Seymour Papert Keynote at the 2000 American Montessori Society Conference

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Dr. Papert: Well thank you for those remarks. I was going to say thank you for being here then I realized I should really say congratulations for being here because I think the size of the audience, well make point, maybe there are other explanations but I suspect that this is not the biggest audience of talks in this conference. I think that reflects something about Montessori and technology and I think more than Montessori and technology, it reflects something about Montessori and the future of education. 

Well, I think the issue of technology and children is not a matter of technology or computers or what to do with it, it’s a matter of what being a child is going to mean in the 21st Century. And I don’t see very strong signs of Montessori Movement adapting to it, or why I’d be here. I think that this is an issue that I’d like to discuss from a couple of angles. In this time and I’ll try and be provocative, and hope that we have time for some interactions and questions and debate. 

Now, first of all, I would like to say about people who are suspicious, reticent they say about technology, that if I dropped from Mars and I saw what is being done with computers and I saw the software and I saw everything that’s happening in this field, I would be the most strenuous anti-computer, anti-technology person you’ve ever seen. I’d be campaigning congress of the world and the State. 

There’s no doubt, if we’re talking about what is done with technology with what you will get if you go into a store and buy it, what you’ll get if you follow ads and websites that say, “This is educational”, it’s bad stuff. It’s not only, not very good stuff, it’s bad stuff and I think that it goes directly against all the principals that Montessori would have believed in. But there’s a principle that Montessori believed in that raises a dilemma, this is a source of anxiety and I don’t know how to deal with it. But it’s an issue that needs to be discussed. 

For me, Maria, what I get from her, one of the things I got from her is, let the children teach us, let the children tell us what’s important. But if these children grow up in a digital world, they say computers are important and they say digital games are important and the internet is important, well, who are we to say no? Well, I think we do have to say no in some ways, but I think this raises a very serious debate that’s a very serious issue that is not being addressed by anybody. 

You cannot at the same time say “Let the children lead the way. Let us allow the child to be the natural child.” If you’re only going to learn from that child what you already decided is what the natural child is. And the big question is whether the actual child appearing through Montessori’s eyes is a child of the 19th Century or the 20th Century, but we’re moving into the 21st. And how do we address that question?

This is a very, I think a very, very serious question that the world has invented. I think that the faith of all educational movements of any value, which I will count Montessori as one of the foremost, depends on whether you can address that question. That’s why I wanted to say congratulations to you for coming to a discussion about, about technology. I think that, I think I’ve said enough to say that I’m a great admirer of Maria Montessori and of many of the people in the Montessori schools and school movement.

Nevertheless, I think this movement is not catching up, let me read for example. I see in the position statement, “technology in the Montessori environment.” First of all, I see there’s a fundamental misconception that technology is a way to equal computers. And computers doesn’t quite say it, but you get the impression the computer is that hybrid of a typewriter and a television screen that sits on a desk somewhere, rather than the many other manifestations that the computers could have. 

So it’s even backward in fact it’s thinking about what computers are. I see some strong statements it says, “Learning about the decimal system and place value is best accomplished by physical manipulation of the golden beads and the million cube.” Now, I think any frame of mind that knows what is the best way to teach about numbers, I don’t think Montessori would have said that. I don’t think she would have said she knew what was the best way; she knew what she would be recommending at that moment. 

I think this is something that we really have to learn to put in question. And I’d like to start by telling a story about the– that puts this in question. It gives a different image of the computer, I didn’t even know where it fits into the last classification, we saw that the 3 or 4 different position statement making distinctions. This is a story that happened to me in a kindergarten class, pre-kindergarten, I’m sorry, pre-kindergarten class in a school in Dallas Texas in one of the earliest days when we had computers and in any large number in schools is the Lamplighter School in Dallas. 

There was a little girl whose name was Dawn who was working with a computer and she got really excited and she said  “Come and see, come and see,” and I was visiting the teacher and we both went over to see what she was excited about and we couldn’t make out anything because on the screen, there were a lot of figures just sitting there standing still. 

We’d seen before she had would have these things moving the screen. Why was she so excited about this standing still? What was she, thinking about the standing still? 

