Make Education: Remembering Seymour Papert, Tool Guides for Kids, and More

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This month, I’ve been thinking a lot about Seymour Papert. His belief in engaging students and encouraging them to push past failure is the essence of what I see as the value of making in education.

Read more about Seymour Papert below, plus get some tips on making a makerspace, and don’t miss Astrid Poot’s guide to 50 tools for kids. Also, Maker Faire Chicago is coming up April 22–23.

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Thinking About Thinking About Seymour Papert

In January, the MIT Media Lab organized a one-day event, “Thinking About Thinking About Seymour,” to honor the life and work of Seymour Papert, who taught first in the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT and then in Media Lab. Today’s Scratch environment developed out of Papert’s Logo environment. Mitchel Resnick, a student of Papert’s, organized the event. Papert saw the positive potential impact of computers and technology in education. His language sounds very similar to the language many of us use to talk about making and learning today. In fact, he provides us a framework to explain the value of making to the growth and development of effective learners.

“What we have to think about is what produces involvement, engagement. What grabs the individual. It’s much more related to love than logic…Education has very little to do with explanation. It has to do with engagement, with falling in love with the material.”

–Seymour Papert

The below video describes the long collaboration between Papert and Lego:

You can find out more by reading MIT Media Lab’s post about the event, “How Seymour Influenced Our Thinking”

The conference was recorded on video. I thought some of the best sessions were the talks by Nicholas Negroponte and Sherry Turkle.

Papert was “a silent type of teacher”

Laura Allen, the founder of Robofun in New York City met Seymour Papert in a bakery in Maine. Influenced by Papert, she started Robofun 20 years ago, which teaches STEM to over 20,000 children in a private studio on the Upper West side of Manhattan and in over 100 schools across New York City.

I met Laura at the MIT conference and later she shared with me her thoughts in a paper titled “Knowing Seymour.” Below is a brief excerpt.

Contemplating my time with Seymour, I am aware that he was also a silent type of teacher. He waited for you. He didn’t get in your way. He responded to what you were doing, and understood how important it was to remove learning from shame, competition and pressure. We could benefit from having someone shout that message now as our schools frequently keep children rigidly sitting in at their desk, ignoring their own muses. He helped me understand that there was a very important relationship between loving what you were doing, being given the time and space to go deep into it, and being respected as a learner. These have been very, very, important lessons.

Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas by Seymour Papert

MIT Press and the Papert Family have made available Seymour Papert’s book, Mindstorms, as a free PDF. Papert thought deeply about the use of computers in education and he was an advocate that students learn to program computers — to learn to think in its language. He saw computers as materials to think with and as tools for expression.

I began to see how children who had learned to program computers could use very concrete computer models to think about thinking and to learn about learning and in doing so, enhance their powers as psychologists and as epistemologists. For example, many children are held back in their learning because they have a model of learning in which you have either “got it” or “got it wrong.” But when you learn to program a computer you almost never get it right the first time. Learning to be a master programmer is learning to become highly skilled at isolating and correcting “bugs,” the parts that keep the program from working. The question to ask about the (computer) program is not whether it is right or wrong but if it is fixable. If this way of looking at intellectual products were generalized to how the larger culture thinks about knowledge and its acquisition, we all might be less intimidated by our fears of “being wrong.” This potential influence of the computer on changing our notion of a black and white version of our successes and failures is an example of using the computer as an “object-to-think-with.”

 

Makersville: Find Your Space

“I made a makerspace and I wanted to share it with you,” writes Patricia Tsoiasue of Long Beach in her Instructable titled “Makersville: How to Make A Youth Makerspace.” She describes her own personal journey to see herself a maker, meet other makers and then start developing a makerspace for students that she named “Makersville.”

I’ve come to realize that the one most epic thing that I’ve made is the Makersville community. It implements an agile, responsive system of learning that takes elements of the maker movement and of the Scouting movement. I’m studying about creativity and creative problem solving. They naturally follow making. Makersville will never be done. There will always be a new maker to help and from whom we can learn.

Astrid Poot’s 50 Tools Guide

In the last newsletter I featured Astrid Poot’s “How to Become a Maker.” The Dutch maker has translated another one of her guides into English, this time outlining 50 tools you might want to be familiar with before age 12.

You can download Astrid Poot’s PDFs from her website.

Maker Faire Chicago

We are excited to announce Maker Faire Chicago, the first large-scale Maker Faire in Chicago. Maker Faire Chicago will be held April 22–23 at McCormick Place. Chicago has a deep history of making, from its manufacturing base to the Lab School at the University of Chicago, organized by John Dewey, and the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.

We were in Chicago last week visiting makerspaces at the Museum of Science and Industry (Fab Lab) and at the Chicago Public Library (Maker Lab). We held a Maker Faire Town Hall Meeting at a community makerspace, Pumping Station One (PS1) and had over a hundred makers turn out. We welcome educators and schools to participate as makers. The call for makers is now open.

Learn more at makerfaire.com/chicago.

How-To Project: Rumblebot Raceway

Teacher Doug Stith created a Rumblebot Raceway, where his raceway provided the motion that pager motors supply to bristlebots. His students were challenged to create a “bot” from materials they had on hand, and the racing began!

Mr. Stith was both proud and humbled to come in second to one of his sixth-grade students.

Learn more here.

More Make: Resources for Educators

• The Make: Education archive
How to Make a School Maker Faire
Maker Camp Projects

Make: Education

We believe that making can transform the way we all learn, from preschoolers through retirees. This is what matters the most about learning by making:

  1. Making together. Makers rarely work in isolation. Social context supports making, and we are inspired by the people, projects, materials, and tools around us while we work. We find that Makers of all stripes, from knitters to roboticists, appreciate the work of other Makers because they know that they share a love of taking an idea and bringing it into the world. All Makers have proven themselves to be curious and motivated people who often turn to peers for ideas, advice, guidance, support and collaboration….and if they need none of those, then the community offers them a hearty congratulations! Makers are responsible citizens of a creative nation, and their commitment is both local and global.
  2. Exhibition, not competition. Deadlines — and the self-inflicted pressure to show something interesting to people who come to Maker Faire — give Makers all the motivation they need to do their best. Making doesn’t have to be about “losers” and “winners.” At Maker Faire, anything that’s cool is fair game. In a marketplace of ideas, you don’t need someone to give you a letter grade to tell you whether your idea is a good one or not. Speaking of failure….
  3. Embracing failure. Makers identify challenges where they have a chance to solve new problems or tell new stories. Failure is inevitable when you are doing something new, but Makers learn from their mistakes and try, try again until they complete their project. Makers are unafraid of engaging in difficult tasks when they care about the results, and they care about finishing because they set the agenda.
  4. Tools keep improving. Emerging technologies and infrastructure encourage individualism and creativity while also making possible all our Maker communities, environments, and events. And the tools just get better and better. We keep an eye on these developments and fold them into what we’re doing as needed.
  5. Everyone can MAKE. Makers come from everywhere. Kids, adults, experts, newbies. Some Makers have earned  two PhDs, others never graduated from anywhere. All Makers spend long hours in their studios, shops, kitchens, and garages finishing their projects…because they love what they do. And we don’t exclude much from the Making umbrella. We have projects in art, craft, engineering, music, food, green design, science, technology, health…. Makers often work in several of these areas at once. If you can make it, we want to hear about it.

How we do this…

We spread our ideas in a number of ways, including through Maker Camp, Maker Faire, our books and kits. Please also visit our friends at the Maker Education Initiative to learn of the exciting work they are doing with Young Makers, schools and communities.