Monday, June 30, 2008

our government

Imagine if we had an (Australian) government that said to us that due to globalisation of the economy, international economic downturn and the climate change problem our government is impotent and the political process is ineffectual

We do
  • lower expectations
  • petrol prices are beyond our control
  • climate change requires extensive international co-operation
  • even though our PM expects everyone around him to be workaholics it is still all too hard
  • we will all have to sacrifice to stop global warming

The Piping Shrike blog is worth a close look:
Rats all at sea
Rudd's agenda
Rats problem with rudd

Sunday, June 29, 2008

scratch music worksheet

I have little musical ability but have written this to introduce my new year 10 students to the range of instruments, use of variables and randomisation using Scratch


Check out the instrument types, notes and drum types in the sound group
  • Instruments 1 – 128
  • Notes 48-72 (piano keyboard)
  • Drum types 35-81

Make these variables:
  • inst_num, short for instrument number
  • note
  • drum_num

The one you’ll need here is pick random


1) will play the same note consecutively on all the instruments (1 – 128)

2) will play all the notes (48-72) consecutively on one instrument at a time

3) will play all the drums consecutively (35 to 81)

4) will play random notes on one instrument (25 times)

5) will play random notes on random instruments (128 times)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

XO pilot in Harlem

... a pilot project to give the XO laptop to one class of sixth-grade students at Kappa IV, a middle school in Harlem
This report provides evidence for a few things about laptop computer use in industrialised or developed countries:

1) Getting the basics right is really important for school use - robust machines, batteries charged, students finding it easy to recover and get on with their work from session to session (from my experience the reliability / recovery / continuity issues are a significant problem even in computer labs where the machines are more protected from damage)

2) Students like the XO for many reasons
  • ease of typing directly, faster and more legible
  • ease of internet research
  • take home for home work, show family, play games etc.
  • small and light can be easily concealed in school bag to and from school
  • cool design
  • ability to take pictures, make videos, play games and chat
  • personal ownership (most important IMO - this transforms everything)
  • novelty
(note that some features of the XO were not significantly utilised, such as the various programming features like scratch, etoys etc.)

3) There are significant ways in which the XO still needs to improve - it's slow, the screen freezes and the cursor is jumpy

4) As we move from computer labs to individual use of computers at schools the computers have to be robust. Individual use with robust computers that can be taken home does work better than tablets (not robust enough) or trollies of laptops (it's a hastle getting them when you want them). There is a huge difference between a robust machine being always available to a student and having to organise use of computers and particular times and places only to find that they might be damaged in some way.

5) Home use is different from school use but is still educationally useful

6) Parents like it

The report doesn't even get to rigorous educational evaluations of the learning benefits. We are still at ground zero, working out the basics of how computers should be used in schools in industrialised countries. But due to dropping prices the computer lab is now a dinosaur and we need to at least begin to think about the concept of one laptop per child in the developed world - don't we?

The main in-school differences between the laptops and the XOs, therefore, were that XOs were always available, always worked, and were student-specific (each student always had his/her own XO). These simple differences had major ramifications for classroom practice

The first and most important ramification was that students used the XOs more than they used the laptops, which means they spent more time doing research, wrote more, revised more, and published more. The second ramification was that the students took much more responsibility for the XOs than they did for the laptops, which means that they that they did not begin work only to find there were missing parts or that the battery was dead. And a third ramification was that the students were less likely to lose their work, not only because they always used the same machine but also because the XO has an automatic save feature that takes the user back to where he/she left off. Because of this, the students felt that they did not spend nearly as much time searching for, saving, moving, or reconstructing previous work as they did when working on the laptops .... (page 4)

Despite the fact that the tablets are assigned to individual students, they are nevertheless subject to several different types of damage, only some of which are due to age and many of which (according to the technology coordinators) happen almost immediately. These include hard drive crashes, dead batteries, cracked cases, cracked screens, lost or damaged pens, loose hinges, and missing keys. Broken screens, missing keys, and dead batteries were the issues most commonly cited for the laptops at the laptop school. On the other hand, in four months, only one screen on the XO broke (due to being dropped) and only one keyboard was torn (but was still usable). Broken screens on the XO can be replaced locally, which is not the case for the laptops or tablets (page 19)
Lots of interesting detail in the full report, which is a must read for educators interested in implementing mobile technology in schools. I picked this up from olpc-news, one laptop per new york city student a success

Here is a self organising map (SOM), from Gary Martin, generated for the report's text (click on it for larger view):

how the Republicans will portray Obama

Christopher Hitchens on how the Republicans will portray Obama:
not as someone of mixed race but as a member of an effete, academic, snobbish elite - they will appeal to american populism
what Obama will have to live down:
his description of white working class america as rednecks, resentful, insecure, who cling to their gun licenses, a patronising attitude to the heartland (an attack already flagged by a Hillary Clinton advisor)

Friday, June 27, 2008

waiting for the perfect scifi writer

Tom Hofmann:
"The best tool for understanding the intersection of technology, society and politics taking place now and in the near future is good science fiction set more or less in the present. Kim Stanley Robinson's "Science in the Capital" trilogy, and Little Brother, being notable examples"
- what really stings about obama and FISA
I think that claim for science fiction is too strong. Tom sort of admits this anyway in the final paragraph of his blog. Science fiction can show us possible techno-scientific-imaginative pathways into the future but usually fails if it tries to make too much objective social commentary. For me, one of Cory Doctorow's better scifi writings was the challenge to Asimov's three laws of robotics. ie. scifi writing is just another area where different ideas battle it out.

It would be great if we had someone who deeply understood technology, (science), society, politics and was also a great writer of futuristic imagination who could create believable characters on the page. We don't, so we have to try to stitch it together the best we can.

For an imaginative futuristic feast I'd recommend the Rudy Rucker trilogy, Software; Wetware; Freeware. This had me up at 3am, terrified of the aliens outside my window.

My all time favourite is Ursula LeGuin's, The Dispossessed , because she can do incredibly good social commentary as well as imaginative writing with great characterisation. (The great characterisation is where many scifi writers disappoint me.) She describes perfectly how groups founded on equality and continually proclaiming equality can generate incredibly sophisticated and devious methods of power seeking

btw Marvin Minsky co-authored The Turing Option (link to some unpublished chapters), with Harry Harrison as an original way to promote his ideas about AI.

scratch sensor board

My school bought ten scratch sensor boards (strictly they are called picoboards but can be used with scratch) and I'm in the first week of using them with a new year 10 class. After installing drivers you use the sensor board to control the activities of scratch sprites.

The students are really enjoying using them. Actually, it's been one of the most enjoyable introductions to a class I've ever had because the students are fascinated with using the board, motivation is very high and all I have to do is show them how to do new tricks with it.