Well, this is why she was excited about: she had a piece of Logo, software which you could type in set speed and a number. Now she didn’t really know how to type, and she could do that, and any 5 year old can learn that pretty easily. But what she was excited about was that she had seen that, if you write: “set speed 100,” it went very fast. If you write: “set speed 10”, that would go slow, if you write “set speed 1”, it would stand still, almost. If you write: “set speed 0,” it would stand still so completely. And it took while for her to express this fact that she had made a fundamental mathematical discovery, which you can say in lots of ways that standing still is moving with zero speed. Zero is a number. And this for her was an amazing, and it is for everybody in the history of mankind. 

Now I remembered, when I was a kid but I can’t remember what age it was, but I remember hearing that the Hindus invented zero. And I remember being puzzled, “What’s that really mean? What could this possibly mean to invent zero?” and I decided that they invented drawing the circle to stand for it. That it sounds what they meant it’s something about the nomenclature, the notation for numbers but they didn’t, they invented something much more fundamental than Dawn also had. 

That is, counting zero as a number makes a fundamental difference to how you think about numbers. Though, I wrote a little page on the front of my website papert.org, called The Wonderful Discovery of Nothing. Now, was that abstract? Was that concrete? Was this a manipulative? Was this a simulation? I don’t know what it was. I don’t think it fits into our traditional classification of things. In fact, I think that the computer leads us to throw away our classification of what’s concrete and what’s abstract. 

This very idea of concreteness versus abstract started the concrete and the other day. It doesn’t make sense because the computer doesn’t fit into that. This very classification’s way of thinking is a reflection of old fashioned, the world as it was in fact of technologies in the world. So let’s talk to them about what is technology? Alan Kay, I think, first, I first think I heard this man Kay. We count as technology, things that were invented since we were born. 

I think it’s even worse than that because we don’t count piano as technology or we don’t count printing press or a pencil as technology. We call, technology almost comes to mean computer. But right here in this, in the exhibition hall here you’ll see at least one example of non-computer technology, there is the Link System from the Sign Source, and I see my friend who’s responsible for this sitting at the back there, Mr. Goodwin Brad, who … 

This is and this is using technology to make it easier for kids to work in wood and to make vehicles with little motors that will drive cars made out of, this is technology also and not only the computer. So I think that we need to take a broader sense of what technology is and how it fits into the picture of abstract and concrete into the lives of children. Well now, what kind of technologies do we want or what we want the technology to do? 

Listening to Stephen’s remarks, I have a constantly recurring dilemma about some of these technologies. You take Sim City, for example. Now I see kids get into this, if you can make some very complicated things now, but is that necessarily a good thing or not, I think is another question that we need to have above the thinking about because I think there’s a certain sense in which, in the spirit of Montessori, I would say, is not a good thing or it’s a very limited thing and not a good, prime example. 

For this reason, that you could make rather complex things happen but you can’t understand them. I think that the wonderful thing about a lot of what Montessori was saying is that very simple kinds of objects, very simple kinds of activities can lead us to a deeper understanding by spending a lot of time on a simple thing and not diving into too much complexity. So that led me to introduce a word in my book, ‘Mindstorms,’ which is still my favorite book although it’s slightly out of print for temporary. 

Also mentioned the introduction, I introduced the word “microworlds” then which has come to be used by many people in different ways. But the idea of “microworld” is to make a little world that is really intelligent. Where you can really explore difficult and deep questions but such a limited framework that you can really get to understand it. I think that Dawn’s experience with those, those Logo objects, moving around and her ability to explore numbers is an example of, living in the microworld where you could do something with numbers. 

Which you, she did not  know before. And I think she could do something with zero which nobody, you can’t try to do anything with zero. This is why it’s so hard to make that discovery. Actually, I think many children make that discovery and I should correct what I just said. Many children make a discovery but they can’t articulate it or share it with other people because there aren’t any good contexts for using it. 

And so, I want to get onto the next theme, a concept that I think can guide us in thinking about what directions to go in developing educational, new educational activities and simulating the technology. The general sort of topic that my latest name for this is the following, before I say the name I called my book ‘Mindstorms’ its subtitle was ‘Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas.’ And in a more recent paper, I sort of reflect on the fact that the book I got off, I would talk, in front of a lot of people and a lot of reviews. They talked about the book as if powerful ideas wasn’t there. They complained as if there’s a book about children and computers. And for me it wasn’t a book about children or computers, a book about children computers and powerful ideas. Because what I was interested in is computers as a mediator between children and powerful ideas. And, dropping the powerful ideas sort of disempowered the message of the book to a very large extent, or all together because it was highly interesting things in it. That for me was the essence. 

