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Posts tagged ‘constructivism’

1
Apr

Role of Technology in Classrooms

I’m wondering why teachers use technology in the classroom…

Here are some of my reasons for using technology. Get more context by watching the video!

  • I love the notion of ‘cognitive residue’.
  • As learners, we are in the business of ‘building our own minds’.
  • We, as teachers, are in the business of helping kids to ‘build their own minds’.
  • Tools do shape behaviour.
  • We see that tools allow us to play ‘what if’…because of the affordances of the technology.
  • What is the difference between ‘effects with’ and ‘effects of’ computers. Kids may be better writers while using a computer. Are they better writers after ‘having used’ a computer?
  • Technologies should provide ‘mental models with which to think’.
  • It’s good for teachers to have a plan…but sometimes your plan can limit what you do.
  • Both teachers and students need to be passionate about what they are learning.

The video is from the learning exchange—a site of the Student Achievement Division of the Ontario Ministry of Education. It was recorded at The Quest 2016 conference – Deep Learning in a Digital World.

1
Dec

Pedagogy before Technology: Not a New Thing

unacceptable

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

quiet-150406_1280Please 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

questions-1328465_1920I 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.

Logo Maze Poster(sm)Over this series of posts, you will read about:

  • 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.

girl-and-hammerNext Post: Pedagogical Stance of the 1970s: Piaget In! Skinner Out!

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.

 

14
Aug

Remembering Seymour Papert in Ontario Education

PapertAs 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.

Many of you may know Seymour Papert as the co-creator of Logo. If you don’t know about Logo or Seymour’s role in its development, there are some resources below.

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.

Papert & Negroponte

Seymour Papert & Nicholas Negroponte, Founder & Chairman of ‘One Laptop Per Child’ – photo by Bud the Teacher (by sa nc)

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.

Conference Adventures

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.

RCX Programmable BrickMedia Lab Inquiries

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).


Look to the Learner Poster SmallerSIG Logo

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.

Check out MicroWorlds EX and MicroWorlds Jr (the latter is for primary kids). Also consider Turtle Art. It is a lovely version of the turtle graphics aspect of Logo and is elegant in its simplicity.

Please check out some of these wonderful resources and tributes to this revolutionary educator.

RESOURCES

 

Thank you Seymour.

And thank you to all in that community who have impacted children in Ontario and beyond.

 

 

2
Aug

It IS about the Tools!

 

…and obviously the other stuff too!

Click on this picture to make it larger and more readable!

It IS about the Tools!Feel free to share this graphic.

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.

https://www.thinglink.com/scene/817139071510904833

 

 

 

 

18
Feb

Organic System Environments for Shared Knowledge Construction

Alright…BEFORE you get excited…here’s the DISCLAIMER! 😉

I discovered this article in a journal as I was cleaning up boxes in my basement. It’s from April 1990.

Some of it rings fairly true today—although you will get a giggle from the technologies!

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24
Aug

Students ‘Making Up’ Their Own Minds

“The principal activities of brains are making changes in themselves.”

–Marvin L. Minsky (from The Society of Mind, 1986)

Human Brain Drawing itself

I want students to be busy building their own minds.

As an educator, this is my main goal. I want students to be in charge of their own learning—to be effectively constructing their brains. We must focus our work so that they have both the opportunity, and the skills, to do so. This is the professional mission in my life.

Ethereal? No.

Although it may sound rather ethereal if we talk about students building their own minds, it is not. The reality is exactly that! Whether we take an historical view based on Jean Piaget’s work or adopt a current neuroscience perspective, the reality is the same—brain structures are being altered as we learn and we can control that both quantitatively and qualitatively—to a greater or lesser degree.

Don’t worry! I’m not going to get super technical about all that. I’ll leave that to those more expert than I.

Jean Piaget and ConstructivismPiaget

Jean Piaget was a Swiss developmental psychologist who studied learning in children. He articulated various stages of development and developed a theory of constructivism. He spoke of schemas or mental structures. If we encounter something new, we either assimilate it into a previous pattern of ideas and knowledge—our schemas—or we must accommodate it by changing what we believe, therefore adding a new schema. Or maybe we just discard the new information as irrelevant.

…we either assimilate or accommodate new information…or toss it out…

Consider, for example, a schema that a young child might hold for a fish. Fish live in water and have tails and fins with which to swim. She then sees many different kinds of fish—large, small, single coloured, multi-coloured and assimilates them all into her schemas for fish thus increasing the richness and texture of the fish schema. The first time that this child encounters a whale, she might call it a fish. Once her caregivers explain that it is a different animal called a whale and that it breathes air by coming to the surface of the water and that it is a mammal, the child will accommodate it by creating a new schema for whale. All of this is driven by the human need for sense making—for reaching a state of equilibrium or balance with no dissonance.

