Good evening from San Diego.
The methodology you describe sounds like a fantastic way to help kids make the necessary connections - mental and physical - between the abstract and the concrete.  Back in the days before computers where ubiquitous, the direction you worked was right (i.e., concrete to abstract); today, though, kids are adrift in the abstract world of computer technology and, in many cases, don't ever reach dry land.  We need to work in the opposite direction and get the kids TO the concrete from the abstract .  We need kids to understand how concepts play out in the real world.  (One reason I've long been a supporter - to little avail - of shop classes.)   Let the kids go ashore and explore.
I think it was Lucie who, a while back, posted a link to a talk given by somebody named Gever Tulley. It was called "Five dangerous things you should let your kids do."   It was wonderful.  I mean, here's this computer scientist (I believe that's what Tulley is) whose main purpose (as an educator) is to get kids to do things that don't involve computers; to get kids interacting with the physical world.  (If anyone is interested, here's the link again:
Also, Frank, your focus on systems is really important.  Systems are what make the world go 'round - the industrial and post-industrial world, in any case.  When people ask me how I learned to work with computers, they are often surprised when I tell them it was from trying to maintain the junk cars I used to drive.  It was all about systems: the fuel system, the electrical system, the carburetor (remember those?), etc.  Car won't start?  What's missing?  Spark?  Air?  Fuel?  Supply the missing ingredient and - bingo - car starts.  Immediate, concrete evidence that you've solved a problem.
So teachers, get those kids out there playing with knives, cars, and fire - just make sure you have another job lined up before you do. :-)

>>> "Frank J. Watson" <[log in to unmask]> 1/24/2008 4:31 PM >>>
Good Morning from South Carolina:

As I have been reading through the recent posts concerning teaching research to the Google generation, Child's Play, From Clicks to... and the pleas for "creative computing " ,  I recalled some work we did at UVM in the late 80's. At that time we were worried about kids spending too much too on computers and not enough on hands-on learning activities in and out of schools. Sound familiar??

 We  had a lot of student teachers at that time and they were all over the state. They were willing and able to try new ideas  and were in classrooms with a computer (mostly Apples and Commodore 64's). We decided  we would use them to work on finding ways to design "hands-on" activities that included the use of the computer.  Looking back I am sure that we were very much influenced by Seymour Papert's book  "Mindstorms" even through only a few of us had Logo on our machines. 

We started out by thinking that we should teach young kids (grades 1-3) about "systems" since they were about to use a computer system. The lessons we designed were guided by "ARC"- They started with concrete experience with "stuff", moved to representational experience (maps, models, drawings) and then to abstractions (words, symbols, formulas).  

We gave the kids wires, batteries, switches, lamps and doorbells and let them put them together. They made drawings of "stuff"  that worked and "stuff" that didn't work. They talked and wrote about "systems"  that were formed with the "stuff." Finally after much hands-on, drawing, writing and talking the computer appeared with software that could be used to design circuits and systems.

We gave them a collection of blocks that were different colors, shapes and sizes and let them build with the blocks. We played games with the blocks that were guided by "logic rules." They made drawing of the results of the games and talked about the rules. Out came the computer with software (Learning Company??) that allowed the games to be played electronically.

We gave them water, small cups and seltzer tablets and let them investigate. We had races with warm and cold water, pieces of tablets. We added other substances - salt, chalk, etc. They captured the bubbles produced. Made drawings. They timed reactions. We talked and wrote about system change. They made predictions  and tested them.  We searched for software but I don't think we found any. We decided the best way to get the computer involved was writing about their "work."

Finally we started looking at the school building as a system. We took "field trips" to the school boiler room, the bus garage, the kitchen etc. We made drawings of the systems that made up the school. We invited the folks that ran those systems to come and talk with the students. We asked them to talk about "trouble shooting" their systems. The students designed ways to keep the systems working. The computer helped by giving us a way  to keep records about our "work."

It is important to make a note about the classroom environment where these activities took place. Almost all the classrooms had "centers." Those that didn't have "centers" added them soon after we started the activities.  The classrooms had a "work center" with tools, raw materials (wood, cardboard (remember TriWall etc), running water,  etc. Writing and reading centers, and a center for the computer. In most of the classrooms these "centers" were located next to each other to promote easy access across the "centers" and stuff.

Sorry for such a long ramble. As I wrote I realized we did at least one more project that relates to the topic - so I'll stop here and continue part 2 later.



Frank J. Watson
1 Lochend Lane
Cheraw, SC 29520

"I'll see it when I believe it"