May 15, 2012

“Building and playing with castles of sand, families of dolls, houses of Lego, and collections of cards provide images of activities which are well rooted in contemporary cultures and which plausibly enter into learning processes that go beyond specific narrow skills. I do not believe that anyone fully understands what gives these activities their quality of “learning-richness.” But this does not prevent one from taking them as models in benefiting from the presence of new technologies to expand the scope of activities with that quality.

The chapters in this book offer many constructions of new learning-rich activities with an attempt to reach that quality. A conceptually simple case is the addition of new elements to LEGO construction kits and to the Logo microworlds, so that children can build more “active” models. For example, sensors, miniaturized computers that can run Logo programs, and motor controllers allow a child (in principle) to build a LEGO house with a programmable temperature control system; or to construct forms of artificial life and mobile models capable of seeking environmental conditions such as light or heat or of following or avoiding one another. Experiments carried out so far still fall a little short of this idealized description, and, moreover, have been mounted systematically only in the artificial contexts of schools or science centers. But it is perfectly plausible that further refinement of the components (combined, be it noted for further discussion below, with suitable marketing) might result in such “cybernetic” activities (as we choose to call them), thus becoming as much part of the lives of young children as playing with toys and dolls, or other more passive construction kits. It is also plausible that if this were to happen, certain concepts and ways of thinking presently regarded as far beyond children’s ken would enter into what they know “spontaneously” (in the sense in which Piaget talks about children’s spontaneous geometry or logic or whatever), while other concepts–which children do learn at school but reluctantly and not very well–would be learned with the gusto one sees in Nintendo games.

This vision advances the definition of constructionism and serves as an ideal case against which results that have been actually achieved can be judged. In particular, it illustrates the sense of the opposition I like to formulate as constructionism vs. instructionism when discussing directions for innovation and enhancement in education.”

Papert, S. and Harel, I. (1991) “Situating Constructionism” in Constructionism. NY: Ablex Publishing Corporation.

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