Here's my introductory worksheet, which is based entirely on this getting started pdf
1) Put a slider for each sensor on the stage

How to put different sensors on the stage (slider, light, sound, resistances): Select the sensor type from the drop down menu and then tick the box

2) Display the ScratchBoard watcher

right click on a sensor block > show ScratchBoard watcher

3) Change the way the sprite looks by making noises

4) Make the sprite hop up and down as
a) the light changes (brightness, shadow)
b) as you make noises
c) by moving the slider

5) Make the cat jog on the spot by clapping (the cat has two costumes)

6) Make a sprite spin on the spot by pressing a button

7) Play a drum by touching alligator clips

8) Make a tune by squeezing moist cotton

9) Make an interactive puppet performance (make a puppet, attach alfoil and position alligator clips so they detect arm movement --> use this to create a performance on the stage)
Many thanks to Roland Gesthuizen for initially suggesting this and then taking the trouble to send me a sample board to get started with.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

homosexuality and evolution

For years I've wondered about why homosexuality has not been selected against by evolution. Hence, I was fascinated to discover this article, sexual antagonism, which claims to answer this question from a genetic standpoint:
... the female relatives of gay men produce children at a higher rate than other women do ...

... if the authors are correct, we're not really talking about genes for homosexuality. We're talking about genes for "androphilia," i.e., attraction to men. The importance of the genes lies in what they do not to men but to women, by increasing reproductive output so powerfully that these women compensate for the reduced output among their male relatives. You can't isolate gay men as a puzzle or problem anymore. You have to see them as part of a bigger, stronger, enduring phenomenon.

why top down planning fails

Mr. Konrad Glogowski ... an awesome teacher, works with imagination to find ways to educate without a teacherly voice, he manages to inspire his students stretch themselves, at their zone of proximal development:
I learned that entering the community as a participant allowed me to have conversations with my students that they did not perceive as instructional. Yes, they were talking to Mr.Glogowski about their songs and their reasons for picking them, but it did not feel like school talk ...

… and, of course, the best thing about this was that there was no rubric or evaluation sheet
- Learning to Avoid "School Talk"
This is a little bit like what I have called, "eat your own dogfood" (Cairns ACEC paper, 2006) , not that I was the first to use that expression

Can this be duplicated at another School site, through an education plan or an assessment rubric? No, you need Mr. Konrad Glogowski and the million idiosyncratic threads that make up the way he does things.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

strange times

The launch of a new blog, strange times, and some email discussion with the old friends involved led me to think about the question: Do we live in strange times?

Through the media I hear about strange and usually horrifying events around the world, things that make my normal day to day activities pale into insignificance:

that Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe has withdrawn from the presidential race - amongst all the violence in that country the one that stuck with me was of a woman having her limbs and breasts cut off for supporting the MDC

images of jobless South Africans setting fire to and / or beating refugees from surrounding countries, including Zimbabwe

an american ship laden with relief supplies for people devastated by the cyclone in Myanmar (Burma) waiting for a week and then sailing away because the military junta wouldn't give them permission to enter

ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan

Yes, the times are strange, you might even say, insane. Insane Times.

There is lots of talk and endless hand wringing on the media about what to do about these situations. Someone should intervene it is sometimes said. Morgan Tsvangirai has called for intervention in Zimbabwe but will it happen? Almost certainly not. Maybe there will be more sanction which often end up hurting the poor more. The United Nations is too weak and divided. And it's "not allowed" these days for an imperialist power to intervene against a former anti-imperialist freedom fighter, Mugabe, who has turned into a fascist.

The United States intervened in Iraq and that country is slowly, at great cost, transforming from a fascist dictatorship under Saddam into a purple fingered democracy. Last time I checked the surge was working. So, I do still support the Iraq war.

But people on the whole, in my day to day normal world, do not demand intervention against fascism or genocide. On the whole, they prefer to say "terrible thing" and go about their affairs - be it teaching, shopping, watching the footy, playing with the kids, paying off the mortage, planning their retirement etc. The "civilised world" is insulated from the oppressed world, often hard working and anxious about its issues but also, in the main, comfortable and complacent about the real issues of suffering humanity.

Some donate to World Vision (a band aid) or like me support more developmental approaches like the OLPC. But it's all changing far too slowly for my liking. I don't want to stand by and watch on TV while women have their breasts and legs cut off for supporting democracy. Something more urgent is required.

I think we need a political leadership that will stand up to fascism and genocide both locally and internationally. Whatever it takes. Otherwise, we are not even civilised, we still live in an age of barbarism. We have not got the leadership we need and we seem to be moving in that direction at a glacial pace while large parts of humanity suffer terribly. My basic contention is that we have the resources to solve all of the world's basic problems - genocide, fascism, energy, poverty. But we lack the political know how or will to achieve that. So, for these reasons, I also believe we live in Strange Times.

Monday, June 23, 2008

three differences in Arahuay

from Ivan Kristic, astounded-in-arahuay :

three differences that the OLPC has made to Arahuay, Peru (enhanced communication, sharing and legitimisation of school amongst parents):
As there are few roads in and around Arahuay, the children don’t communicate much outside of school — with anyone. The teachers started independently pointing out to Mr. Navarro that this was changing once the laptops arrived: kids started talking to each other outside of school hours over the mesh, and working together more while in school. They started talking a lot more with each other in person, and conquered their previously paralyzing fear of strangers.

The second thing, Mrs. Cornejo jumped in, is that the kids used to be pretty selfish, an unsurprising consequence of the abject poverty in much of Peru. It’s not that the kids are starving, it’s just that they don’t have very much; what they do have, they’re reluctant to share. With the laptops, the kids had to turn to each other to learn how to use them. Then they realized it was easy to send each other pictures and things they’ve written — and it became commonplace. The sharing, asserts Mrs. Cornejo, extended into the physical world, where once jealously-guarded personal items increasingly started being passed around between the kids, if somewhat nervously.

“Finally,” opened Mr. Navarro, and hesitated. He gave me another long look, clearly unsure if to proceed. I put on my best smile, and assured him it’s exactly the things he would hesitate to tell me that I want to hear most. He cleared his throat, and in a conspiratorial, low voice — despite the fact we were in an empty room in the town hall — explained he was sure, in the beginning, the pilot would fail.

“Children’s fathers used to seethe with fury when the laptops were passed out, because the kids no longer wanted to help work in the field all day,” he continued.

Mr. Navarro speaks in slow, measured sentences. He is thoughtful and confident, both reminders — along with his weathered face — of being, for many years, foremost a teacher.

“I didn’t know how we’d stop the fathers from revolting and making the kids return their XOs,” he says, shaking his head slightly. “The kids solved the dilemma for me: they taught their fathers how to use the Internet and a search engine.”

