Seymour Papert Reading Response

“You can be the gear, you can understand how it turns by projecting yourself into its place and turning with it. It is this double relationship~both abstract and sensory~that gives the gear the power to carry powerful mathematics into the mind” (Papert, Mindstorms, 8).

            In Mindstorms and all of his works, Seymour Papert proves to instructors and learners that in education, ‘telling’ is half the battle. His legacy reveals that the learner must become one with the machine.

            In his case study Climbing to Understanding: Lessons from an Experimental Learning Environment for Adjudicated Youth, Papert and his colleagues prove that children learn more when they truly understand why and how something works. He emphasizes that constructionist methods are crucial learning tools in the classroom, and their practices have been overlooked. “But the point of the project is not to regard this the vehicles failure as a personal failure but on the contrary by understanding why the vehicle failed to gain insight into how to redesign a better one” (Cavallo, Papert, Stager 116).

            I was moved my Papert’s writing not only because of his transformational theories, but because I identify with the low-scoring math students he mentions many times. “Those children who prove recalcitrant to math and science education include many whose environments happened to be relatively poor in math-speaking adults. Such children come to school lacking elements necessary for the easy learning of school math” (Papert, Mindstorms, 9). As a young learner, I always lacked the foundational methods I needed to succeed in math. Most of the schools in my district were made up of traditional classrooms—in which constructivist and constructionist approaches were rare in mathematics. As I’ve become more familiar with Papert’s work, I’m discovering that his insight and method make up a lot of what I required to do well. In math, I was never given the opportunity to create. “We do not do nothing and expect them to discover everything. However, we are not under the illusion that if we merely tell them an answer then that means they understand it fully” (Cavallo, Papert, Stager 117).

            Part of the reason I’ve chosen to teach English is because I’ve observed more gateways for this opportunity. (Although I believe there are just as many with math/science!) ELA provides students with the freedom to connect with stories, authors, and relationship dynamics—then allowing them to express those connections with a boundless range of platforms/linguistic modalities.  I am grateful to have been reminded of the ways we can make language a preference for students who have not performed well in this subject, like Michael from Papert’s Climbing to Understanding: Lessons from an Experimental Learning Environment for Adjudicated Youth. Instead of asking him to simply write in a journal, the researchers gave the student the opportunity to use computer software to record and edit his speech. This modification supported the student to finish his autobiography. “Here again, many of the youth who created such journals could barely read and write and would not have even begun to write anything let alone create something with meaning, nuance, depth, and texture, created compelling narratives, primarily autobiographical” (Cavallo, Papert, Stager 118). In my own career, I will work to provide multiple platforms that allow students to create in order to increase skill/insight. As a student of education, I have assembled lesson sequences that aim to highlight the strengths of a diverse student body. These lessons include a range of performance assessments for the same goal, such as a video presentation, skit/speech, art project, or essay. Specifically, this has worked for character analysis lessons. I’ve noticed that students are more intrigued and excited about learning when they have the opportunity to use their unique talents and strengths in the classroom.

    • carolyn marenghi
      carolyn marenghi

      Hi Jacqueline,

      I really love the quote you pulled from the Mindstorms reading at the top of your response. Makes math seem much more humanistic! 

      - Carolyn

    Computer Science for Teachers Spring 2019

    Computer Science for Teachers Spring 2019

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