Sunday, November 03, 2019

The Three Game Changers and Disadvantaged Youth

This is my response to the Mparntwe / Alice Springs Youth Action Plan 2019-2021, see some extracts from this plan below.

The computer revolution powers ahead and conventional institutions, such as the education system, struggle to keep up.

The goal here is to identify the 3 game changers in modern computer technology and outline how they can be used to engage disadvantaged youth. The 3 game changers are coding, physical computing and maker spaces / fabrication. All of them have become far more accessible to users.

Coding: Block coding languages such as Scratch or MakeCode are far easier to use than text based languages. The ready access to multimedia (simple animations and sounds) in the design of Scratch allows a lot to be achieved quickly and engages new users.

This writer has developed outlines for a variety of projects with indigenous themes (1)

Physical computing: New microcontrollers such as the micro:bit (2) or Circuit Playground Express are inexpensive and combine programmable sensory input and output in an appealing, portable / wearable package.

Maker spaces and fab (fabrication) labs: Maker spaces can be constructed relatively cheaply. Buy a few craft items from Mad Harry’s and a few tools from Bunnings, do a little coding, connect with the Hummingbird Bit robotics kit and you can make a variety of projects that are both educational and entertaining (3, 4)

Fab Labs are more expensive. The underlying idea here is to provide the tools, such as laser cutters, for users to be able to make (almost) anything. Fab Labs are growing exponentially around the world. Some of them have been developed to operate in Disadvantaged communities. A Fab Lab can be used for training, making things useful to the user or for making things commercially.

Some extracts ...

The youth survey and summary data …. show that 30 percent of participating youth surveyed in Mparntwe / Alice Springs are disengaged from school

  • Provide learning opportunities for disengaged young people through the evenings and night. Investigate funding options to support community based education responses in both the urban and remote context
  • Build collaboration between the youth sector, NT Government, Department of Education and schools to support professional development of staff and case management support for young people
  • Consider gender issues when developing strategies for re-engaging young men and women in schools and education pathways
  • Improve access to education and training for young people in detention
  • Strengthen pathways to real local employment opportunities such as … Aboriginal and Islander Education Workers ...
Other goals of the plan which could be impacted by these ideas are:
Goal 2: Improve outcomes for young people in the youth justice system
Goal 3: Better support for remote communities
Goal 4: Support the development and implementation of mentoring programs for aboriginal young people
Goal 6: Develop integrated programs for young people who are out late at night

Mparntwe / Alice Spring Youth Action Plan 2019-2021

Bill Kerr articles
(1) Integrating the digital technology curriculum with indigenous knowledge systems
(2) making sense of the microbit
(3) bee waggle project with the Hummingbird Bit
(4) would you like to see a toilet roll dance?

Dougherty, Dale with Conrad, Ariane. Free to Make: How the Maker Movement is changing our schools, our jobs and our minds (2016)

Gershenfeld, Neil; Gershenfeld, Alan; Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld. Designing Reality: How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution (2017)

Graves, Colleen and Aaron. The Big Book of Maker Space Projects (2017)

Graves, Colleen and Aaron. 20 Makey Makey Projects for the Evil Genius (2017)

Martinez, Sylvia and Stager, Gary. Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom (2nd Edition, 2019)

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

integrating the digital technology curriculum with indigenous knowledge systems

This is a draft overview of exemplars some of which are being developed and others being project ideas in embryo. Please get in touch if you want to help develop these ideas further, or, alternatively, just do it!

It assists teachers in implementing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross-curriculum priority from the Australian Curriculum, further integrating ideas from Science, Maths, Art etc. into the Digital Technologies curriculum.

The method employed here is to identify powerful ideas, usually from indigenous culture and express them using Digital Technologies. Initially this is done using Scratch coding to develop algorithmic thinking. I anticipate that this can be further extended into physical computing utilising such devices as the micro:bit, drones, Hummingbird:bit or programs that run on android phones (QR codes, app inventor). I have identified a substantial number of project ideas here but far more could be done.

Some ideas have been adapted from the Melbourne University Indigenous Knowledge site, whilst other ideas have been culled from various media reports or developed by this author.
A note about indigenous icons, animations and sounds: Scratch 3.0 comes with its own prepackaged icons, animations and sounds / music, which makes it easy for new users to quickly develop multimedia applications. What I have done / am doing is compiling a set of indigenous icons, gif animations and sounds / music more suited to indigenous cultural expression. Indigenous icons have been obtained from the web and tidied up (transparent backgrounds) using GIMP. Animated gifs can be imported into Scratch and utilised frame by frame. In this way a library of animations suitable for indigenous themes can be developed. Free sounds is a great source for sounds.

The words identifying the functions of Scratch tiles (move, turn etc.) have been translated into many different languages. I’m making inquiries as to what process would be involved in developing an indigenous language version of Scratch. It would be a tremendous boost to encourage indigenous multimedia coding if this could be achieved.

The Project themes include Navigating Through Country, Fire, Dotted Circle Art Work, Kinship Systems, Indigenous Languages, Drones, Phases Of The Moon, Seven Sisters, Rainbow Serpent and Photography.


The rainbow serpent creates springs, creeks, wetlands. It can also be associated with extreme weather, lightning, thunder and destruction. Either of these themes could be developed in Scratch.

Book reading story link: ‘Warnayarra: the rainbow snake’ by Pamela Lofts

For the images / gifs I’ve been looking for scary serpents or fascinating rainbow effects rather than cute and friendly snake images. Some scary serpent sounds have been downloaded.


A schematic map is available from the Indigenous Knowledge site. A good starting task would be to duplicate this map in Scratch using the indigenous icons.

I’d encourage students here to then incorporate bilingual features into the project, their preferred native language plus English, using the Scratch pop up messages and text to voice features.

The picture shows some of the indigenous icons (not the map).


Smoking out a kangaroo or emu is one of the many uses of fire used by aboriginal people.

Other uses of fire (as well as smoking out animals) include promotion of plant growth, reduction of fuel loads, social (campfire), cooking, communication, funerals, warding off evil spirits, insect repellant and burning spinifex to make glue

A story from the Martu, a central West Australian tribe is how, initially, the blue tongue lizard kept fire to himself. The chicken hawk stole fire from the lizard and gave it to the Martu. The Martu carried a fire stick from camp to camp.

A burn area makes it easier for hunting. New food grows after fire and rain (desert raisins, bush potatoes). Different burns are used for different foods. A small burn for skink, a long burn for a hill kangaroo and a round burn for a mala.