“Then they started showing them the work they were doing for school. The reports they wrote, the pictures they took, the notes they compiled. And the fathers had actual proof that their kids were learning,” he concluded.

The fathers, I later heard, all decided an education could stop their children from having no choice but to work the field all day as they did. With the laptops in place, the school was no longer a black box whose efficacy had to be taken on faith: the kids could prove they were learning. Schooling had gone open source. So their parents started having them help out only when necessary, and left them to read and write on their XO the rest of the time
Nothing else could make these three differences for a fraction of the cost. Also check out the magnificent photos at Ivan's blog. Carla Gomez Monray complements Ivan's account of Arahuay with an earlier very detailed, factual report from when they were first introduced. (OLPC Peru/Arahuay)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

on the first anniversary of Howard's Northern Territory intervention

Yesterday there were protest demonstrations marking the first anniversary of the previous Howard government's intervention into Northern Territory aboriginal communities ... and the continuation of that policy, at least, in part, by the Rudd government

I heard one aboriginal protester describe the situation where some remote communities are reducing in size as aboriginal people migrate to urban centres as "ethnic cleansing" of the bush. This was reported in the news on TV and not contradicted.

"Ethnic cleansing" of Australian indigenous people. I heard this and was incredulous.

These things stand out to me as necessary in the short term before the "indigenous problem" can be solved in Australia:

1) Aboriginal people need meaningful jobs, not handouts or pretend CDEP (Community Development Employment Projects) jobs. Welfare dependency is the real killer, which fuels drug abuse, child abuse and the rest of it. If meaningful work cannot be found in remote communities (and often it can't) then it's not a bad thing that those people move to areas where there is meaningful work.

2) White people, like me, need to follow the lead of aboriginal leaders like Noel Pearson and face the fear of being "culturally insensitive" and begin somehow, in some way to contradict ridiculous bullshit such as the "ethnic cleansing" remark above

3) At a policy level aboriginal people need to be treated the same as everyone else and not treated with kind hearted indulgence. This needs to apply across the board, to school kids who wag lessons in urban centres or young men who get drunk, steal cars, riot and rape young girls in the Aurukun. See my previous blogs, australia's shame and it's beyond had in aurukun

4) Is there systemic corruption operating at the level of the welfare bureaucracy? According to people such as Noel Pearson and Wesley Aird (see link below) there is and this needs to be exposed and corrected. This is where I lack confidence in the "nice" Mr Rudd, who promoted "sorry" as his PR brand.

Here are some quotes from recent articles I have found in support of these positions:
In June last year, when controversy over the newly announced Northern Territory intervention was at its height, lawyer Noel Pearson slayed its critics with a powerful argument: "Ask the terrified kid huddling in the corner, when there's a binge-drinking party going on down the hall, ask them if they want a bit of paternalism," he said. "Ask them if they want a bit of intervention, because these people who continue to bleat without looking at the facts, without facing up to the terrible things that are going on in our remote communities, these people are prescribing no intervention, they are prescribing a perpetual hell for our children."
- "Paternalism" helping black children by John Ray
The expectation among Aborigines is that they do not have to work, and the welfare model that was supposed to be temporary became permanent when Aborigines were exempted from the obligation to seek work. They were free to pursue land claims, which left them stranded on uneconomic land seeking rent from mining companies, and to practise self-determination, which left them at the mercy of those who controlled the purse strings within their own communities, not to mention an army of "helpers"......

The key to the post-intervention is economics. No matter how inventive public servants are in re-labelling employment programs, the market will not come to remote communities. If people are to locate near a labour market they will come to town and lest they end up in town camps and re-create the appalling behaviour of outstations then they will have to be managed. The short-term adjustment is akin to a refugee problem. The present policy is to hope or pretend that there is something innovative going on out there. There is not; the reason for the emergency response is that mayhem is going on out there.
- Jobs only way forward by Gary Johns
The old style of administration in indigenous affairs has been marred by a game of dishonesty played by both sides of the cultural chasm. The game is played where there is a benefit to be obtained by one side so long as it is not questioned by the (usually all-too-compliant) non-indigenous accomplice. The perpetrator of this trick is hiding behind a "cultural curtain" and is telling non-indigenous Australians to have absolute trust in everything they are told by an Aboriginal person because, so the scam goes, anything less would be offensive or culturally inappropriate. It establishes a form of behaviour whereby a notion of culture, be it romanticised or perverse, is given greater importance than the lives of human beings.

Such behaviour is dangerous at a societal level. There are millions of mainstream Australians who want to believe in and support the indigenous cause. But offering support without questioning the real priorities is not helpful. Many have been tricked into directing energy into peripheral issues. Instead of being angry when they see shocking images of poverty, neglect and abuse, so many people have allowed themselves to be convinced by high-profile Aboriginal people that they should instead be focusing on representation and some sort of treaty. It is time for mainstream Australia to be critical of the old messages.

At the policy level, the effects are devastating as each year millions of dollars are wasted either on or by indigenous people who trade off their culture for personal or family benefit. Sadly, many non-indigenous bureaucrats either contribute to, or won't do anything about, this corruption. The defence is a misguided belief that such behaviour is a matter internal to the indigenous community or somehow is founded in Aboriginal culture.
- Great Aboriginal Con by Wesley Aird
In a media release on April 30, Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said: "The Government is strongly committed to reforming CDEP and will be taking an evidence-based approach to producing a new system that requires people to take up job opportunities available in their local area."

The minister's statement strongly suggests yet another move forward to the past. While her statement speaks of requiring Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders to take up job opportunities, it is silent on what is to be done in those cases (most of them) where no such job opportunities exist.

The Rudd Government, in this area as in several others, is seeking to prepare the ground for a lapse back into the failed policies of the past.
- Pretend jobs hold back Aborigines by John Stone

Friday, June 20, 2008

letter from George Siemens

I wrote this comment about George Siemens at Mark Nichols blog:
I agree that George is a nice guy, he encouraged me as a critic, but feel he had done us a disservice by prematurely producing a new theory of learning before doing the hard hards of integrating the other, older theories - which I believe makes connectivism superfluous. I see that as another aspect of the attention economy
George has replied at Mark's blog with this letter quoted in full below. I'm just putting this on my own table for now as something I ought to respond too at some point, not sure when, due to other commitments. I encourage others interested in connectivism and web2.0 / learning2.0 theory to study the full discussion especially between Mark and George starting here, Solid Thinking: a challengable position on learning2.0 and the incumbent

Great to see some substantial debate on learning theory, going deeper than what normally happens in the blogosphere, thanks to Mark and George.