I’d like to talk a little about concept of disempowerment and re-empowerment of ideas. Zero that was an example. That zero is an exceedingly powerful idea in the history of mathematics. For children, it’s a nothing. I’m going to explain, it’s an important kind of nothing. The point is that it’s being disempowered. That wasn’t behind anybody’s deliberate action because in the lives of children it’s very hard to make materials out of wood that make zero an active empowerment, source of empowerment that enables you to do something with it. 

In this computer context, the point about what she was doing in that microworld was that it empowered certain aspects of number and among them zero was re-empowered for her. I think that my criticism from the position statement of technology that “the best way to understand decimal place value is by physical manipulation” it says. “But on screen images may be very appropriate for children ready to work with place value on a more abstract level.” 

Absolutely wrong, it’s not only slightly wrong, it’s an absolutely wrong direction that the important thing is not to start both with the more abstract level, the important thing is to be able to work with it on a more concrete level so that numbers become an instrument for doing things. And all the means that we had to adopt and all the very clever pedagogical devices and manipulative materials, that we had to invent in the past, we had to invent them because we didn’t have the kind of context in which you could learn about numbers in a natural way by doing things with them by making them active. 

So that, all that stuff was solving a problem that isn’t there anymore. In fact, I’m not even sure the place notation would be in the curriculum because it’s not really about numbers, it’s about the notation for numbers. And yes, was that a question?

Female 1: Could you repeat that original statement that you were talking about because the mic didn’t really [inaudible 00:17:29] …

Dr. Papert: I didn’t hear that.

Female 2: The positions statement wasn’t picked up on the mic.

Dr. Papert: Oh, it says here, ”learning about the decimal system and place value is best accomplished by physical manipulation of the golden beads and the million cube. That on screen images may be very appropriate for children ready to work with place value on a more abstract level.” Now, I think that the way we approach place notation, universally Montessori or traditional, anybody else is highly abstract, in so far as this word means anything because you can’t do anything with it. 

The fact that you have embodied it in a material thing is a little step towards making it appropriate for the children for just a little step. I think the important thing is to empower it. I don’t know if you want to call that more abstract, I would call it more concrete that we would turn place notation into something that you can do something with other than get the right answer to a problem that’s posed to you about somebody else. 

I don’t think that kids care about place notation. And in so far as you’ve got to somehow make them care about it, you’re missing out on, I think a fudamental of Montessori’s thinking. Now this is a subtle question because if place notation is really important in children’s lives, they will want to learn about it and then you wouldn’t have to motivate them. I don’t think that it is really important in their lives, as we exist in a world today and so why are we teaching them this? Except that it’s quite established in an idea of what children have to be taught? This is, so I think that, I’m trying to get a different image of what we can do with, by re-empowering, by empowering the magic of numbers. Now I picked up a point that Stephen made, one of his examples was probability, which he quoted quite rightly, and notoriously probability is an idea that is very difficult in courses even in graduate school level. 

His teacher said he will take 3 years to understand this was probably exaggerating because they wouldn’t understand it after 3 years, most of them. 

[audience laughter]

Not that they couldn’t but they wouldn’t. Now let me talk about how it was possible [???], that little Dawn actually was actively using probability. In this Logo system, you can say set speed 100 or 10 or 0, you’d also set speed random and then it would go at different speeds and you wouldn’t know. 

Then you can say, say color random and you would change colors in a random way so that using the concept of random, a 5 year old using a concept of random becomes a way of getting things to happen that are really quite exciting and beautiful. Colors change, shapes change, things move, mathematics becomes an instrument for doing something, for achieving a purpose that you care about, in that case, making a beautiful dynamic dancing screen full of dancing computer objects. 

She cared about that, we didn’t have to motivate her and probability and the expression of probability through numbers became an instrument that she could use to serve a purpose. I think this has to be the criteria for really what is a good technology. Good use of technology. Does it allow the learner, whatever age is felt of these kids of 5 or less and its for them, it enables them to use powerful ideas as instruments for achieving purposes that comes from their own, from their own desires, from their own minds.