Some Martu art works show patches of fire

Reference to this section: Burning, bushfoods and biodiversity (film, 41 min)


There are dreamtime stories connecting the spotted quoll with the phases of the moon. The moon spirit loses its breath, dies and is reborn.

Mityan’s earthly counterpart is the Quoll or native cat which used to inhabit parts of Victoria and New South Wales. Its white-spotted brown coat is clearly reminiscent of the various phases of the moon, from the slim crescent through to the full moon.

The Scratch cloning feature could be used effectively here, for dramatic effects of the moon.


The Seven Sisters song series stretches across Australia. The videos at the National Museum page Tracking the Seven Sisters are incredibly good

Some features of the 7 sisters video could be emulated in Scratch: metamorphosis of sisters to different forms; art work (circles); background music etc.


Culturally Situated Design Tools is an approach pioneered by Ron Eglash et al and adapted for aboriginal central desert art motifs (dotted circles with textured backgrounds) by this author. The picture below shows one variation of a myriad of possibilities (developed with Scratch):

Using Scratch or Snap! we can code the circle in various ways. The code enhances our understanding of the circle and how it can be represented in this medium. This can be done with dots or an unbroken line. To build tools that will do justice to the indigenous art work does take a lot of thought, research, collaboration and design effort. The tools also have to be usable initially by a novice to computer coding. To design all of this becomes complex, so the designer needs to be a good coder with a good understanding of the cultural form too.


Taking Arrernte people as an example. All Arrernte have skin names. There are 8 skin names: Kemarre, Perrurle, Penangke, Pengarte, Ampetyane, Angale, Kngwarraye, Peltharre. They get their skin name at birth based on the skin name of their parents. But they get a different skin name from both of their parents. For example, if a woman is Peltharre then, according to culture, she should marry a Kemarre man and their children will be Perrurle.

Using Scratch or SNAP this can be coded using lists, conditionals, input and outputs. It’s a good way to introduce data structures and conditionals to anyone interested interested in this feature of indigenous culture.


An ABC report, Aboriginal Gathang language brought to life for Taree school students, from May 2018 describes how a NSW indigeneous teacher, Jaycent Davis, has installed Gathang language signs throughout the Taree High school and primary school

He has embraced digital technology, using QR codes on the signs, so students can scan them with their smart phones and hear the Aboriginal word spoken aloud.

This great idea could be adapted to any indigeneous language.


I have used Scratch to make a tiny multimedia dictionary (voice, pictures / animation, words) for the Australian indigenous Alyawarre language. See the Scratch project here.

Peter Ruwolt had the idea of making template programs using Scratch to support teachers in teaching reading and writing of Pitjantjatjara.

For example: Unmarked object on screen which when you click on it plays a sound of a Pitjantjatjara word, eg. Punu (tree). Another object on screen which contains the word spelt out, punu. The user drags the spelt out word icon onto the sound playing icon and the program generates a reward of some type. Students could then proceed to making their own sound and word objects, creating their own word – sound dictionary


With App Inventor students can develop phone apps for android phones. For example, I have developed an Arrernte Language app, with the help of a friend in Adelaide, to help those learning the language to pronounce the words. With this app someone learning the language can sit with a fluent speaker and if they mispronounce the words the fluent speaker can record a better version.

IDX Manager Grant Cameron was invited to present at the World of Drones Congress to talk about IDX's work in regional and remote communities across Australia ...

Grant spoke about the importance of skilling up mob across the country in using technology, and how communities are benefiting from using drones to map and monitor their own country and keep sacred sites, cultural and intellectual property safe.
- from IDX Facebook site, September 27

Overhead time lapse photography as indigenous artists make a painting (Kim Mahood, Mapping and minding shared lands, The Monthly, July 2017 )
“Wallworth used overhead time-lapse photography to film the making of the painting, and the immersive multi-screen result shows the painters materialising, disappearing and reappearing as they create the landscape, dot by dot, on the canvas”

Monday, September 23, 2019

digital innovation in secondary education

The Education and Health Standing Committee (a committee of the Western Australian Legislative Assembly) is conducting an inquiry into Digital Innovation in Secondary Education. (link)

The inquiry will consider:
  1. How digital innovation can assist secondary students to learn anything, anywhere, anytime
  2. The role of digital technology in addressing secondary student engagement and retention
  3. How digital innovation can increase equity of opportunity in secondary education
  4. The potential for digital technology to cater to the needs of high performers and at-risk learners in secondary education
  5. Challenges to implementation, including provision of digital infrastructure, resources and technical support
In July this year I roughed out some notes addressing these criteria.

Overarching statement:
Computers can be both instrumental and epistemological vehicles for certain powerful ideas / dispositions and hands on practices which can be delivered to those who have missed out (aka the digital divide)

1) Rapid but twisted evolution of the computer revolution

Although computers are everywhere, the hardware, software, applications, programming languages and the practices and theories of educational computing continue to evolve rapidly which makes it hard to keep up to date.

Experts and movements (the new Coding Movement, the Maker Movement) do exist and are very helpful but they don’t always agree. The existence of the vigorous Coding and Maker Movements outside of schools indicates that often schools are not doing the job and also that these movement are highly engaging for many students.

2) The powerful ideas and dispositions

Seymour Papert’s original concept (1) was about using computers to transform the way knowledge developed in the learner’s mind. The subject domain of geometry could be restructured to make it more accessible, meaningful and fun for the learner (aka “hard fun”).

Some powerful ideas can be clearly identified:
eg. debugging of code or working to improve a prototype through repeated iterations requires persistence and is a form of looking at mistakes. There is general agreement of the educational importance of that.

Other powerful ideas arising from computer science can be identified and ways found for them to be taught. However, what history has shown is that the most important thing here is setting up learning environments where an invitation to develop powerful ideas will emerge naturally, rather than being forced. See next section.

Although there has been exaggeration, historically by some, of what can be achieved with computer based learning environments, nevertheless, the practices in most schools falls well short of what could be achieved.

ACARA’s Digital Technology curriculum (2) does outline some of the powerful ideas (as outcomes) but doesn’t explain how to achieve them. Effective teacher training exists through the CSER MOOCs site (3).

The history since computers entered schools shows there are widely different claims and approaches about the best way for them to be used. Some authors have done a good job of sorting through this. To do a thorough review of this literature is an arduous but possible task.