Hi Bill,

As I've stated numerous times, I appreciate your viewpoints. I've learned much through our previous discussions. Our interactions has helped me to personally define my own perspectives and viewpoints. I hope you'll have time (or interest) to participate in the upcoming Connectivism and Connective Knowledge online course we're offering in fall:

One of the more consistent claims you have directed at connectivism is that a) it addresses what is already addressed by existing theories and b) that I haven't done my homework with regard to other theories and have prematurely offered a counter perspective.

As much as this may shock you, I disagree on both accounts :). First, I don't think existing address what happens in a networked world (I'm less interested in "connectivism" surviving as a concept than I am in educators rethinking teaching and learning in a world where we interact in significantly different ways with information and each other...I've posited connectivism and one notion, others have suggested networked learning more broadly (particularly de laat, Koper, CR Jones), Brown suggestions "navigationism", and Cormier more recently offers rhizomatic knowledge). My premise is still largely unchanged, though I personally wish I would have used different language in my initial post as sections have become a distraction to the real issue. I believe that our ability to access, create, disseminate, co-create, alter, and multi-create (i.e. in different media - sorry I don't have a better word) information substantially alters learning. My logic is really quite simple: information is the foundation of knowledge and learning. When we do different things with information, the systems built on information, namely knowledge and learning, require some degree of rethinking. Perhaps the rethinking is on level with what Mark suggests - i.e. subsume new tools and processes into existing models of education. Or perhaps the required rethinking is more radical (as I would suggest).

Regardless of approach, we can glean much from existing theories of learning - namely the situatedness, sociability, and contextual dimensions of learning. Can we draw from the work of theorists such as Vygotsky, Bruner, Dewey, Papert, Leont'v, Wenger, Lave, Piaget, Engestrom, and others? Of course we can. But by drawing on their work and by integrating disparate thoughts and ideas about distributed cognition, activity theory, tool-mediated interactions, social networks, etc., we end up with something new. And, I choose to call this connectivism :).

Your second point stems partly from what I addressed above (though your criticism here is slightly moderated from what you have previously offered in that I created a theory without being aware of existing theories). This is a frighteningly obvious thing to say, but we have not reached the end of theorizing about learning. We are very much at the beginning. Disciplines that have hundreds, even thousands of years of discourse(philosophy and religion come readily to mind), have created a rich knowledge base where divergent and integrative ideas have been put forward. If one doesn't like Plato, they can have Kant. Or if Descartes is not to your liking, go with Nietzsche. In educational theory we have a shallow brand of thought, easily categorized into three broad streams (with corresponding epistemological roots): behaviourism, cognitivism, and constructivism. As the edtech field matures, I suspect we'll continue to see a diversification of thought about learning theory.

Does one theory have to be declared "the winner"? Maybe personally (i.e. each person selects the theory and world view that resonates with their thinking - as Mark has done by declaring social constructivism as his preferred view of learning). But I don't think we can have one theory for the entire school system and for all learners. As always, context is king.

Beyond these few simple comments, I have written about these concepts at length in other forums (of which you are aware), so I suspect there is limited value in simply repeating my previous claims.

As always, Bill, a pleasure chatting :).


I went back and quickly reread some of my old blog and wiki commentaries about connectivism as a starting point to update my thoughts. The following still seem relevant to me at this point:

which radical discontinuity?

"pipe more important than the contents" revisited

A CHALLENGE TO CONNECTIVISM (connectivism conference presentation)

UPDATE (21st June, 2008):

After reading all of George's comments I've left this comment at Mark's blog:
Theories of learning ought to be thought about in terms of learning *something*. That something is sometimes learning about learning theories but to be authentic (fair dinkum) I think there should be some element in there of children learning about their world. One feeling I have about George's writing here (and earlier when I read quite a lot of George, including most of his book) is the tendency to cite lots of authors and their ideas but IMO it lacks the nitty gritty of a real practice to theory spiral

By contrast when I read Minsky he talks about kids learning to build with blocks; Piaget talks about children changing their knowledge structures over time about the amount poured from one glass of water to another of different shape; Papert always includes anecdotes about his experiences with children and his own learning, etc. These authors theorise a lot as well but they convey their message through the full theory / practice spiral

The point that Mark has raised with regard to the scope of web2.0 / learning2.0 / connectivism is what I call slow, deep thinking. Do they help in that regard?

Leigh mentioned, and is working with, Konrad Glogowski who I feel has deeply addressed the question of children learning how to write well using a combination of blogging and Vygotskian ideas. eg. it takes 18 months of developing an environment of trust for creative writing to emerge.

Although learning theories can address any or all types of learning I think we also need ways to identify which knowledge is more important --> something which I believe was not done in the initial formulation of the connectivism theory. Everyone here seems to agree that slow, deep thinking is important but that can be easily forgotten in the hurly burly of School. I've read articles about powerful learning which fail to identify why it is powerful. (does world of warcraft really lead to powerful learning, what are our criteria?) So what knowledge is important or powerful? How do we identify that in a way that is more significant than just someone's opinion? For me that question has been best answered in fairly obscure references by alan kay about non-universals.

From anthropological research of over 3000 human cultures, he presented two lists, the first were universals, the things that all human cultures have in common. This list included things like:

* language
* communication
* fantasies
* stories
* tools and art
* superstition
* religion and magic
* play and games
* differences over similarities
* quick reactions to patterns
* vendetta, and more

He then presented a list of non universals, the things that humans find harder to learn. This list was shorter and included:

* reading and writing
* deductive abstract mathematics
* model based science
* equal rights
* democracy
* perspective drawing
* theory of harmony
* similarities over differences
* slow deep thinking
* agriculture
* legal systems

I think a good test of a modern learning theory is its ability to address the non universal list - and connectivism or web2.0 or learning2.0 doesn't throw much light at all in that direction. I think that some other theorists at least do address those issues, eg. Papert, Vygotsky

does web2.0 deliver sustained conceptual discourse?

Mark Nichols:
I think too often we as edubloggers either encourage or else are encouraged to think in terms of revolution, to overthrow the shackles of "hierarchy, control and centralisation" so as to achieve a community-based series of self-expression and negotiation of truth. However I see substantial evidence (in some ‘e’ critics such as Bauerlein and Jeanneney, but especially in the broader educational works of Mezirow, Gardner, Ramsden, Biggs, Brunner, Palmer, Tubbs, Brighouse, Dewey) that the latter will not necessarily lead to better or sufficiently comprehensive educational outcomes to develop conceptual reasoning.

Citing Freire and Illich are not useful counters to this position unless a coherent argument can be made about how formal education seeks to subjugate students in ways that exploit them. Freire in particular is concerned with issues of social justice; where is this absent in our incumbent schooling system? Is it really correct to suggest that formal education is based on the banking concept? Take another look. Illich, another oft-cited critic, sought to reduce the culture of compulsion in formal education so that its value would be better appreciated....

