Tuesday, January 12, 2021

don't separate the what from the how

Who is Mitch Resnick? He is a leader of the amazingly successful Scratch site, which has many millions of great projects developed by a mainly young community of coders. It also has a very well thought out interface which helps teachers like myself keep track of their classes and students work.

I'm summarising here some of Mitch Resnick’s insights into criteria to use in teaching digital technology:
  • The maker movement and the coder movement fosters creativity far more than using computers for delivering and receiving information
  • Computational participation is a better guiding framework than computational thinking. Computational participation is broader in that it includes personal expression, creative design and social engagement.
  • Our aim should be that our students think, “I want to do this!”, far more motivating than the self efficacy aim that our students think, “I can do this”
  • Curriculum reform ought to be changing what we teach, eg. design a project around an idea or interest, not only how we teach

These points can be combined with those made in an article by Mitch Resnick and Brian Silverman which I summarised 18 months ago (how to evaluate construction kits: ten design principles)

In that article I'm thinking, in particular, of point 2 wide walls; point 3 make powerful ideas salient, not forced; point 5 keep things as simple as possible; point 7 a little bit of coding goes a long way, and, point 10 iterate, iterate and iterate again as a design principle

Taken together, these points are a powerful critique of the ACARA curriculum guidance approach which read this way:


  • 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)

This could be critiqued as boring wooden language generalities but it's worse than that. ACARA tells us what without the how. The what and the how should not be separated but rolled together in an engaging package taking into account where the learner is starting from.

So, in practice, schools dodge around ACARA by tying up their teachers with mainly meaningless paper work for the audit and then if any energy and understanding is left over letting them get on with the interesting stuff.

So, what is both laughable and tragic is that Mitch Resnick still has to argue these principles with Mark Guzdial (who in the end admitted Resnick was correct) because in Guzdial's words the whole education system is permeated with the philosophy that Thorndike won, Dewey lost, that is we are stuck with standards based education, rather than education that stimulates the natural curiosity and capabilities of children.

Kafai, Yasmin B and Burke, Quinn. Connected Code: Why Children Need to Learn Programming (2014), Forward by Mitchel Resnick
The first goal of a CS course should be to promote confidence ...(see comments 2, 3, 11, 13, 14, 15 and 16 for discussion b/w Mitch Resnick and Mark Guzdial)
Thorndike won, Dewey lost

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