Three game changers have been identified by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager: coding, physical computing and fabrication. (4)

Collaboration has been identified as part of the desirable culture (Yasmin Kafai/ Quinn Burke (5)) and some software and learning sites have built that into their workings (eg. Collabrify software (6), Scratch3.0 website with their Remix feature(7))

Various names have been assigned to summarise the powerful ideas. These include computational thinking, computer science, computational literacy, computational participation. This theorising is an ongoing process in a relatively new curriculum area. Consensus has not yet been achieved. It is an important discussion which does need to be further analysed and understood.

3) Learning environments

Experience shows that for most students powerful ideas are not learned by force. A more effective approach is to make them conspicuous in the learning environment (by good choice of hardware, software and learning environment) so that their development is encouraged.

For most students, the powerful ideas will only arise from thoughtfully constructed learning environments, a powerful curriculum delivered by teachers who understand the issues.

Such environments have been developed and trialled in the past (eg. Turtle geomety, “Instructional Software Design Project” (8)) and this is ongoing.

Some excellent modern curricula have been developed, eg. Scratch 3.0 curriculum by the Harvard School of Education (9). Some general principles of what works and what should be encouraged can be stated, eg. collaborative work, project work which is personally and socially meaningful with long time slots.

Whole school change / integrated curriculum (STEM / STEAM) is difficult for a variety of reasons:
(a) School leadership may not understand the issues deeply
(b) Teacher training has not kept up with the computer revolution.

Nevertheless, focused change based on teacher enthusiasts is possible. The structural reform which works well involves personally and socially meaningful projects (preferably an integrated STEAM curriculum), sufficient time to develop them with teachers trained who understand the issues (learning environment, hardware, software, child psychology and cultural issues for indigenous students)

4) Cultural focus

Learning environment can be enhanced meaningfully for indigenous learners using Culturally Situated Design Tools. Some exemplary work has been done by the group led by Ron Eglash in the USA over a long time frame (10)

I have developed a few exemplars along similar lines (11)

Much more could be done along these lines. The conditions for success have been outlined in the publications of Eglash et al.(12)

5) Hardware and software

The growing list of hardware to choose from highlights the need for informed evaluation: includes Makey Makey, Arduino, Little Bits, Ozobot, Micro:bit, Chibi Chip, Circuit Playground Express, Lilypad, Bee-Bot, Dash and Dot, Sphero, Edison, Drones, etc.

Some of the important principles have been articulated by those who have developed the best construction kits (13). They include:
  • Design for designers – use kits that encourage building and tinkering (iterate, iterate and iterate again)
  • Low floor (easy to begin use), wide walls (diversity of possible projects including multimedia) and open windows (collaboration)
  • Make powerful ideas obvious but not forced
  • Minimalism often works better than feature creep
  • You can do quite a lot with a little bit of programming
  • Eat your own dogfood (don’t ask students to use software and hardware you don’t like using yourself)
With these principles in mind some of the hardware and software I recommend are Scratch3.0, Turtle Art, Makey Makey, the micro:bit, MakeCode, the Hummingbird:bit and App Inventor (not a prescriptive list)

6) Nuts and bolts

Computers in schools and related hardware is a significant budget item. Many schools have difficulty acquiring sufficient network managers / maintenance staff. Teacher training lags behind the potential of what can be achieved.

(1) Papert, Seymour. Mindstorms
(2) ACARA Digital Technologies
(4) Martinez, Sylvia and Stager, Gary. Invent to Learn
(5) Kafai, Yasmin and Burke, Quinn. Connected Code
(6) Collabrify apps
(7) Scratch 3.0
(8) ISDP
(9) Scratch 3.0 curriculum
(10) Eglash, Ron et al site
(11) Kerr, Bill
a) Turtle Art design
b) Indigenous icons
c) Arrernte language app
(12) Eglash, Ron et al publications
(13) Construction kits article

Sunday, September 22, 2019

indigi digi 2020

- Brief outline of a Digital Technology course with indigenous themes

Indigenous themes
indigenous art, languages, stories, kinship systems, astronomy, fire and water

Software and a few Exemplars
Initially Scratch leading into Culturally Situated Design Tools, SNAP and App Inventor (others as appropriate). These are relatively easy to learn block coding languages.

Scratch is a popular block code language which enables the user to manipulate rich media (sounds, music, animation) with simple combinations of commands. Indigenous icons can readily be imported into Scratch and stories built around them.

The metaphor that has developed around Scratch has been low floor (easy to get started), wide walls (diversity in projects) and open windows (collaboration). This metaphor translates readily to indigenous cultural themes of grounded, experiential learning, the diversity of the Land and using your own language for communication and collaboration.

SNAP is a more powerful version of Scratch, better suited to Culturally Situated Design Tools in the longer term

Culturally Situated Design Tools is an approach pioneered by Ron Eglash et al and adapted for aboriginal central desert art motifs (dotted circles with textured backgrounds) by Bill Kerr. The picture below shows one variation of a myriad of possibilities (developed with Scratch):

With App Inventor students can develop phone apps for android phones. For example, I have developed an Arrernte Language app to help those learning the language to pronounce the words. With this app someone learning the language can sit with a fluent speaker and if they mispronounce the words the fluent speaker can record a better version.

Other resources Computers, micro:bit, indigenous icons, QR codes, Android phones, indigenous dictionaries. This is a low cost list which can be further developed depending on interest and needs.

ACARA The focus is on coding, algorithms, decomposition, design (the core issues of ACARA’s Design Technology Curriculum)

Cross curricula themes will include art, indigenous language, science and maths depending on the time available.

Educational Philosophy: Meaningful collaboration
  • Coding to make something that is meaningful to the user
  • Students join an online coding collaborative community. Encourage remixing of projects, learning and building on the work of others
  • The learning process becomes imagine, realise, critique, reflect and iterate
WHO? Variations of this course can be developed for the indigenous cohort from Years 3-12, depending on what the school sees as most valuable / useful.

Time: Time intensive will work better, ie. 4 periods a week is better than 2 periods a week

Rationale: For various reasons most indigenous students have missed out on a Computer Science pathway up until now.

Issues relevant to schools and other educational institutions:
  • Many schools are not compliant with the ACARA Digital Technologies Curriculum
  • The computing revolution, Schumpeter's creative destruction, is ongoing and continues to transform society. The nature of this transformation needs to be elaborated but clearly there is a need for many schools to improve their computer science or computational thinking delivery.
  • Driving down the high tech highway looking in the rear view mirror is a real problem. Many schools use computers in useful but mundane ways (think Power Point, roll marking and report writing) rather than creative ways
  • Teachers who understand educational computing deeply can and do use computers in creative ways that engage nearly all students. In the hands of such teachers computers can be used to integrate and transform the curriculum
  • Think STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) rather than STEM. Think STEAM for the 99%, computing education needs to include all social groups
Proposal for an Australian Indigenous Version of Culturally Situated Design Tools

Arrernte Language App

ACARA Digital Technologies

Index of recent articles about computers and education by Bill Kerr

Friday, August 23, 2019

Proposal for an Australian Indigenous Version of Culturally Situated Design Tools

It is widely recognised that much effort and dollars have been spent on “closing the gap” between indigenous and non indigenous Australians without a great deal of success. Various proposals across the full range of educational methodologies have been proposed and implemented; from Noel Pearson’s Direct Instruction at the Instructionist end of the educational spectrum to Tyson Yunkaporta’s “8 ways” at the cultural end.