Knowledge ‘distributed across a network’ is great if you’re looking for answers, but it seems less useful if you’re trying to establish the skills necessary to reflect on them, express yourself logically through the preparation of a complex argument, engage in sustained debate, or explore the tension of ideas. The network simply cannot sustain conceptual discourse. The latter is too complex, abstract and fraught with the potential for miscommunication and imbalanced representation. Radical ideas are too easily dismissed, and their owners too easily ignored.
- Solid Thinking
- also read the substantive comments by George Siemens at Mark's blog
I've updated some references in an old blog, our intelligence, based on some recommended reading by Mark.

In thinking about my own failure to participate fully in this discussion compared with Mark who actually reads Dewey, Freire, Illich and more and wants to patiently debate, I came across this extract from Papert's The Children's Machine (Ch.1: Yearners and Schoolers):
Educational innovators even in the very recent past were in a situation analogous to Leonardo's (referring to Leonardo's aeroplane). They could and did formulate bold perspectives: for example, John Dewey's idea that children would learn better if learning were truly a part of living experience; or Freire's idea that they would learn better if they were truly in charge of their own learning processes; or Jean Piaget's idea that intelligence emerges from an evolutionary process in which many factors must have time to find their equilibrium; or Lev Vygotsky's idea that conversation plays a crucial role in learning. Such ideas have always appealed to Yearners; they resonate with a respectful attitude toward children and a democratic social philosophy

Sadly, in practice they just wouldn't fly. When educators tried to craft an actual school based on these general principles, it was as if Leonardo had tried to make an aeroplane out of oak and power it with a mule." (pp. 15-16)
My frustration with a lot of this discussion stems from my belief that most of it has been better said before. I don't want to participate in discussion where edu-bloggers lament their failing ability to do deep reading due to their excessive participation in the blogosphere (see Nicholas Carr article: Is Google Making Us Stupid?)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Petrosian (former world chess champion)

Tigran Petrosian, World chess champion 1963-69, interests me as a chess player because his games appeared to be so positional, so much the opposite to my patchy attempts at sharp tactics. So, I bought a book of his games, written by Peter Clarke, for enlightenment. The way I practice is to hide Petrosian's moves and try to guess them. I manage to get about one in three right, on a good day.

This passage from Clarke's book was inspiring:
(Petrosian is) one who does what is needed to meet the requirements of a position and, on the whole, makes no attempt to impose his own wishes on it

... the basic rule observed by Petrosian is flexibility ... He strives to obtain the maximum co-operation and efficiency from his forces, estimating this to be more important than attacking or even taking the initiative
Clarke contrasts Petrosian with another world champion, Tal in this way:
Of the three elements that comprise chess - force, space and time - Tal has a heightened awareness of the last ...(whereas) Petrosian's fundamental strategy consists in the fight for and conquest of key squares - and space in general
I realise that my attempts at sharp forcing tactics sometimes represent anxiety on my part. I'm afraid that I won't know what to do or I might be bored in a closed equal position so I push too hard too early. I'm trying to correct this by keeping calm and let the position develop through its own internal logic, rather than impose my will artificially on it.

arrange these fractions from largest to smallest

Today I took a glass and a jug of water into the classroom and asked students to pour a certain fraction into the glass.

I started the lesson by writing these fractions / numbers on the white board:

1/2, 1/4, 1/3, 3/4, 2/4, 2/3, 1, 0

and asked students to arrange them from highest to lowest

No one seemed to be able to do it so I introduced my glass of water teaching aid early into the lesson. Most of the students could manage pouring 1/2, 1/4, 3/4, 1 (and 0) but for the others many had difficulty. They couldn't do it.

I then asked if anyone could come out the front and show how to do 2/3 rds or 3/4 by drawing on the white board. With some assistance - this took a while - one student showed the rest of the class how to split the glass into the correct number of equal parts and then shade in the desired number of parts. Eventually everyone seemed to get it, by that I mean everyone could explain in words about dividing the glass into (denominator) equal parts and then shading in (numerator) number of parts

I then moved onto doing fifths and eighths and it seemed to be understood. Students could say what to do in words.

Going back to my original question, some students could now arrange the fractions in their correct order. But there was still some confusion. One student asked: "Why is 2/3 great than 2/4?". I dealt with that by asking someone to show 2 glasses on the white board, one with each of the fractions.

At this stage I haven't broached anything such as lowest common denominator. I see that as an algorithm that produces a correct answer without understanding.
... studies in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia showing that most primary school children do not link what they learn about fractions in mathematics classrooms with situations involving fractional quantities in their personal worlds. For example, many children who correctly answered pencil-and-paper fraction questions such as 5/11 x 792 = q could not pour out one-third of a glass of water, and of those who could, only a small proportion had any idea of what fraction of the original full glass of water remained
- Nerida Ellerton and M. A. (Ken) Clements
- Fractions: A Weeping Sore in Mathematics Education
This is part 5 of a series about teaching fractions and meta-dialogues:
"a dialogue with students which involves meta cognition (thinking about their own thinking) and meta-conceptions (students thinking about their own knowledge and understanding of concepts)"
earlier posts:
meta-dialogues are hard to establish
initiating a meta-dialogue
fractions in real life
redefining power relationships in the classroom

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

understanding maoism through the nepal revolution

Maoists have come to power in free elections under international supervision for constituent assembly in Nepal, as the leading party of a coalition:
Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) 3,145,519 votes; 30.52%
Nepali Congress 2,348,890 votes; 22.79%
Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) 2,229,064; 21.63%
People who don't understand maoism will be surprised at their popularity inNepal.

I visited China in 1972 (before Mao died) and have read a lot of Mao, especially his philosophical works. Mao's essay On Contradiction (and related essays) has had a huge influence on how I understand the world, the dialectical materialist world view.