So I call this I think if we look through the history of science and the role of ideas, probability, I would say on anybody’s count, the history of science has to be among the list of 10 most powerful ideas that had the biggest impact on the history of science. Certainly, for social sciences wouldn’t have existed without that. For experimental science, the whole experimental method is based on probability analysis. 

For physics in the 20th century, it’s absolutely fundamental. For Darwin, evolution for, it’s fantastically powerful but looking at school and you look at the recommendations of the NCTM and others make about how to introduce probability and it’s reduced to silly little calculations about, what’s the probability that girls like chocolate ice cream and boys like vanilla ice cream and let’s count the number of boys and girls and ask them and work out some little ratio. 

Then you would say, most likely Ann likes chocolate ice cream, but that’s not the way to find out. If you want to know, go and ask her. 

[audience laughs]

This is not a sensible kind of problem to give somebody for that, whether Ann likes chocolate ice cream by doing probability negotiations. Now let me give you one example, a very favorite one that we’ve been working with a lot. Again I’m picking up on one of the things Stephen mentioned about Lego Logo, which I think is an important drive that’s been part of how, of how my head Logo all the time I’ve been involved with this. And connects with the loss of pain before about the Link System and giving kids the means to create mechanical devices that embody powerful ideas. Now tell us the story, always become the station identification called and I tell this so often. I tell this again, this is a beautiful image of this kind of thing. 

After a long time, we persuaded Lego to make a little computer that you can actually put inside a Lego model. And so you can build this little machine, this little vehicle with a computer image, with a sensor, for example a light sensor, that can tell the computer to deliver the light and a motor that will be controlled by the computer or several motors. So with those elements put together, you’re making a device that senses the world, processes what it gets and adds on it.

I think that unlike Sim City this has a complexity that goes beyond what kids have, were able to do before, but is completely intelligible. Okay, now given that the first powerful idea that we introduced kids to through this is: we built these devices and “I’ll make one and I’ll be a shine of light at it that will come towards me.” That’s a really interesting challenge and not really difficult, not really difficult technically because you just need these 2 light sensors and the computer program is, “Is this one getting more life than that one if so I turn on this motor or turn on that motor and so the thing will turn this way or that way and come towards the light.” 

Kids get tremendous excitement from that. The programming system that Lego puts out is only good for maybe 10 or 12 year olds for them. But we are working on programming systems that are good, iconic systems that are good for, with 6 year olds now. We’ll push this down to 5 and 4 pretty soon. Now there’s an empowerment of an idea which we call feedback, how to make the thing go to the light. It doesn’t have to know where the light is it just has to know that there’s more on this side than that side. 

So if you get feedback, very approximate ideas can get you to an exact, exact place. So there’s one powerful idea we don’t usually put among the things kids learn. Only engineering students learn that idea. But 5 year olds can get very excited by it because it enables them to do things that they can recognize as interesting things to do. There’s no probability here. The probability part of the story is, suppose now we, just to, it’s a natural thing to do when you want this thing to work in an environment where there are obstacles. 

So it’s going to run into an obstacle, how can it deal with that? There’s an obstacle between this and that. Long story but I have to cut it very short and say the crux of it is that one way to deal with this is to provide very complicated programs to detect that you’ll touch. This is not for 5 year olds studying bees. [?] The better way is to just introduce some randomness into it. So you see, the original program said, I see, is the light more on that side or this side, because if it’s more on that side, I’ll turn a little bit this way and I take the step forward. It’s still more on that side and so I do little steps until I’ve overshot it and turning back and it gets me there. That’s all we need, that’s the feedback idea. Now into that I introduce, every now and then, just make a random turn and go off over there. So now, what it does is the light’s over there, it goes like this and so, it’ll still get there if I had chosen my numbers, if I had to make it too random too often, it’ll still get there. 

But now we won’t be blocked by an obstacle, not nearly as much anyway because when it hits the obstacle it’s stuck, it’s stuck but every now and then it’ll dot away randomly and eventually it’ll get around a lot of obstacles. So is that a cheating way to do it? Maybe, but we weren’t the first person to achieve this ancient secrets that cheated that way. Nature was the first agency that cheated in that way because that is the way that many simple creatures work.  Just go and watch a bee or a dragonfly or all sorts of things. There’s randomness superimposed on their systematic behavior. With a very simple nervous system, nature has solved the problem of how to get more complex things happening out of a simple nervous system just by introducing randomness in it. Randomness is all over the place in the way nature achieves its goals so that this is powerful. The ideas of probability and randomness and associated are powerful in at least 3 ways here. 