I offer the following as a positive contribution to this frustrating dialogue.

The idea is to marry indigenous culture with computer coding and other subject domains (art, maths, science etc.). This is an idea borrowed from the work of Ron Eglash and others in the USA drawing deep themes from African and Native American cultures. This approach has been called ethnocomputing or "Culturally Situated Design Tools".

The rationale includes these points:

1) Deep design themes, not trivial.
In the exemplar given below the circle, for instance, is a deep design theme found in aboriginal culture. One thing that needs to be avoided here is trivial adjustments to the curriculum such as counting boomerangs or didgeridoos in arithemetic class.

2) Emic (inside) cultural origins not etic (outside) origins
Building trust is a central issue. That requires permission, in this case, to emulate indigenous art as well as building rapport with the students. Educators are aware that building relationships is central to all good education.

In this case we employ the circle and line motif which is a feature of aboriginal art. The maths which arises from this art form is of emic origins, from inside the culture.

3) Dynamic, not static, culture
Culture is a dynamic entity, not static. For example, new media, eg. acrylic, were introduced by Geoffrey Bardon in the 1970s at Papunya. In this dynamic tradition, the computer provides another creative and flexible medium.

The fundamental goal here is to empower student’s sense of ownership over computing, maths and other subject domains through the use of a culturally enriched computer medium. The appeal is not so much to cultural pride but to the ability to explore and improvise with interesting and deep materials at the interface of culture, maths and computing, to create new hybrids in both machines and people.

An example:

Circle and line is a frequent motif of aboriginal desert art. I’ll illustrate this theme with some art works by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (1932-2002).

The circles can represent a wide range of things. They could be places where ancestral beings emerged from the ground, camped, performed ceremonies or rested after they had spent their energy.

Alternatively, they might represent a particular waterhole, campsite, dance ground, sacred site or some person, object, plant or animal which is the focus of attention. Or underground honey ant chambers, as shown in this work:

Or again, they might represent connections between people, different moieties or different kin groups

The lines may be straight or meandering. They could represent the tracks taken by Dreamtime beings, or humans. Sometimes footprints are included, or the tracks of different animals, or a digging stuck thrust into the ground, or the passageways of the honey ant chambers.


Computer coding is a flexible medium which enables multiple ways to represent circles.

Using Scratch or Snap! we can code the circle in various ways. The code enhances our understanding of the circle and how it can be represented in this medium. This can be done with dots or an unbroken line. To build tools that will do justice to the indigenous art work does take a lot of thought, research, collaboration and design effort. The tools also have to be usable initially by a novice to computer coding. To design all of this becomes complex, so the designer needs to be a good coder with a good understanding of the cultural form too.

I am part way through this process using Scratch and will then move on to developing a Snap! version. Here is one of the Scratch products showing some (not all) of the variable settings:

I have published my scratch project, indigenous_circles, here

Initially, the goal here is to build an application to draw circles with dots. There are many variables involved to make it satisfactory to the indigenous user: background colour; dot colour, saturation and brightness; circle radius; radius increment for next circle; dot size; dot spacing; should the dots be perfect circles or lumpy?; number of rings. The application has to be easy for a novice coder to use. And flexible enough to build a wide variety of diverse artistic products.

The computer medium is particularly well suited to craft regular or repeated or symmetrical themes. These themes are often found in aboriginal art. This forms a good starting point. Where other themes are present the images can be imported into the design. For example, go to this page and scroll down for a sheet of icons or symbols used in Papunya Central Desert art.

Probably, the most suitable program to use (following the example of Eglash) is Snap! due to it’s user friendliness (block coding) and power (ability to write custom procedures).


For this proposal to work known problems have to be overcome and a number of other essential practicalities are required. I’ll briefly list some of the issues here:
  • permission from the minority culture
  • building a bridge, both sides need to come to the party
  • opportunity to work with that culture intensively
  • a team of people (culturally aware educators and computer coders) to pursue these ideas
  • school cultures have been slow to take up innovative computing
  • organisation of time, space and technology in a way that will work be it in a formal school or outside of school setting

As well as indigenous art other themes which could be explored include language, kinship systems, astronomy, fire and water. Some of these themes have been presented in an integrated curriculum at Indigenous Knowledge. The approach advocated here is different with its use of computer coding to unite the different subject domains. Over time the possibilities and potential power of computer use in schools has diversified and increased.

This article only acts as an introduction into what could develop.

UPDATE (August 25th: I've created a new Scratch Studio, Indigenous Art Motifs

UPDATE (August 23rd: I found this a Scratch Studio called "Indigenous Art" by kmwilson who has been developing high quality work around these themes for a few years now.

Ron Eglash, Audrey Bennett, Casey O’Donnell, Sybillyn Jennings, Margaret Cintorino. Culturally Situated Design Tools: Ethnocomputing from Field Site to Classroom (2006)

Morphy, Howard. Aboriginal Art (1998), pp. 121-3

Snap! Build Your Own Blocks

Indigenous Knowledge (Teaching resources)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

my evolving mangle -> ethnocomputing

Harel and Papert (1) argue that some materials are better with regard to the following criteria:
  • appropriability (some things lend themselves better than others to being made one's own)
  • evocativeness (some materials are more apt than others to precipitate personal thought)
  • integration (some materials are better carriers of multiple meaning and multiple concepts)

For many years, I've been working in, struggling with, three (at least) different domains. As a first approximation let's call them social justice, learning theory and computing.

All of them evolve, both in reality and my understanding of them. In this particular iteration I'll change the names significantly to indigenous culture, powerful ideas and tangible hardware / constructionist software. This matches my present context (Alice Spring / indigenous learners) and goals (to help facilitate their learning).

What is the mangle? This comes from a Ron Eglash et al article (2), which in turn comes from a 1995 book by Andrew Pickering (3). The idea is that science is neither a transparent window into truth nor a relative truth. It is somewhere in between. Culture, nature and technology combine in a never ending spiral to produce science. At every point there is resistance. Something doesn't work, tweak it to make things fit better. We tweak our cultures, we tweak our theories and we tweak our technologies to overcome the resistance.

