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April 7, 2014

In The Children’s Machine I told a learning story about how I helped a student in the “resource room”—which is where they send the kids who are supposed to have learning disabilities—of a public school in one of our big cities. I was able to guess why this kid was looking all around him with an unhappy expression on his face. He had been assigned a list of little “math problems” in the form of numbers to add together but knew that he was not allowed to use his fingers as he liked to do. I guessed that he was unsuccessfully looking for some external support he could use in the place of fingers. I thought for a moment about whether to intervene and how. I did not want to offend the teacher. I certainly did not want to get the kid into any trouble. On the other hand I was firmly convinced that allowing him to use external aids was the best way to encourage real learning and denying the use of fingers the best way to make sure that he hated doing these sums. So I thought for a while and then said in a loud enough voice for the teacher and the kid to hear: “What about your teeth?”

The result was exactly what I hoped. The teacher saw no connection with the assignment but I saw from his face that the kid did: first a puzzled expression, then a lighting up that expressed “aha, I get it” and then a little moving bulge in his cheek and lips. “Learning disability indeed” I thought to myself “this is one smart kid.””

Papert, S. (1996). “Learning by the Skin of His Teeth.” from The Connected Family: Bridging the Digital Generation Gap. Atlanta: Longstreet Press. Retrieved from http://papert.org/articles/Learningteeth.html


The Daily Papert is a service of Constructing Modern Knowledge, the world’s premiere educational event for educators to learn-by-doing. Learn more about this year’s institute – July 8-11, 2014 in Manchester, NH – at constructingmodernknowledge.com.

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