Here are some of the things, from an interview with maoist leader Prachanda that may surprise:

Support for democracy and multi party competition:
We have proposed to form a republican front of all the democratic forces, not just from the left wing but also from the liberals and radicals. We want to unite all the republican forces in the country against the feudal autocracy ...there should be multi-party competition. We came to this decision through intensive debate within our party. Our understanding is that without multi-party competition a modern society can not be built. But there is one very important issue for us: who is this democracy and multi-party system for? We have witnessed many different democratic systems which do nothing to help the majority of the population, but just few classes or regional groups. On the contrary, we want democracy to be really to benefit the masses.
Independent thinking:
We are not dogmatists, we are not sectarians, we are not traditionalists. We want to be ever more dynamic, adapting to our environment, understanding modernity ... We have to apply marxist science in a very new context, understanding social, economic and also technological changes, without dogmatism and without sectarianism. We are trying to develop a completely new concept, different from what happened in the past century. When we are in the government, our experiment will surprise everybody. But to do that, we need the support of all the masses from abroad. That's why I want to appeal to all the anti feudal and and anti imperialists throughout the world. In Nepal we are at an historical turning point, the poor are fighting against autocracy, for justice and equality. Even if we are a small country in South Asia, we think that our revolution can have impact all over the world. We are fighting not only for Nepal but for the masses of the entire world. We need help and the contributions from everybody
Support for the development of capitalism in a feudal society:
Tourism could also create enormous income for us, thanks to our marvellous mountains, our historical and religious sites and our astonishing natural parks. Not to mention our agriculture, the land in Terai is potentially very fertile With good government we can become one of the richest country in South Asia. But we need transport, hi tech and scientific projects, infrastructures, and a lot of courage. In ten years we'll change the whole scenario, rebuilding this country to prosperity. In 20 years we could be similar to Switzerland. This is my goal for Nepal ... We cannot ignore the whole process of liberalization in the world. So, we will apply mixed economics to this country. Right now, we are no saying that we plan a total socialist economy, though we will not blindly follow western liberalism. We have some national priorities and we will welcome foreign investors, using capital from abroad for the well being of Nepal
Nepali maoists are not terrorists. There is a monumental difference between popular armed struggle against oppressive regimes and the terrorist methods used by groups such as alqueada who target civilians intentionally. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) should be removed from the US government listing of terrorist organisations. (source)

It also seems clear to me that the Nepali maoists succeeded because they used flexible, non dogmatic analysis and tactics based on the actual conditions in Nepal.

More regular up to date information at Revolution in South Asia blog

Sunday, June 15, 2008

redefining power relationships in the classroom

This is part 4 of a series about teaching fractions and meta-dialogues:
"a dialogue with students which involves meta cognition (thinking about their own thinking) and meta-conceptions (students thinking about their own knowledge and understanding of concepts)"
earlier posts:
meta-dialogues are hard to establish
initiating a meta-dialogue
fractions in real life

My quest for meta-dialogue in teaching fractions has merged with the broader issue of redefining power relationships between myself as teacher and my students. This is as it must be in the modern world, where the "cool" thing to say is "school sux" and "maths is boring". Not only students say this, School (and teachers) have many critics.

Students are going to be reluctant about revealing what they know and especially what they don't know about fractions, or anything else, unless they feel some sense of personal ownership of the physical and psychological space - including the meanings that are transacted, the humour, encouragement for speaking your thoughts etc. What is the word for this overall environment? I'm not sure - trust, empowerment, rapport, engagement? Whatever you call it, it is the secret ingredient (xxx) to the successful classroom / teacher. If it is present you can feel it shortly after entering the room.

And that ingredient (xxx) is (initially) built through wide ranging negotiations that recognise (some, not all) student rights and are perceived to be fair and reasonable. I say some student rights because the teacher retains overall responsibility for educational goals.

It works much better in a primary or middle school environment where the teacher has the same group of students for multiple lessons. In my case it's a year 8 group for homegroup, maths and science. Increasing of contact time is one essential factor for improving teacher-student relationships.

What NOT to do:

Don't stay in the regular routine of teacher out the front lecturing and setting exercises through a textbook. But it remains OK to do this sometimes, particularly in the early stages of getting to know a group. I'm not arguing for complete negation of traditional methods

Retain some traditional control:

As a teacher of maths and science I have my own agenda. I am not aiming for student empowerment in some generalised sense based on their current understanding of the world. My goal is to engage students deeply in maths and science activities and learning, which I see as important for them.

Sometimes I do find it necessary to being strict and insisting that students stay "on task". I also think that students sometimes use "fun" as a means of avoiding things they don't understand and at their current stage don't see much point in learning. For example, recently I was doing a more or less traditional sort of lesson about converting improper fractions to mixed numbers and there was all sorts of avoidance through fun happening in the room. When I got strict about it I found that only 2 students in the class knew how to do it. Since I have my own agenda and beliefs (that fraction knowledge is important) I insisted in authoritarian fashion that we deal with it.

What student's have pushed for, at this stage:

Student's asked me if they could go outside and I agreed but before we go out I negotiate with them an educational activity that we can do outside. Everyone has to agree, otherwise we don't go out.

The first time we went out, each student had to find a "real life fraction" outside (fractions in real life). After that I promised the class I would take them outside at least once a week. The second time we did a penalty shootout competition where each student had to measure their best effort. The going outside activities have been very successful in terms transforming the class attitude to maths. "Maths can be fun".

The most difficult issue for me has been some students saying they have become sick of using Scratch. I realise now that I pushed it too hard and in a didactic fashion at the start, rather than letting them discover and explore it more in combination with other software. (which is what I would do if I had my time over again). So, at this stage I have backed off a little on Scratch use and we are exploring other software as well. This is not something I really want to do from an educational perspective (so I haven't stopped using Scratch altogether) but something I feel I have to do since the reaction against Scratch use has been strong and persistent.

New, different things I have encouraged:

I have continually invited students to come out the front, borrow my markers and write exemplars or answers to questions on the white board. eg. "Who can write an improper fraction on the board?" I push those who haven't written much on the board to have a go.

I have asked my students to teach fractions to students from another class. Initially, they only had to administer a pre-test but then step by step I ask them to take more responsibility. They are now at the stage of writing their own fraction questions and programming them in Scratch.

At first students liked the idea of administering a test to other students but as I asked them to do more teaching there was some resistance. We discussed this. The best I could do was to explain my position that I felt being a teacher was one of the best ways of learning. Some students still don't like the responsibility so the acceptance is grudging. Nevertheless, I recently noticed some stats on this about which methods promote understanding, quoted in a comment by Tortuga on OLPC news:
By compiling various research sources a breakdown was arrived at that looks like this: Lecture (5%); Reading (10%); Audio Visual (20%); Demonstration (30%); Discussion group (50%); Practice by doing (75%) and Teaching others (90%). This reinforces the concept that students need to be turned into teachers.
Another thing I have done a little of and which I might do more of is change the seating arrangements around, eg. put the table in a square with everyone facing inwards for a good group discussion environment.

It's a complex dance of when and over what issues to concede teacher power and when to exert teacher power in striving to develop students to become more engaged and deeply involved in maths learning.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

confessions of a fundamentalist

confessions of a fundamentalist, part one (OLPC news)
confessions of a fundamentalist, part two (OLPC news)
Berkman lunch, Walter Bender, Sugar labs by David Weinberger (some interesting parts there from the talk that are not included in the OLPC news article)

Walter Bender's talk is a good expose about getting the philosophical balance right between free software and learning in the here and now, that kids learning is the end goal and free software can be much more the means than it has been up to now in a Proprietary dominated world.