So this is a brief overview of where I am at, how I got there and where it is heading.

Indigenous culture: Parts of indigenous culture (eg. dot paintings) can be represented with algorithms. Contemporary indigenous art is not the same as traditional art. It has evolved (4). Indigenous students are often more engaged when offered the opportunity to represent their culture using the computer (5). These themes can be deep, not dressing up the dog / trivial.

Powerful ideas: This was central to Seymour Papert's initiative (6). That maths could be restructured in both a powerful and engaging way and hence made more accessible to those who had missed out. This does require some considerable, thoughtful input from the teacher in designing a learning environment that works. Examples: Turtle Geometry as designed by Seymour and allies (7); Idit Harel's Instructional Software Design Project (8)

How has this evolved? As it turns out some of Seymour's claims, eg. transfer to other learning domains, were exaggerated.(9) Nevertheless, within more limited domains the ideas remain powerful. And in broader domains you can do a lot with a little. (10)

This requires a lot of work to sort through but I feel some authors and curriculum writers have come close. (11, 12)

Tangible hardware / constructionist software: The hardware has become smaller and more interesting (eg. the micro:bit, the Hummingbird:bit are two favourites amongst many to choose from) and spawned a new movement: The Maker Movement. The software has become more user friendly (block coding) and diverse. I think Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager are on the right track when they identify three game changers: Fabrication, Physical Computing and Coding (13)

The evolution in the hardware/software area has been phenomenal.


I've only recently discovered "Culturally Situated Design Tools" which do offer at least in part a way to make the transition. Ron Eglash is probably the key person here. He goes back a long way and I'm a little bewildered and sad that I didn't discover him earlier. So, it fits well too with the laws of ignorance, we don't know what we don't know (but someone out there might know).

TED talk: The fractals at the heart of African Designs
Legacy items: Teaching math and computing through culture

This approach could be adapted effectively to indigenous ed here in Australia. I've recently used Turtle Art to emulate a NAIDOC poster (here) and listed the skills and dispositions required / learnt.

It needs a lot more work. But it is a very rich area where three different forces are both evolving and intersecting: indigenous culture + STEAM + computer science as a discipline. I think it's doable, each of the 3 big areas enriches and feeds off the others.


(1) Harel, I. & Papert, S. (1990) Software Design as a Learning Environment. Interactive Learning Environment, 1, 1-32
(2) Eglash et al. Culturally Situated Design Tools: Ethnocomputing from Field Site to Classroom (2006)
(3) Pickering, Andrew (1995) The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency and Science
(4) McLean, Ian (Editor). How Aborigines invented the idea of contemporary art (2011)
(5) Indigenous icons activity
(7) Kerr, Bill. Papert's Ideas: Mainly from Mindstorms (1991)
(8) Kerr, Bill. Educational Software: Designed by Kids for Kids (1994)
(9) Tedre, Matti and Denning, Peter. The Long Quest for Computational Thinking (2016)
(10) How to evaluate construction kits: ten design principles
(11) Kafai, Yasmin and Burke, Quinn. Connected Code: Why Children Need to Learn Programming (2016)
(12) Karen Brennan, Laura Peters, and Alexa Kutler. Creative Computing Curriculum Guide (Scratch 3.0)
(13) Martinez, Sylvia and Stager, Gary. Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom (2nd Edition, 2019)

Friday, July 12, 2019

skills and dispositions utilised in simulating a NAIDOC poster using Turtle Art

After attending a NAIDOC event at Araleun Arts Centre I changed the poster I was simulating since I thought I could (eventually) transform all the features to one computer screen. I haven't achieved that yet.

In this blog I want to list the skills and dispositions which I have needed to call upon to do the simulation. This is necessary to do a mapping onto existing curriculum guidelines which in turn is necessary to "sell" the approach to schools that are meant to be guided or bound by particular curriculum guidelines.

I haven't done a rigorous mapping yet. That would require more work since the approach I am advocating here integrates indigenous culture with art with computing (Design Technology) and maths.

Here is the NAIDOC poster, Celebrating NAIDOC Week:

Here is a snapshot of where I have got up to so far with Turtle Art:

I'm not attempting to explain here step by step how I did it. This blog is a listing of the skills and dispositions I think I utilised as I made the simulation. It's only a draft. To do this properly would require a team of people with expert knowledge in those four domains: Indigenous culture, Art, Design Technology and Maths

Circles and dots are part of aboriginal art. This is fairly obvious as is my ignorance of the significance of this for the culture. Ignorance which I need to rectify.

Define the problem: what is my goal here? A digital simulation which employs turtle geometry
Planning a solution or multiple solutions
Breaking the pattern into a series of circles or arcs of circles
Notice the variation in dot size, shape and spacing as well as colour (now implemented)
Draw some scaffolding lines to help organise positions (centre dot, outer circle)

360 degrees in a circle
an arc is part of a circle
angle estimation of arcs b/w 0 and 360
Factors of 36 (18*2, 9*4, 12*3) needed for writing procedures in Turtle Art,
eg. repeat 9[fd bk stuff, then right turn 40] will do one turtle trip around the circle, since 9*40=360

Multiplication (9 times tables, 90 times tables)
Subtraction, eg. if the start of the arc is at -20 and the end of the arc is at -190 then how many degrees is the arc? Answer 170
Division (see below)

pen down for when you want to draw
pen up for when you want to reposition the turtle
sequencing, do the background before the circles
How to draw a circle with the turtle returning to the centre (iteration or repeating)
How to draw a dot and vary it’s size, colour and shade
How to make the dots slightly lumpy (requires some randomisation and a variable to store the heading)
Cartesian co-ordinates xcor, ycor
Print feature to obtain xcor, ycor and heading when required
Positioning the turtle, eg. at the next circle centre
Heading of turtle (required for initial arc positioning)
Screen size x +- 340, y +- 265
Color codes ROYGBIV 0-100
Shade codes darkest 0, lightest 100
Naming procedures, using helpful or meaningful names systematically

Division estimation to determine dot spacing in an arc

eg 1. 6 dots in an arc of 90 degrees
Angle to turn = 90/6 = 15
Procedure: repeat 6 [ forward backward stuff then right 15]

eg 2) 8 dots in an arc of 170 degrees
Angle to turn = 170/8 = 21
Procedure: repeat 8 [ forward backward stuff then right 21]

Guess and test (tweaking): estimate, try it out, modify, test again (iterate, iterate, iterate)
Recording tweaks for efficient comparison, eg. to work out x and y coordinates for circle centre
Solution evaluation eg. the dots lack variation, how can I vary them more? (now implemented, they are slightly lumpy)

Try / fail / try again
Persistence, Flexibility, Tolerance of error / debugging

Turtle Art program

Turtle, Art, Turtle Art by Paula Bonta, Artemis Papert and Brian Silverman (2010)

Turtle Art Software by Gary Stager
This article contains a link to Gary's Turtle Art cards which I found extremely useful.