…the human need is for sense making—for reaching a state of equilibrium

Neuroscience

Let’s consider new learning from a perspective of neuroscience—that of brain plasticity. Neurons sprout dendrites and send and receive thousands of signals with other parts of the brain thus creating neural pathways. Any new experiences and new learnings reorder neural pathways in the brain. In the same way that a piece of film must change in reaction to an image coming through the lens, our neural structures change whenever we bring in new information or experiences. Any neural pathways that are not frequently used simply disappear and new ones are continually being created as we develop new skills and knowledge.

…our neural structures change whenever we bring in new information or experiences…

Dr. Norman Doidge defines neuroplasticity as: the property of the brain that allows it to change its structure and its function in response to thinking and acting in response to mental experience—in other words, in sensing and perceiving and what we do.

We are literally building our brains

Regardless of whether we think about this in Piagetian or in neuroscientific terms, when we are learning, we are literally building our brains.

We, as human beings of free will, have the option to build, and to mold, the structures of our brain.

I have spent a career questioning, exploring, discovering, and predicting how technologies can assist students in ‘taking charge of their own learning’. What ideas do you have?

 

22
Jan

Knowledge Building: What is it Really?

Isn’t it really just learning by another name?

CC BY Mark Brennan (Flickr) NC SA

We hear a lot about knowledge building in education circles these days!

What is it anyway? Why don’t we just call it learning? Where did this term knowledge building come from?

When I first started speaking of knowledge building (KB), people looked at me as if I had two heads! People thought the term to be officious and puffed-up. But, now—now it’s ever-so-cool. Everyone is using it—but, perhaps without any deep understanding of its roots, its meaning—beyond that of learning. In fairness, this is actually a fairly common phenomenon as new concepts and words come into our everyday lexicon. It is known as lexical or semantic drift. Meanings change from the original intent.

So it is with knowledge building.

The purpose of this article is to briefly familiarize readers with the origins and intended meaning. Links to other sites and articles will help to broaden and deepen your understanding of the complexity of knowledge building, of creating knowledge building communities and of KB technological environments. It certainly won’t all be explained here! 😉

Learning vs Knowledge Building

This graphic (courtesy of IKIT) delineates the conceptual differences between learning and knowledge building.

What does a Knowledge Building classroom look like?

A Little History

The origins of knowledge building in education arise out of the work of Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter at OISE/UT. Their work in knowledge transforming and intentional learning—as it relates to the development of expertise—has been the foundation of their coining the term knowledge building. This work goes back to the mid 1970s and their development of CSILE—Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environments in the mid 80s.

People often equate knowledge building theory with that of constructivist learning, but Scardamalia and Bereiter make these distinctions:

Intentionality. Most of learning is unconscious, and a constructivist view of learning does not alter this fact. However, people engaged in Knowledge Building know they are doing it and advances are purposeful.

Community & knowledge. Learning is a personal matter, but Knowledge Building is done for the benefit of the community.

In other words, students engaged in knowledge building are intentional about their learning—they treat knowledge as an entity that is discussable. It is something about which they reflect and build upon. Also, students can be said not just to be in charge of their own learning, but also have responsibility for the learning of the group.
History of Knowledge Building

1977-1983: Knowledge-Telling versus Knowledge-Transforming

As described in detail in A Brief History of Knowledge Building (pdf), between 1977-1983 the research focus was on examining the differences between knowledge-telling and knowledge-transforming. So when you are using wikis with students for collaboration and knowledge-building, ask yourself, “When students post information on their various wiki pages, are they simply telling knowledge or are they transforming that knowledge by thinking about it, questioning it, reworking it, combining it with other pieces of information to make new understandings and revelations?”

I describe here a situation where true collaboration occurred between two students (visible to all students) in which the questioning by one student (Heather) led the other (Larissa) to rethink and to rework her driving question for her project on potato production in Prince Edward Island. She needed to do more than knowledge telling. She was required to build new schema by a deeper transformation of the information at hand.

1983-1989: Intentional Learning

Between 1983-1989 the research focus switched to intentional learning and cognition. “Intentional cognition is something more than ‘self-regulated learning’, more like the active pursuit of a mental life.” Intentional learning had several characteristics which pointed towards knowledge building. These included:

  1. Higher levels of agency. Students take responsibility not only for meeting learning objectives set by the teacher but for managing the long term acquisition of knowledge and competencies.
  1. Existing classroom communication patterns and practices as obstacles to intentional cognition. Even though teachers may try to encourage inquiry and independent learning and thinking, common characteristics of the classroom environment militate against it and instead increase dependence on the teacher (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996).


It was during this time that CSILE was developed. Originally, it was a text-based system and I, personally, was challenged by a text only environment—as I was a recent HyperCard enthusiast and enjoyed, and saw cognitive benefits for, graphical interfaces and hypermedia. As part of the CSILE team, I made a case for multiple representations of knowledge—beyond text only.