But in the rhetorical flourish of using Nicholas Negroponte's provocative words to obtain a catchy title for his talk I think Walter falls into a trap. Walter says free and open source (FOSS) is not fundamental but learning is. He then goes onto associate learning with constructionism (no other theory is mentioned) and so it begins to sound like constructionism is the fundamental "correct" learning theory.

Philosophically, we need to reject all fundamentalism. Physicists are still looking for new fundamental particles.

Learning theory is a mess. I have long argued that there is no unified learning theory and it is best to cherry pick.
There is no unified learning theory
from never mind, to structured mind, to messy mind
learning theory evolves (wiki)

This page of the wiki outlines some of the many learning theories (incomplete). Constructionism, as explained by Papert, is a great learning theory but certainly not the only one worth examining.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Following the instructions on Tony Forster's blog (sharing with sugar) I downloaded the XO-LiveCD-080321.iso image, burnt an image CD and booted the latest OLPC software on my PC. Thanks Tony.

This partially solves the problem of the difficulty of educators in the developed world investigating the potential of the OLPC software and Sugar

I was pleasantly surprised to see how many different activities are now available, ranging from Paint, Write, Chat, music composition, multiple programming environments (Scratch is now on) and lots of games. I counted 41 different Activities.

I plan to take a couple of the Live CD's to school and see if we can setup Sugar collaboration there, as Tony has done on his home network (connecting a networked PC to his OLPC machine)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sugary collaboration (joel stanley, tom hoffman)

I didn't grok the ability of Sugar to transfer collaboration to other hardware. Joel Stanley explains how much of the collaborative functionality built into the OLPC can be transferred via Sugar to other hardware provided you have a network of some type (from a recent email chat). This increases the lure of schools purchasing trollies of cheap laptops such as the EEE ("ultramobile" PCs). Thanks also to walter for leaving a similar comment about part of this on my earlier blog post.

Question: Alternative scenarios (to having OLPCs) might include the plethora of cheap laptops now coming on stream, initiated by the EEE -- but without mesh network and sugar etc it's going to be a very different experience, isn't it?

Joel: No.

Sugar =! XO. And Sugar is where the collaboration occurs. Your platform can be any computer, as Sugar will run on any computer.

What you think of as the "mesh" is really a software layer in Sugar that enables connection between to computers, and is quite distinct from the 802.11s meshing wireless technology.

Sugar's collaboration software layer can run atop any network layer - a wired network, current wireless (802.11b/g) or up and coming tech (802.11s "mesh" wireless). The collaboration experience does not degrade by using traditional tech; infact, it improves due to increased reliability over mesh - a technology which is still and evolving and is yet to mature.

Note that students who use XO's in classroom or school wide deployments will not use the mesh wireless at school - it doesn't scale beyond 20ish machines (yet - this is a work in progress, the number goes up as the software develops).

(Don't let this detract from the awesome technological feat that is the 802.11s mesh - it enables groups of up to 20 students to turn on their laptops while sitting under a tree, or in an random classroom, to form a network without any other infrastructure. This is a handy piece of tech, but it is not essential to the Sugar experience.)

Question: Do you know on what platforms sugar currently runs?

Joel: provides an overview.

To summarise: current versions of the major Linux distros can run Sugar as it's desktop. Ubuntu 8.04, Fedora 8, Debian Unstable.

Ubuntu 8.04 provides a version of sugar that is close to - but not exactly the same as - the Update.1 or build-703 images for the XO.

Debian has more up to date packages in "unstable", which isn't a released distribution of Linux, but is more than stable for our purposes.

Question: So my school can buy a trolley of EEE laptops for my class, run ubuntu / sugar and sit out under the tree and chat? There's gotta be a catch

Joel: The 'sit under a tree' model is how we describe the XO's when operating without a wireless access point. This uses the unique mesh technology.

As it stands, your school can buy a trolley of laptops, and run Sugar on Linux with all the collaboration enabled, /iff/ they can connect to a wireless access point.

Some terms that will help us have this discussion:

mesh - a low level wireless networking protocol that enables laptops to form a network without the assistance of an Access Point. Enabling the 'under a tree' model. Unique to the XO (at this point).

collaboration - a fundamental part of Sugar that enables multiple users to share activities. Runs on top of /any/ network - wireless LAN, wired LAN, internet, etc., and therefore any hardware platform.

Tom Hoffman explained the broader educational implications of this in April:

As I see it, Sugar is a set of tools for writing creative and collaborative activities for children. I think a lot of the confusion about, say, "porting" Sugar for Windows mis-places the reader's emphasis on Sugar as a window manager, rather than Sugar's potential advantages for the activities (née applications) which are built on it. Put another way, what's most important about Sugar is not what I see and do up to the point I launch an activity, it is how the activity works.

As an English teacher, here's what grabbed me about Sugar: it was designed to make it as easy to pass a copy of a student's work across the room electronically as it is to carry a piece of paper across the room. A close second in importance is automatic saves that don't use a hierarchical file system. Not using a hierarchy isn't such a big deal in high school, but if you've ever sat in the back of a room full of third graders while their teacher tries to make sure they've all saved their PowerPoints to the right folder in a networked drive, you'll understand the value (although the computer teachers tend to have internalized the idea that that teaching 9 year olds to use tools ill-suited to their needs is part of their job) ...

As a teacher, if one kid fires up an OLPC running the full Sugar shell and clicks on the Write icon in the frame, and another kid double clicks on a icon on his desktop or selects Write from his Start menu, I don't care as long as they can easily collaborate. I don't really care if on Windows Write opens as a regular window, with a separate window for the neighborhood view. I can deal with that. I don't care if my Windows desktop running Write has any concept of mesh networking, because it is plugged into an ethernet jack anyhow. I just want my kids to be able to have writing circles with the least technical hurdles possible....

From where I sit, there has been a distinct lack of interest in Sugar from the "learning sciences" and other communities that are involved in research and development around software for kids. They have not seen Sugar for what it is, which is the one chance in this generation,and I'm talking human generations here, not technological ones, to create a common set of open source tools specifically for writing applications for kids. They don't seem to get that this is a singular opportunity to invest in the foundation of their discipline. I don't understand why, but one hope I hold out for Walter's software spin-off is that he can engage this community. However, I only see that happening if Sugar is not limited to OLPC or Linux. Also, it is certainly true that as long as Sugar is a subset of OLPC, OLPC doesn't have a strong motivation to dedicate resources to non-OLPC platforms. Sugar needs an home outside of OLPC that can look at the software in a broader context.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

obama on israel

"Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided."
- Arabs Shocked by Obama Speech
I think this is the wrong call for those who recognise and understand the historical truth that Israel is occupied Palestine. My limited understanding of US politics includes the belief that the Democrats are more captive to the Zionist lobby than the Republicans.