Monday, July 08, 2019

second iteration of a NAIDOC week poster using Turtle Art

Here is the poster again, or rather part of it:

This time I want to add the pale dots in the background. But how do I do that without them intruding into the centre? It's a matter of sequence. First do the dark blue background. Then do the pale dots all over. Finally, redo a dark blue, filled circle in the centre to overlay the pale dots there.

Here's the procedure for doing the background and pale dots all over:
Dark blue color = 70
Pale dots color = 40

Screen dimension are from  -340 x to +340, from -265 y to +265. I used random to position 100 dots anywhere within those parameters.

pendown (pd) then forward 0 makes the dots

Here's the procedure for filling in the centre with dark blue again over the top of the dots there:

Put the turtle in the centre, set the color and shade, put the pen down (pd) and rotate around 360 degrees drawing the dark blue lines. The pensize was set to 6 earlier.

Here's the final effect, also showing the tops of the procedures which draw the whole thing:

first iteration of a NAIDOC week poster using Turtle Art

This is a first iteration. Yes, it could be improved. I'm only showing part of the poster and only attempting to make a part of it digitally using Turtle Art:

Turtle Art image:

To draw a single dot:
The turtle begins in the centre
forward 100
set color 0 (0 = red)
set pensize 8 (determined by testing different numbers)
forward 0 (this is how to draw a dot)
back 100 (return the turtle to the centre)

To draw a circle of dots:
repeat 360 [single dot then right 1]
But then the dots are too close together, so increase right 1 to right 2 or 4 or 9 (factors of 36)
repeat 40 [single dot right 9]
9*40 = 360 (the turtle makes one complete trip around the circle)

The next diagram just shows the code to do the background and a circle of red dots:

Next step
To draw a slightly bigger circle of orange dots
Duplicate the red circle code
Increase forward 100 to forward 110 and increase back 100 to back 110
Change set color 0 (red) to set color 10 (orange)
The next diagram shows the code for doing the orange circle:

Next: complete the cyan and blue dot circles
Duplicate the code again
Just increase the circle size and change the colours (cyan = 50, light blue = 60)
See the picture at the start

Sunday, July 07, 2019

how to evaluate construction kits: ten design principles

update (July 8): The reason this article resonates so strongly with me is that nearly everything it says also relates to how to teach a good lesson, how to design a great curriculum and how to critique wooden curriculum guidelines such as ACARA's Digital Technology.

I think teachers need a guide to evaluate the enormous array of construction kits that have come on stream: Makey Makey, Arduino, Little Bits, Ozobot, Micro:bit, Chibi Chip, Circuit Playground Express, Lilypad, Bee-Bot, Dash and Dot, Sphero, Edison, Drones – add or choose your favourite

Some Reflections on Designing Construction Kits for Kids by Mitch Resnick and Brian Silverman (2005)

This is a 2005 article. In some respects the technologies have moved on. But it remains an elegant guide as to how to both choose and use technology construction kits for learning powerful ideas. I’ve thrown a few of my thoughts into this summary.

1. Design for Designers

Some kits are too finished and polished. With the best kits, the user can design a wide variety of interesting things, it is not finished or limited to a narrow range of functions.

2. Low Floor and Wide Walls

Seymour Papert put forward the slogan “low floor, high ceiling”. The truth is that with Scratch, under the leadership of Mitch Resnick, wide walls were given preference to the high ceiling. There are some things you can’t do with Scratch, that you could do with other, earlier versions of logo. This has provoked criticism (eg. I believe from Alan Kay commenting on Mark Guzdial's blog but I can't find the link right now) as well as other designs to put the high ceiling back (eg. SNAP by Jens Monig and Brian Harvey, watch this video).

Initially, my position was that I wanted it all: the low floor, the high ceiling and the wide walls. But the truth is that Scratch has scaled dramatically (40 million projects on the Scratch website in 2018) whereas other more powerful versions of logo or etoys haven’t. There are a number of reasons for this but its relative simplicity is one of them.

Since I’m now focused on inclusion for all, STEAM for the 99%, I can appreciate more Mitch Resnick’s argument that too many high level features create hurdles that discourage many users.

3. Make powerful ideas salient – not forced
“We have found that trying to teach powerful ideas directly is not very effective. Rather, our strategy is to provide opportunities for kids to encounter and use powerful ideas as a natural part of design experiences.”
This is a huge issue which I won’t try to cover in a shortish blog post. What are powerful ideas and how are they best taught? I think the approach advocated here by Mitch and Brian is one very good way to introduce kids to powerful ideas. I also think that they do have to be taught, even though that is hard, because by their nature they are not easily learnt.

Ask me for articles about this if interested, they were previously at Learning Evolves but this shut down when wikispaces was abandoned, unfortunately.

4. Support many paths, many styles

The authors here relate a story where one group uses the full features of LEGO-logo (their style is described as “patterners” or “hards”) while another group initially doesn’t (their style is described as “dramatists” or “softs”). The patterners were more comfortable doing the coding. The authors took a hands off, non interventionist approach.
“We worried that the students would miss out on some of the powerful ideas underlying the LEGO/Logo activity. But we didn’t interfere”
The way they tell it, it has a happy ending. The dramatists do end up coding their ferris wheel. But what would the authors have done if that group had continued to avoid the coding?

5. Make it as simple as possible – and maybe even simpler
“One reason (PROBLEM) is “creeping featurism”: advances in technology make it possible to add new features, so each new generation of products has more and more features.”
YES!! Personally, I find creeping featurism incredibly frustrating. It often gets in the way of me doing the task I want to do on the computer, not to mention cursing.

“We have found that reducing the number of features often improves the user experience. What initially seems like a constraint or limitation can, in fact, foster new forms of creativity.”
They then describe two of their designs, the first is a programmable brick with 4 motors and 6 sensors which is the size of a kid’s juice box.The second is a cricket with 2 motors and 2 sensors which is the size of a matchbox.

