Week 3 - Seymour Reflection


Seymour Papert, Mathematician, offers an ideology of learning that spans all subject areas and is based on a child-centered education model. In essence, Papert believes that in order to for students to truly embrace knowledge it must be integrated into their culture. He states "topics must be rooted in culture to be learned, and must be enhancing our understanding and connection to culture to be meaningfully learned." (Oshima, 2016) In his book Mindstorms: Computers for Children, Papert states that learning is best when it can be assimilated to the familiar. (Papert, 1980) 

The idea that most resonated with me is Papert’s assertion that teaching without a curriculum is not free range teaching, but instead is a way of guiding children as they build their intellectual structures with the materials at hand. In other words, students who are living in more rural areas will have a different understanding of the world than those that live in urban areas. There cannot be a one size fits all model, because children do not fit in these boxes. Therefore teachers must first be anthropologists, and understand the cultures from which their students spring, and then they can “effect educational intervention” by planting new constructive elements. (Papert, 1980) This was proven out in the case study examined in “Climbing to Understanding: Lessons from an Experimental Learning Environment for Adjudicated Youth”. (Cavallo, Papert & Stager, 2004) This trial at the Maine Youth Center showed that students, even those students who fall far below grade level expectations and had a history of unsuccessful school interactions could become successful at learning complex mathematical topics and more importantly, could apply what they had learned to real-world activities. Papert and his team applied project-based learning to engage the students and allowed the students to drive the learning process through trial and error. While these form of project based learning may be difficult to implement in the mainstream public education system, the evidence of its success in this setting shows the importance of diversifying our education ideologies and expanding on Piaget’s theories of assimilation.

At work, I am already incorporating a lot of Papert’s ideas into my teaching, as I am lucky enough to be working in the computer labs. No one who has ever coded or attempted computer programming succeeded on the first try, and rarely on the second and third. Computer science is a lesson in resilience and perseverance, and Papert’s educational theory and experience at the Maine Youth Center shows that even students who would normally have a low tolerance for failure or embarrassment were showing enthusiasm even as their creations failed to reach a goal. This shows a level of resilience that is not normally associated with this population. I had studied the idea of growth mindset over the summer in an effort to foster more perseverance and resilience in my students for this school year. Papert’s theory of learning is closely aligned with the idea of a growth mindset, in that it favors trial and error as a valuable learning experience, and requires a positive attitude towards failure. Rather than viewing failures as setbacks, students are encouraged to view failures as valuable feedback to their progress towards a goal.  One idea I will be implementing in the classroom is the idea of facilitating more problem solving into the process. In “Project Theme 1: Lego Vehicles on Ramps”, Papert mentions that understanding “why the vehicle failed [is a way] to gain insight into how to redesign a better one.” (Cavallo, Papert, & Stager, 2004) The students use a writing board which is next to the ramp to diagnose what the students perceive to be the “limiting factor responsible for the failure.”  The valuable education process here is not that the students are failing, but identifying the problem, relating that limitation to a scientific concept such as friction, stability, force, etc. Thus, concepts they are learning in science class become directly relatable, and therefore are assimilated into their personal culture and understood more fully.


Cavallo, David, Papert, Seymour & Stager, Gary. 2004. Climbing to understanding: lessons from an experimental learning environment for adjudicated youth. In Proceedings of the 6th international conference on Learning sciences (ICLS '04). International Society of the Learning Sciences 113-120.

Ohshima, Y. (Director). (2016, August 4).  [Video file]. Retrieved February 05, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Computers for Children. In (pp. 3-18). New York, NY: Basic Books.

    • Alicia Gallagher
      Alicia Gallagher

      Suzie, in your first paragraph where you state "Papert states that learning is best when it can be assimilated to the familiar" (Papert, 1980) this statement makes me think of students who have come to kindergarten with outside experiences. I find, that students who enter kindergarten and have attended preschool, had playdates, go to the park regularly and have attended museums/shows/vacations etc. have a stronger foundation of skills and strategies taught (and those who READ BOOKS!) Papert suggests that when things are familiar they may come easier, in my post I mentioned that I use unplugged programming before introducing any form of programming to familiarize and motivate the students to program!

      • Susan Granata
        Susan Granata


        That is so true - there is such a difference in capabilities and enthusiasm from students who have been places, experienced more, and been exposed to more. That is why I love when students travel, even when it takes them out of school, because the students who have traveled tend to offer more insight to classroom discussions and often deepen the understanding of any topic through their experience. I love using unplugged programming - it makes the students really think and problem solve and is so much fun to steer that process.

        Just this week I was helping a 7th grade science class with a webquest and exploration of rocks and how they are formed, and I had three students who just didn't get it. I ended up making an analogy for the igneous rocks that involved melted Hershey bars. The looks I got from the students were priceless! But the analogy served to make them understand how the rocks are formed and why they are so different from sedimentary (which I compared to solid sand art) and metamorphic rocks and formations. Since every kid understands the melted chocolate bar, and how it changes after you put it in the fridge to make it solid enough to eat it, and how the shape and consistency of the bar might be different, but the underlying taste and deliciousness hasn't. This helped them better understand the rocks, though I fear the poor children will never eat chocolate in the same way again...

        • Gerald Ardito
          Gerald Ardito


          You did an outstanding job with this assignment. Thank you.

          This section just jumped out at me:

          The idea that most resonated with me is Papert’s assertion that teaching without a curriculum is not free range teaching, but instead is a way of guiding children as they build their intellectual structures with the materials at hand.

          I have been trying to find a way to explain this phenomenon to other teachers for a long time. This is just perfect.

        Computer Science for Teachers Spring 2018

        Computer Science for Teachers Spring 2018

        Here is the online home for CS for Teachers.

        Latest comments