Alan Kay and Papert Revision

I personally believe that both Papert and Kay had similar thoughts regarding the use of computers in Education. Kay believed that computers can be used to take something that would ordinarily be shown on a piece of paper (for example, a picture). However, the picture could be so much more valuable on the computer than it could be on paper for students. Students can experiment with the picture on the computer, zoom in, change its design, and ultimately just allow students to use their own thoughts to manipulate the photo. This is true with so many other aspects of education. For example, take a typical lab that would be conducted in a science class, like dissecting a frog. There are many students who would be grossed out by doing this, but with the use of technology, students can perform this lab and still learn all of the same concepts. In fact, with the virtual version, there are probably many more features (like zooming in, naming the parts, etc.) that are not as easily available with the physical dissecting of the frog. Alan Kay’s idea is that the medium in which the learning is taking place can have a positive impact on student learning. However, it is important to note that it isn’t simply the medium that is used that is needed for a good educational experience, instead proper implementation and teaching is required as well. The use of the medium can just be a benefit for student learning. As described by Manovich, “Kay wanted to turn computers into a “personal dynamic media” which can be used for learning, discovery, and artistic creation” (p. 5). The use of the computer as a medium of learning can be a great learning tool for students if implemented correctly.

Papert had similar ideas to Kay with his use of Turtle geometry. I think that Papert’s big idea was through the use of Turtle coding. Similar to Kay, Papert believed that the use of the Turtle coding was a great tool and beneficial learning experience for students. I believe that the use of the Turtle coding was not about learning about math or how to code at all, instead I believe that it was mostly about problem-solving skills. As Papert said, “Turtle geometry started with the goal of fitting children. Its primary design criterion was to be appropriable. Of course it had to have serious mathematical content, but we shall see that appropriability and serious mathematic thinking are not at all incompatible” (p.53/54). This is why I think that Papert kept talking about Math in his writing and referring back to it while talking about the Turtle coding. One of the best aspects of learning Math, may not be about “learning Math” at all. Instead, I believe that learning Math teaches problem-solving and critical thinking skills if taught properly. Unfortunately, we do not see this often in our educational system today due to time constraints and teachers fearing that they won’t have enough time to get through the content. For this reason, many Math teachers simply tell students how to “do math” instead of allowing them to explore, discover, and problem-solve on their own. However, I disagree with this. I think that Math teachers should allow students to think for themselves (of course with scaffolding when necessary). This teaches students those important problem-solving and critical thinking skills. It may not necessarily always be about the content; instead, it could be about the skills that come from the content. I think that Papert believed that the Turtle coding allowed students to think again. In fact, they were able to learn from their mistakes, which is probably a better learning experience than succeeding right off the bat. In addition to this, by teaching students to problem-solve and think for themselves, there is a good chance that they will persevere through most problems on a standardized test, even if they weren’t covered throughout the year. By teaching students how to think, instead of what to think, they are gaining the important skills to solve problems on their own.

    • Gerald Ardito
      Gerald Ardito

      Johnny,

      I found this revisit of Kay and Papert to be really interesting. I especially was intrigued by this:
      For this reason, many Math teachers simply tell students how to “do math” instead of allowing them to explore, discover, and problem-solve on their own. However, I disagree with this. I think that Math teachers should allow students to think for themselves (of course with scaffolding when necessary). This teaches students those important problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

      I have a question for you: what do you think about Papert's notion of "Powerful Ideas" (about which Kay is strongly interested as well)?

      • Johnny Chapeton
        Johnny Chapeton

        Hi Dr. Ardito,

        I do not believe that Papert ever gave a formal definition of his notion of "Powerful Ideas." However, what I took away from it was that a "Powerful Idea" is something that is not directly taught. Instead, it is something that comes as a result of being taught something or experimenting with something. For example, the problem-solving and critical thinking skills that come as a result of learning math would be a "Powerful Idea" because the students are not necessarily taught these skills. I think that there are many "Powerful Ideas" in education, especially Math. I think that many of these "Powerful Ideas" mentioned by Papert are important life skills that students need, but are not the main goal within the curriculum. When Papert mentions Turtle Geometry, he is talking about all of these skills that students gain as a result of using Turtle Geometry, although a teacher may not want that to be the main goal. For example, by setting up a maze and task for students to complete in Turtle Geometry, they are learning about different angles, shapes, etc. to complete the task, but there are also the problem-solving skills that come with the experimentation of trying something, "failing", and then trying it again until one is successful.

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