It’s powerful because you can achieve a purpose with it, a very simple, direct immediate purpose. Concrete, it’s all on the screens, it’s all on virtual world, it’s real. Secondly, it’s powerful because it connects with very important steps in the history of science, connects with many other ideas. Then it’s powerful because it connects with the natural world and it sees, you see how many things, you’re one with nature, you have made a, you have solved a problem in the same way that nature did. 

That’s not a little thing, that’s a very big, it’s very compelling. It’s like Dawn’s discovery of nothing. And I think that’s a better image of what we do with technology than computer or software or any of the things that are mentioned in the position statement paper. It’s not that it’s bad I think that the statement, this position paper does take the stand against the most abusive and worst of the so-called educational software. But I think it’s only taken a micro step towards the real use of technology and spirit of, I would associate with Montessori. I’m going to stop there and let’s have some questions and reactions.

[audience applauds]

Female 3: Dr. Papert, this is kind of a [compurning 00:30:34] revolution in my mind and my perspective very much and far from, how do you reconcile this with and having been with Piaget for so long with how do children think? How is the information shift to what I call children concrete reality to teaching the other [inaudible 00:30:57]?

Dr. Papert: Well, thank you for the question that turns the discussion to a profound issue, probably too profound to go into in depth here but let me give the headlines of the answer. First of all, I’m sorry that Piaget used the word “concrete” then because when Piaget used the word “concrete thinking”, he’s using that as a technical name for a certain whole system, a whole way of thinking of children. And there are many ways in which you can say that concrete thinking is more abstract than the self-performing. 

Let me take an example that where, you could say that famous Piaget experiment with the conservation, you’d take these 2 glasses and same level, kid takes the same amount of coke and pour this to a thin glass that’s much higher, a kid says “there’s more there.” That’s often attributed to perception or something. It’s not true because it’s not that it looks higher, the kid has adopted a very good rule, a good way to judge quantity is by level. 

Like if you want to see if you’re taller than your cousin you stand back to back, you make a mark, you share, you do all sorts of things. Given your structural logical abilities at that age, this is a good rule for judging content so it’s an abstract principle. And I am not saying that children think abstractly I’m saying that if you look at what they, how they think, you’ll see that the classification of concrete and abstract doesn’t really fit because they don’t fit into that. 

So I don’t see Piaget’s use of the idea of concrete as in any way going against what I’m saying. I do think that Piaget’s looking at children is describing what children in a certain world learn to do. That is the, I think that the, that some knowledge children developed very naturally and in a very easy way. Other knowledge we have to resort to extreme and often very expensive and difficult measures to somehow get them to have this knowledge through so-called education. 

What’s the difference between these 2? Now I would say the difference is not just complexity of the principle abstract and that’s more concrete, it’s what’s rooted in the materials that kids have in their lives. So for example, 1:1 correspondence because we have one shoe, one sock, one foot, one place at the table setting, one fork, one knife, 1:1 correspondences are everywhere and many other mathematical, mathematical relationships are richly present in the lives of children. 

And those are the ones that develop spontaneously. Algebra doesn’t because it’s not richly in the lives of children. But children programming computers use variables in a natural way. And algebraic concepts all of a sudden become trivia and they just learn them at the early stage. You don’t have to worry about how to teach them because they pick them up as easily as they pick up in the conservation of numbers. Piaget’s absolutely right in the sense that there’s a coherence to the development of children’s thinking. That they think in different sort of systematic ways in different ages and we should recognize that the particular content is a function of the real material world, which they, and social world and cultural world and which children live and we have to re-think it as we move into a more, into a different world where children are having different experiences. Yes, thanks.

Female 4: Well, as Montessori and who has used Logo for a very long time, I do want to ask one question that is something that you brought up today One of the things that Montessori believed in is that children should have many experiences in the natural environment. I wonder why you wouldn’t think that a child studying these or whatever they study couldn’t intuitive some of these things or even have them pointed out to them in that way through nature itself. You’re saying that nature acts this way but does the child, could the child begin with nature?

