atlantic Monthly (1997), proudly announced that his students have come to think in a multimedia manner. If he is right, then the danger of a Butterfly Defect may be more imminent than we think.”
- Are we doing our kids a disservice if we are not teaching them about the effects of technologies on how they are learning and, in fact, behaving?
- Is the ‘butterfly defect’ yet another unanticipated effect of new technologies – a ‘second-order’ or drip effect’ as Salomon would say?
- Is this dealt with significantly in the myriad ‘media literacy’ documents produced?
Gavriel, I miss you being part of this community. I miss your voice.
I encourage you to read the whole article: Novel Constructivist Learning Environments and Novel Technologies: Some Issues to Be Concerned With. It is available for purchase here.Disclaimer: I really believe that butterflies are effective in their mission, otherwise they would not survive. 🙂 Such is the nature of metaphor!
(This paper is based on the author’s Keynote Address presented at the EARLI Meeting, Athens, August 1997)
Gavriel Salomon, Haifa University, Israel 1998
Respecting 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.”
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.
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.”
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)
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.”
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:
- PBL – Who IS in Charge? What Tools can Help?
- PBL – the New Worksheet
- Scaffolding for Deep Understanding
- PBL? Am I Doing it Right?
- Metacognition: A ‘Way of Being’ in the Classroom
- The Science of Passion-Based Learning
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//