This was a time rich in studying expertise, the differences between expert and novice behaviour and, indeed, how one encourages and supports the development of expert learners—both face to face and in online spaces. Protocols and procedural facilitations were developed to scaffold the execution of higher level strategies by students.

It was recognized, as we hear so much now, that teachers may indeed be a bottleneck in the advancement of knowledge creation by students. However, it’s not merely about student agency—that is necessary, but not sufficient. Students must learn the skills, develop the attitudes and build/participate in the community.

1988-present: Knowledge Building

As the research into intentional learning developed, the researchers noticed something else happening in the CSILE classrooms that involved all the students. They noticed that the kids became really involved in contributing to the knowledge problems that arose. In fact, to be part of the classroom community, you really needed to contribute. So it seemed that a great motivator and sustainer of intentional learning behaviour was ‘the simple and virtually universal desire to belong’.

“This conceptual step yielded a definite separation between intentional learning and Knowledge Building. Intentional learning is the deliberate enhancement of skills and mental content. Knowledge Building is the creation and improvement of knowledge of value to one’s community. You can have intentional learning without Knowledge Building and, in principle at least, Knowledge Building without intentional learning; but the two together make a powerful combination.”

Twelve knowledge building principles have been articulated. I will mention them here, but I suggest you read the complete descriptions or watch these videos because the headings won’t tell you too much! I include them in this graphic to illustrate the depth and complexity of the term knowledge building.

12 Knowledge Building Principles

Knowledge Forum

Knowledge Forum evolved out of CSILE and is available to support you in developing knowledge building classrooms.

Here is a brief video from a classroom using Knowledge Forum. (Note: This is fairly old—the technologies have improved! But, great overview!)

So in summary…

One cannot equate learning with knowledge building.

The terms are not interchangeable and I believe we need to be careful when we appropriate language and use it casually. I have the same concern with other current, common constructs such as inquiry, collaboration, and project-based learning.

I am absolutely certain that I do the same thing with many expressions and terms where that domain is not my area of expertise!

Please be patient with me when I do so, but please also gently point me to resources that will deepen my understandings.

Call to Action

Given the topic of this post, I will now ask you to do a little reflection on the ideas presented here, on your previous and current thoughts about learning versus knowledge building, on your own practice, and on the dominant classroom and school culture in relation to these ideas.

  • What have you learned?
  • What might change for your practice?
  • What steps might you take to move forward?
  • What confusions/questions do you have?

I encourage you to do this publicly—here or in another online space where we might further our collective understandings.


Resources for Follow-Up

A Brief History of Knowledge Building: A Brief History of Knowledge Building is a great place to start reading about knowledge building.

Knowledge Building: Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2003). Knowledge Building. In Encyclopedia of Education. (2nd ed., pp. 1370-1373). New York: Macmillan Reference, USA.

Professional Development: Knowledge Building: The Professional Development: Knowledge Building site is a superb site developed by the OISE originators. Find out what a knowledge building classroom looks like, how to get started, assessment strategies, etc.

IKIT (Institute for Knowledge Innovation and Technology): “The Institute for Knowledge Innovation and Technology conducts research, develops technology and helps build communities aimed at advancing beyond “best practice” in education, knowledge work, and knowledge creation.”

Knowledge Forum: Knowledge Forum is available for purchase and implementation in your school or classroom.

Natural Curiosity: Natural Curiosity is a resource that has been developed for teachers. There are wonderful classroom videos online describing ideas about developing a knowledge building culture and knowledge building discourse among students. You can also download a Natural Curiosity handbook.

Learn Teach Lead: LearnTeachLead, of the Ontario Ministry’s Student Achievement Division, has produced and posted some excellent videos including interviews with Marlene Scardamalia.

Visible Thinking: I would also recommend the book, Visible Thinking, by Harvard’s Project Zero group. The Visible Thinking website also has some worthwhile resources.

ThinkingLand: In the mid 80s, as a graduate student in the CSILE group, I developed a networked version of HyperCard called ThinkingLand. It was based on the metaphor of a journal and so could be considered as an online, collaborative, and scaffolded journal writing environment. It was implemented in a sixth grade classroom for research purposes.

Journal Zone: In 2000, LCSI (of Logo fame!) contracted me to lead the design of Journal Zone—which was based on ThinkingLand. It was an awesome online environment, but was not commercially successfully as it launched just at the same time as blogging arrived on the scene. People went blogging—without all the scaffolding and procedural facilitations we had built into Journal Zone. (It is no longer available.) See Using Visible Thinking Strategies to Develop Expert Learners for a description of the practical elements of Journal Zone which you can build into your classroom practice.

Journal Zone

First posted at Big Ideas in Education and at Inquire Within

24
Oct

The Butterfly Defect: Technology and the Wandering Mind

Dwight Sipler-Flickr

Dwight Sipler-Flickr

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

4
Jul

‘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 “http://www.papert.org/articles/SituatingConstructionism.html

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.

RESOURCES

Books

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.”

 

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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.

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