The simpler Cricket proved to be more popular!
“But once we had developed the scaled-down version, which we called a Cricket, people kept finding more and more creative applications for it, in spite of (or perhaps because of?) its apparent limitations. Over time, we shifted our research effort, making the Cricket the centerpiece of our new construction kits”
Once again the KISS principle wins. This echoes the point above about wide walls displacing the high ceiling.

6. Choose black boxes carefully

Black boxes are chosen to facilitate certain types of learning and to hide other types of learning. Three examples are given:
  • building robots – facilitates the learning of gearing, feedback and control (and hides the learning of how motors work)
  • turtle geometry – facilitates the learning of the geometry of polygons (and hides the learning of how forward requires trigonometry to implement)
  • colour of LEDs – make colour as simply as possible (map it to 0-100) so as to integrate it with other things such as temperature.
7. A little bit of programming goes a long way

KISS works for the 99%
“We continue to believe in the value of everyone learning to program, but we are also well aware of the difficulties of learning to program. Many beginning programmers hit a plateau, able to write simple programs, but unable to go further. We have found that it is difficult to help kids get beyond this plateau. But, over the years, we have begun to realize that being “stuck” on the plateau is not such a big problem: kids can learn a great deal, and benefit a great deal, while they are on the plateau. We have shifted our efforts, trying to leverage what kids can do well, rather than focusing on what they can’t. Kids generally have little difficulty learning to use imperative (action-oriented) commands (like forward and on), simple control structures (like repeat), basic conditionals, and simple procedural abstraction. So we have been developing programming languages and contexts that enable kids to do a lot with those basic elements….

Our new Scratch programming language has similar qualities, enabling kids to manipulate rich media (sounds, music, animations) with simple combinations of commands.”
Once again, they are explaining an important reason for the success of Scratch. If as teachers we become too anxious about forcing higher level thinking then that often backfires and turns kids off coding.

We still want to teach higher level thinking. The challenge is how to develop environments which facilitate internal development of its need, rather than external forcing.

In practice schools just put it into the curriculum (ACARA) and it becomes a sink or swim exercise.

8. Give people what they want – not what they ask for
“Rather than asking users what they want, we have found it more productive to observe users interacting with our prototypes, and try to infer what they want (and don’t want) from their actions. Often, their actions speak louder than their words. It is usually easy to see when users get frustrated, even if they don’t articulate their frustration.”
I see this as a sophisticated and enlightened form of leadership which transcends both a top down preordained blue print approach and a bottom up populist approach. The teacher / designer / leader does know more about the educational goals which are desirable to be achieved. But they do have to pay close attention to both the abilities and desires of their students and factor that into their decision making of what to do next and how to achieve those broader goals in an interesting rather than formalistic manner. This makes teaching an interactive art form.

9. Invent things that you would want to use yourself

I’ve previously called this the “eat your own dog food” approach, a slogan which developed out of the open source movement.
“We aim to build not only new technologies, but also communities of people who can help kids learn with those new technologies. And we have found that it is easiest to build those communities if everyone involved (adults as well as kids) enjoy using the technologies.”
The technologies which I am currently promoting (eg. Scratch3.0, the micro:bit, the Hummingbird:bit, Turtle Art, Makey Makey, App Inventor) are ones that I do enjoy using myself. In the past when I promoted Game Maker I did build games myself with it and used them as part of my teaching.

10. Iterate, iterate - then iterate again

Curriculum guidelines such as ACARA Design Technology put too much emphasis on getting the planning right first before making a product. As the authors argue here it is better to have an idea, build a quick and dirty prototype and then continue to iterate.
“… we put a high priority on “tinkerability” – we want to encourage kids to mess with the materials, to try out multiple alternatives, to shift directions in the middle of the process, to take things apart and create new versions. Kids learn new lessons with each iteration. ...

In developing new technologies, we have found that we never get things quite right on the first try. We are constantly critiquing, adjusting, modifying, revising. The ability to develop rapid prototypes is critically important in this process. We find that storyboards are not enough; we want functioning prototypes. Initial prototypes don’t need to work perfectly, just well enough for us (and our users) to play with, to experiment with, to talk about….

We find that our best conversations (and our best ideas) happen when we start to play with new prototypes – and observe users playing with the prototypes. Almost as soon as we start to play with (and talk about) one prototype, we start to think about building the next….

This process requires both the right tools (to support rapid development of new prototypes) and the right mindset (to be willing to throw out a prototype soon after creating it). Too often, the software-development community seems to follow a paradigm of: plan ahead, design carefully, then implement once ….

We much prefer the paradigm proposed by our colleague John Maeda: imagine, realize, critique, reflect, iterate”

Friday, July 05, 2019

would you like to see a toilet roll dance?

Making the jitterbug with the Hummingbird Bit was another fun project: challenging, quirky, achievable, with an engaging final product.

I do believe that the Hummingbird Bit creates the possibility of STEAM for the 99%

All I needed was a toilet roll, pipe cleaner, cardboard, Stanley knife and an eyelet punch. Everything else was supplied by the Hummingbird Bit Premium Kit: two position servos, 2 mono colour LEDS, one tri colour LED, one light sensor.


One tricky bit was figuring out how the position servos were lined up and how to co-ordinate them. Since they go into opposite sides of the tube with rotors on the outside then the front position for one is at 180 degrees and the front position for the other is at 0 degrees.

This didn’t become clear to me until I wrote some code finding the initial positions with an A button press for one foot and a B button press for the other foot.
After that it wasn’t hard to get the feet moving. I used random over a range of 40 degrees to make the dance more unpredictable.

Coding the LEDs was straightforward. The tri colour LED, wrapped in a pipe cleaner, was for the antenna.

Finally, I added the light sensor to trigger the dance once the light faded. Here is the code which is triggered by placing your thumb over the light sensor:
Related: bee waggle project with the Hummingbird Bit

After finishing this project I left it set up and did other things. Later that day, hours later, as the light was fading I suddenly heard a noise and sensed some lights flashing. The jitterbug had begun to dance again as the light faded!

Thursday, July 04, 2019

David Smerdon

I wanted to register my support and appreciation to Australian Chess Grandmaster David Smerdon for two great articles about his visit to Kenya to research Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Actually, the second article is mainly about chess since he became caught up in the chess enthusiasm there, partly fueled by mini chess being used in the education system. The first article does outline the living conditions in Kenya in some detail.

Read David's articles here:
Kenya, Part 1
Kenya, Part 2

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

bee waggle project with the Hummingbird Bit

I conclude here that this is a better and less expensive pathway for soft technological artistry than LEGO Mindstorms

This is my first Hummingbird Bit project. It was a fun project. The Hummingbird Bit has an outstanding design.