Dr. Papert: Well, of course the child does begin to venture life and not. I don’t where you draw the line between nature and not nature, like the 1:1 correspondence between mother and father and knife and fork, is this part of nature? Well for the child it’s just that part of nature is the way the insects buzzing around might be. So just what’s nature, I don’t know. But we might be saying, why do we want to introduce this computer thing, why did my story about probability, why couldn’t children suddenly observe that these creatures are doing this randomly? 

Because they don’t see it because think you have to put yourself in the position of nature and see that nature had a problem to make these things. How did the bee get to the flower? This is a problem and too easily obviously, if you see the bee getting to the flower. You might, it’s occur to you well, how does it get there? For most people, even adults and most kids, that doesn’t have much concrete meaning.

How does the flower get, if it sees the flower it goes to it. But by trying to make a little device that will do that, you are putting yourself in the same problem situation that nature was in and so you can better appreciate nature’s solution because you found a similar solution to your problem. And if you didn’t, by looking at nature, now you can go to nature as a source of ideas for solving your problems. And so your relationship with nature is enriched by you’re having problems of the same sort. 

I think it’s not any different in the fact that well, as soon as [makes hand gestures for drawing], that is from the time we’re going to draw and paint, drawing leaves and  painting them and looking at nature’s patterns. The fact that we can draw enriches  our observation of patterns in nature and vice versa, then seeing the new patterns in nature actually enriches drawing, having this instrument of drawing empowers certain aspects of our observation of nature certain ideas of form and shape and structure. 

And similarly having this kind of technology, I think it’s just like the pencil. It’s a kind of technology where you can do things with it which enrich your relationship to the world around you which of course I the real source of your inspiration and thinking.

[audience applauds]

Female 5: I want to just make sure I get this question phrased right because my knowledge of Piaget is a little rusty. I observed that Logo requires logical thinking on the part of the child. Even very young children and that the use of Logo actually aids towards accelerating the child’s achievement of formal operations. I found this to be very exciting that the use of Logo, the computer in the classroom, the programming, the whole concept of programming is really, the approach at Montessori, I think that Montessori would take, is the next step to me, mathematically. So I totally agree with having Logo in the classroom. I’d like you to talk about the idea of the achievement of formal operations by children using it.

Dr. Seymour. Well, I guess you’ve just said it again and again, I think that one of the very powerful ideas of all time is constructing a formal system and making a formal model of a new world system. This is a key idea to the way science works, to what mathematics is about. Now, I don’t think that it’s part of the life of most young children in the way that say, 1:1 correspondence just to take that example. 

I think it is the part of the life of some children, I think parents who encourage children to create games that work by transparent rules are in fact conveying this idea which they might not even articulate or see what, how it relates to mathematics or science, but they are articulating the idea of making a formal system that has its own rules, it works by its only internal rules so it has a relation to what happens outside. 

I think that many children don’t have that experience very early which is why they follow formal stage and Piaget happened so late. I think there’s no reason to suppose that it’s because of any biological maturation. I can’t say it isn’t but I bet there’s no evidence that it did. We see a lot of children who do it at an earlier age and we see a lot of people who don’t ever do it. So I think that creating situations where you are empowering the process of creating a formal model for something is what’s really important. 

Putting this in the hands of kids so that making a formal model is something that they can use to achieve their purposes. That’s a short answer to a really deep and complex question. I think I can see from the expression that you, it agrees with what you were thinking yourself.

Female 4: Yes, thank you.

Female 5: Dr. Papert, to piggyback on Peggy’s remark it had been my experience and observation that there were some particular children, Brian Hamilton in particular, who was fascinated by the trails that ants left outside and would have  followed them around and probably for ever if I’d allowed him to. He took that information and was one of the most …

Dr. Papert: I’m having trouble hearing you.

Female 5: Oh, I’m sorry. Brian Hamilton was following ants around outside. He took that information back inside. And when he came inside he was very interested in the relationship of space and time and was a big proponent of the Logo computer program, first through geometry and the manipulation with Montessori material and then onto the computer where he could take it another step and begin to move lines, make lines and then into some randomness. So there seemed to be some connection, to me, that was kind of a flow between the outside and the inside work of Logo.

Dr. Papert: The outside and the inside worlds?

Female 5: Yes.

