Thursday, December 21, 2006

guidance, challenge, play

Play is OK but is not enough.

We can't expect children, without guidance, to rediscover the best efforts of the most advanced human minds over thousands of years. But we also don't want to shove it down their throats (rote learning) because that doesn't lead to deep or meaningful understanding, either.

Alan Kay suggests a three point solution to this problem:
1) guidance
2) challenge
3) play
"Human beings (even really smart ones) have a hard time coming up with ideas that are better than mediocre. For example, if you put a piano in a classroom, the children will explore it, and develop a "chopsticks culture" with it, but they won't invent for themselves how to play a keyboard instrument (it took centuries for experts to work it out). But every child can be taught to play the piano. Similarly, the children will not invent or discover important ideas in mathematics by themselves. But every child can be taught a powerful version of the calculus of vectors, and many other kinds of advanced mathematics. And both of these can be taught as a kind of play.

If you give children a medium to explore, they will generally wind up doing stories and games with it (in large part because that is how nature has set all of us up to learn when we are children). For example, Etoys is used widely in a number of places in the world. The places that emphasize "creativity", "discovery learning", "free exploration", etc., all wind up with lots of stuff done by children, but virtually all of it uses simple animations and multiple tasking to act out stories and games. This is no surprise (it took humans 100,000 years to invent math and another 2000 to invent science). If we are interested in having children learn non-obvious powerful ideas -- e.g. in math and science -- we have to scaffold their learning and discovery by careful curriculum design.

This teaching doesn't have to feel like the kids are being put in a lock-step chain gang. It can be much more like teaching and learning an established sport or musical instrument. There are parts that are almost impossible to invent, and thus have to be shown and practised. But with these parts there are large elements of free joyful play.

We suggest using at least 3 phases for each idea.

- The first is a guided creation of something interesting -- for example, how to make a robot vehicle on the screen that will follow edges. This can be done in a number of ways including Socratic leading questions, but basically it is giving the children something they would not think up for themselves. But as David Ausubel pointed out "People learn on the fringes of what they know".

- Now that the children know something, they can be given a specific challenge -- such as "Come up with a car and a road where the car will stay on the road". There are 5 or 6 ways of doing this and most children working singly or in pairs will find one of them. A few of these are elegant, and a few children will find these. Sharing the solutions as demos gives the children a sense that such problems are not only solvable, but there is more than one solution.

- The third stage is open play, where the children now know enough to think of many different fun ways to use what they've just done (and many of their ideas will be in the forms of games or stories). For example, some of the "middle of the road" solutions lend themselves to making a multilane racing track with multiple vehicles and using the random number tile to generate random speeds to make the race difficult to predict."
I like what he is saying, that he uses timely multiple approaches, but also think that the importance of effortful study is being missed out here.


Unknown said...

Gee says that if kids are left to do self-directed discovery learning that they can put a lot of effort going up dead end tracks and so they should be gently guided along productive pathways.

(thats what they told Einstein too)

Unknown said...

Kurt Squire's analysis of Civilization III suggests that "replay" is a game design feature that promotes discovery without forsaking 'guidance.'

Player/learners can 'play - play again' if at first they don't succeed. They alter the next round strategy based on an analysis of their own previous play. And can compare their play to others, in their refinement.

I recently devoted a blog post to this replay concept.
I suggested one step further: that we can build a database of other player/learners' strategies - so each one can learn from the others to improve. I know, in school, they probably call that cheating. But since I'm most interested in adults playing to learn to improve real-world performance, I think it's ok.

What do you think?

Bill Kerr said...

Response to Tony

What I liked about Idit Harel's ISDP approach was the balance it achieved between teacher direction, peer involvement and creative medium.

* What would the Year 3/4 students find hard about fractions?
* What computer screens could you design using LogoWriter to help the Year 3/4 students learn fractions?

The students had a clear, real world task to achieve but there was room for a lot of creative freedom within that task. This was built into the whole way the ISDP framework was designed.

btw Abelson and diSessa have developed a General Relativity simulator in logo in their book Turtle Geometry . Let me know if you want to check it out.

Bill Kerr said...

Here is the link to sandra's blog

The game I know best is chess. The strategies of replay (post mortem) and developing data bases of known versions and patterns (eg. chess books on openings, combinations, positional play, etc.) are well established and essential for improving your play by effortful study

Post mortem (critically going over games) is probably the most important single thing that a chess player can do to improve.

Chess / sims comparison

Sarah said...

I think this is "mediated learning".

Bill Kerr said...

hi sarah,

Thanks for the link to the Structural Cognitive Modifiability site. I've added this approach to the learning evolves wiki, here

Your blog is great, thanks for writing it.