Information Technology Director
Montpelier Public Schools
Montpelier, VT 05602
>>> "Frank J. Watson" [log in to unmask]
> 1/29/2008 2:02 PM >>
<mailto:[log in to unmask]
> 1/29/2008 2:02 PM >>>
>I didn't completely understand this until I read Pirsig's,
>"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" some 20 years later.
Pirsig's book was an eye-opener to me too. For those of you who aren't
familiar with it, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" isn't
really about maintaining a motorcycle - except to the extent that it
represents a technological interaction with a machine. Primarily, the
book is an examination of the dichotomy between the pragmatic,
objective, linear thinking of the scientist and the romantic,
subjective, non-linear world of the artist - and, finally, an attempt at
reconciling the two. Pirsig makes frequent forays into the esoteric
world of Platonic philosophy, but, most of the time, he presents his
thesis with a chatty casualness that, today, would most likely be
published in some sort of travel blog. It's beguiling. And it's very
important to us because we are faced, in our delivery of technology
education, with the polarities of atomistic vs. holistic thought, the
schematic vs. the gestalt. Does the average student benefit by being
presented with the underlying systemic pieces of a thing or, as
Wordsworth suggests, do we "murder to dissect"? Can we continue to
understand the larger meaning of a phenomenon - for instance, the
Internet - when we have dived down into the underlying bits and bytes?
I think we can. I think we must. Get the book for summer reading; it's
extremely thought provoking.
On Jan 25, 2008, at 1:22 AM, Vincent Rossano wrote:
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 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
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,
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
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"
Frank J. Watson
1 Lochend Lane
Cheraw, SC 29520
"I'll see it when I believe it"
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