This is not "change you can believe in" but status quo pandering to powerful special interest groups.

By contrast Bush did more clearly call for a Palestinian State than his predecessor, Clinton, although it is an exaggeration to say that Bush was the first US President to call for a Palestinian state(source1, source2)

an effective critique

The blogosphere is full of helpful and interesting people, as this recent email I received testifies:
I just found your site with some interesting javascript.... but i cant beleive you post a photo as bad as it is...

So just for fun i correct it !... use it if you like it is better... i did it just to see if i could recover it..
Heh, that's the best way yet that I've been told that I'm a crappy photographer!! LOL (and thanks)

Friday, June 06, 2008

untangling Free, Sugar and Constructionism (walter bender)

Walter Bender Discusses Sugar Labs Foundation

I agree with the way that Walter Bender talks about Free, Sugar and Constructionism as though they are different things which can be brought together synergistically to enhance the overall learning impact. I think it's important not to mix up these words in a fuzzy jumble, to be able to speak clearly about the different aspects of something you support, the OLPC, [no, not necessarily the OLPC but whatever material construct that Free, Sugar and Constructionism becomes embodied in]

Also, in an imperfect world where you can't achieve everything at once it's important to try to tease out the relative impact of each piece of the mix. If we can't obtain OLPCs for Australian schools, for instance, then it still might be possible to do something along similar lines if we understand the issues deeply.

We should provide tools that skew the odds towards appropriation, without being proscriptive. For example, you could give a child a book as a PDF file or in a Wiki format. In both cases, the child can read the book. But the choice of representation does make a difference: the chances that the child will add a comment to a PDF file, which is read-only, are much less than to a Wiki page, which has built-in affordances for annotation.

Bringing the concepts together, the culture that is embodied in the FOSS movement — a meritocracy that is built upon both collaboration and critique — is synergistic with some core principles of learning, so, where possible, I try to embrace that culture. (The guidelines when I was still at OLPC were to choose FOSS tools over proprietary tools when there was not a significant difference in terms of the impact on learning.)

So, for Walter learning is more important than FOSS but if the software is roughly equivalent then choose FOSS. I agree.

Sugar revisits how computers can be used for education: it explicitly promotes sharing and collaborative learning. At its core is the concept of an “Activity”. Activities are software applications such as a web browser, a word processor, or even a calculator, that, when “Sugarized”, are enhanced by three key features:
(1) the application is readily shared with others; for example, to share what you are reading with others requires just one “button click”; in the word processor, Sugar provides the ability to do peer-to-peer editing, again with just one click; a chat window is always available for seeking help, sharing ideas, or exchanging data;
(2) a journal entry is created every time an application is run; not only are files and data automatically saved, but a diary is created so that a child, his/her teacher, and parents can monitor progress; and
(3) applications run full-screen in a simplified framework, yet there is no upper bound on the complexity that can be reached; for example, TamTam, a music Activity that is bundled with Sugar, enables a child to progress from playing a single instrument to layering multiple instruments and rhythms to playing music in synchrony with other children to composing music to designing new instruments to programming music.
I would summarise this three points of what it means to be “Sugarized” as:
(1) Shareable with one click, ease of sharing, conversation and community
(2) All edits can be tracked through the journal (it's invaluable for a teacher to know which students are editing since many students don't edit)
(3) low entry, high ceiling

I think this clarifies what Sugar is, not just a new User Interface, with different features than Windows, but also a way of doing things that is built into the Activities (which replace Applications). Others have acknowledged the confusion of identifying clearly what Sugar is. In the Power of Sugar Christoph Derndorfer pins Sugar down as a "gravitational force" ie. there is a cloud of different concepts floating around in idea space and Sugar is a unifying concept that picks out some concepts and brings them together, including:
information storage and retrieval (Journal) and the fact that collaboration is a “first order experience”
“Constructionism” is a theory of learning pioneered by Seymour Papert. Papert first started developing the theory as a student of Piaget in the early 1960s. Over the course of more than 40 years of research and practice, Papert and his students found that children learn best when they are in the “active role of the designer and constructor” and that this happens best in a context where the child is “consciously engaged in constructing a public entity” — something “truly meaningful” for the learner. Further, the creation process and the end product must be shared with others in order for the full effects to take root.
I think this part is correct as far as it goes but it does leave out creating the meta-learning environment, which does require a lot of work by the teacher


I notice also that Walter uses the word affordances a couple of times and I think that is just the right word to use, because affordances means the opportunity is there but not the inevitability (eg. bad teaching can destroy the best intentions of those who designed the machine):
Sugar provides simple and readily available affordances for learners engaging in construction and sharing the process and end products with others ...

Sugar is at present unique in the way in which it provides affordances for collaboration for all applications ...
... some are writing software to improve Sugar; some are porting Sugar to new platforms; some are developing new activities that run in Sugar; some are helping to debug Sugar and help with quality assurance; some are writing documentation for Sugar developers and for those who use Sugar in the field; some are developing new scenarios for learning with Sugar; some are using Sugar and reporting upon their experiences to the community; and some are providing help and support
What a great list of possibilities! So, there is some scope here for educators as well as python developers - ideas for new activities to run on Sugar and developing new scenarios for learning with Sugar.

One question though: With OLPCs only being distributed to the developing world and with limited options for educators in industrialised countries to obtain at least two OLPCs (at least two are necessary for collaborative activities), then how do interested educators acquire the basic material substrate to become actively involved in these activities and scenarios? There needs to be a way for educators in developed countries to obtain OLPCs. We are currently stuck in our wealthy countries doing thought experiments for the impoverished. (the Give one - Get one scheme was limited to the USA / Canada, had a limited time frame and from some reports the distribution was inefficient or worse)

Monday, June 02, 2008

the constructionist suitcase, at OLPC news

I wrote a longer, more detailed version of my earlier blogged notes about tidying up the constructionist suitcase, which has been published in olpc news. It is attracting some comments, too.

Thanks to gary, km and tony for thoughtful comments received to the draft I sent around prior to publication. As it turned out the new co-editor, Bryan Berry, was happy with the draft version and so it was published without modification. Probably best to keep discussing with the wider audience at OLPC news for now.

I'll add in the references here since they were chopped from the olpc news version:

Educational Software: Designed by Kids for Kids. Bill Kerr, 1994

Fractions: A Weeping Sore in Mathematics Education. Nerida Ellerton and Ken Clements

Genetic Epistemology. Jean Piaget. 1968

Papert's Ideas: Mainly from Mindstorms. Bill Kerr. 1991

Software Design as a Learning Environment, Idit Harel and Seymour Papert. MIT. January 1990

The Emotion Machine, Marvin Minsky. Simon & Schuster. 2006

Sunday, June 01, 2008