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: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/202
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
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
Frank J. Watson
1 Lochend Lane
Cheraw, SC 29520
"I'll see it when I believe it"