I had to explore the input and output features of the Hummingbird Bit. The important ones for this project were the position and rotation servo outputs.

Then I had to buy the materials and build the bee. Finally, I had to code the bee to point and waggle.

I've also done an evaluation of how it maps onto the ACARA Digital Technology curriculum and how that process could be made more interesting.


The lesson plan provided by BirdBrain suggests that the teacher builds a sample bee beforehand and shows it at the right strategic moment to help the students get on with it. The main challenge in the lesson in the BirdBrain design (where less help is provided) comes in the coding section.

Issues: Hummingbird projects employ craft materials and so end up more diverse and less "blocky" than your typical LEGO projects. Lets call that soft technological artistry, aka STEAM rather than STEM.


If you look at the Attenborough video you see the bee attracts an audience, points, waggles, walks around clockwise, waggles again, then walks around anti-clockwise waggles again etc.

So, initially I opted for the rotation servo because it can move through the full 360 degrees whereas the position servo can only move through 180 degrees.

This, however, was not the best move because of some quirks in transferring code (which makes logical sense or at least I think so) into the physical world. There is a problem here I haven't solved yet but won't go into details because it would take up too much space. Is there a Help Group for such problems, I'll look later.

So, in the end I opted for the position servo despite it's limited functionality in only being able to rotate 180 degrees. The bee turns out to be a smarter coder than me!


Can't help it. From the year 7-8 Design Tech curriculum here are some of the objectives which are covered or could be covered depending partly on how this project is organised in the classroom:
  • Define and decompose real-world problems taking into account functional requirements and economic, environmental, social, technical and usability constraints (ACTDIP027)
  • Design the user experience of a digital system, generating, evaluating and communicating alternative designs (ACTDIP028)
  • Design algorithms represented diagrammatically and in English, and trace algorithms to predict output for a given input and to identify errors (ACTDIP029)
  • Implement and modify programs with user interfaces involving branching, iteration and functions in a general-purpose programming language (ACTDIP030)
  • Evaluate how student solutions and existing information systems meet needs, are innovative, and take account of future risks and sustainability (ACTDIP031)
  • Plan and manage projects that create and communicate ideas and information collaboratively online, taking safety and social contexts into account (ACTDIP032)
I think an interesting way to manage ACARA guidelines would be through Talent Identification as outlined by Jennifer Cross in her PhD. I need to do some more work on that, too. In the process of completing this project I had to exercise
  • Improvisation skills in building the bee (the foam shapes I bought weren't all the right size so I returned to Mad Harry's to buy a pom pom for the bee's head)
  • Planning skills both with regard to buying materials and algorithmic planning for the code
  • Decomposition aka breaking the code into smaller bits, ie. doing the rotation through 180 degrees and the waggle sequence separately and then putting them back together
  • Pattern recognition, there is iteration (repeats) in the code for both the bee waggling and the bee rotating
  • Constraints with regard to choosing either the rotation or position servo and problems I had with the rotation servo
  • Persistence, in particular, in attempting to resolve problems with the rotation servo
In conclusion, I think a strong case can be argued for the Hummingbird Bit as a better pathway for soft technological artistry as well as less expensive when compared with LEGO Mindstorms.


Introductory video showing the capabilities of the Hummingbird Bit

Program, Build, Teach and Resources for Hummingbird Bit and MakeCode

Bee Waggle video and link to lesson plans

in what mode does the bee code?

Bees are smart coders, developed through a painstaking evolutionary process. Bees have been around for 120 million years.

We humans study bees, can learn from them and model their behaviour. Humans (Homo sapiens) have been around for 200,000 - 300,000 years.

In this blog I'll just show the bees behaviour and my emulation of it. In the next blog I'll go into educational detail. I should acknowledge BirdBrain Technologies for their assistance.

Attenborough explains the bee's waggle dance. To watch in YouTube go here

Here's the simulation I did to partly imitate the clever bee:

Saturday, June 29, 2019

educational computing: personal index

In the past 18 months I've resumed my intensive study of educational computing issues, sometimes with a focus on bringing computing to the indigenous and disadvantaged. This is a list of articles on this blog that I've written:

The three game changers and disadvantaged youth

Integrating the digital technology curriculum with indigenous knowledge systems

Digital innovation in secondary education

Indigi digi 2020

Proposal for an Australian Indigenous Version of Culturally Situated Design Tools

My evolving mangle -> ethnocomputing

Skills and dispositions utilised in simulating a NAIDOC poster using Turtle Art

second iteration of a NAIDOC week poster using Turtle Art

First iteration of a NAIDOC week poster using Turtle Art

How to evaluate construction kits: ten design principles

would you like to see a toilet roll dance?

bee waggle project with the Hummingbird Bit

Turtle art: beautiful maths

Making sense of the micro:bit

Arrernte Language app

My educational computing CV update

New microbit affordances

Bushwalking near Alice Springs

The teaching of coding

Write your own apps

Indigenous icons activity

Help Desk


an old quote from Hal Abelson

Inspirational example of making a difference

Tangible digital education theory

Mobile digital educational

Mobile digital educational course update

Bret Victor

Digital Immersion Mongrel Vygotsky

Technology as Trickster revisited

Technology and Indigenous Progress

RACHEL is the answer

Why software might be superior knowledge

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

turtle art: beautiful maths

You might be interested in Turtle Art. The underlying idea is to turn maths into an art form. A turtle is programmed to move around the screen drawing lines or dots of different thickness, colour and shade. It is fairly amazing how beautiful the end products can look. I plan to use it to get kids more engaged with numbers, that numbers can be used to produce art as well as their other uses.

There is a gallery here showing what can be done:

I've been studying the code behind some of the pictures and think I now have a good understanding of how many of the effects can be achieved.

Initially, my idea was that some aboriginal art could be imitated using Turtle Art, eg. dot paintings. Possibly this could be done. But I'm thinking more now that Turtle Art is just an art form in it's own right, with its own characteristics (some things are easy to do, some things harder to do in this form). It's also possible that some or many aboriginal people may not want their art imitated in digital form. I don't really know.
Turtle Art has been developed by Brian Silverman and Artemis Papert. For more information about the sort of software that Brian Silverman has been producing go to the Playful Invention Company Project page

Turtle, Art, Turtle Art by Paula Bonta, Artemis Papert and Brian Silverman (2010)

Turtle Art Software by Gary Stager
This article contains a link to Gary's Turtle Art cards which I found extremely useful. Thanks, Gary!