Dr. Papert: Well, let me use that to just introduce a theme that I meant to talk about but I had not seen this position till this morning and that took my time. One thing I did want to talk about was the relationship between Montessori and Reggio Emilia. I think in about a month, by the way, I’m going to have a paper available on papert.org that will discuss that if anybody, if you’re interested in a longer story. 

I’d like to reply a little bit obliquely to this question about inside and outside by just picking on one point that I would make about Reggio. I think that one of the striking things about Reggio is the fact that [inaudible 00:44:32] kids is a lot of project that you see kids in the famous story about the amusement park for birds or many many others that very young kings working for many months on a project to get something done. I think this is something that has not been really emulated even by the Reggio people in the United States. 

It has a lot of challenges and I think that’s one of the key things. I don’t have time to really talk about all the factors that impeded but I think that’s the important issue. I’d like to talk about one factor that, the way I think technology can play a different kind of role that’s relevant to the question in and out of worlds. That I think a very important part of the Reggio approach to doing such a project is to, for the concept of project to be empowered by giving it a timeline and a presence.

So you can build this thing and it’s going to take you a long time but you will start off by some rough planning and some sketches and some general ideas and you will pin this up and put this up on a wall, on a display. What’s going to be story board on the project and as the project proceeds, different states of the project are going to be reflected. You go there that’s the project on that wall and I think that being able to articulate, to describe the project, is really important in exactly that, in and out that you reflect on it by taking it in and then you express outwards what you have the result to you reflection and so it goes.

This is essentially something that needs time. And so that goal of having long term involvements is a very important one. But I think also now about technology, there are 2 points that I would like to just make from that. One is that with the kids, when Reggio does this, what they put up on the wall is partly pictures drawn. I mean it is sketches of plans by kids. Some of it’s, some of it is text, descriptions. Most of these kids can’t write so an adult listens to what the kids say as he writes it out and puts it up on the board. 

Now wouldn’t it be interesting, wouldn’t it be better if the kid could do that? Now, how would the kid do that? Here’s an imaginary thing that I’m trying to put together and have got together technologically that just coming what we might imagine in the future, not very far future, next year maybe. Imagine that this wall is an electronic wall and you can still pin things on it through sticky tape I don’t care, maybe it’s soft you can pin them in. 

But I addition you can do the following sort of things that, I’m a 5 year old and I would say what I was thinking about this stage of the project, I speak it into the microphone and I can listen to my recording. I can pin that on the screen that forms an icon which if you click on the icon you will hear it. And so you can go and track this project by clicking through the icons. I’ve noticed that in doing some groupings in the direction of the kids that they edit there, they want to edit, they certainly realize that I described, I was too wordy there.

They want to edit it out and make it more compact, well we can give them the means to do that, very easily. This is given the technology to be able to express what they were thinking what they were doing more richly than can be done in the present context because they’re going to be kept over, over time. I see that as a kind of direction of using technology that doesn’t seem to enter into most discussion of what computers are good for. 

But I think does follow this principle that if we want to think, where should we go with the technology, let’s look at the most successful things that are being done. Let’s look at Montessori, let’s look at Reggio, let’s talk of places where what’s being done there can be done better and we can overcome the actual obstacles and limitations that you can see the practice there, rather than trying to invent all these other different things about new things that are coming out as somebody’s head about what would be good for kids. 

I think the practice that has emerged through this kind of experience like the Reggio experience of having the kids articulate their projects and record them and be part of the recording of that project is something where you can see that they are struggling against the fact that it had to have somebody take dictations from a kid which isn’t a natural thing ‘cause the whole goal is get the adults to back off and we can overcome that particular obstacle. It’s just one example but it’s pointing to another direction of the use of technology.

Male 1: Dr. Papert, thank you very much for your discussions and sharing your ideas with us. As for me, I’m in a state of shock, a state of happily being shocked about the ideas you’re conveying to us. One thing I would like to know thank you also for the connection with the Reggio example that you gave us as to how we can, in practice, use these ideas to extend the child’s thinking. Beyond that, are there any other ideas that you can share with us that you we can get small objects or references or websites or whatever, in order to expand this line of thinking?

Dr. Papert: Well that’s a big tall order so, you could look at my books and website that but I do think, I had one more story about the Reggio Amusement Park for Birds because everyone knows that’s a good example. So I’d be working with informing groups, informing groups of kids out in rural Maine where I live these days. I explained this to one group of kids who would use this Lego Mindstorms material and we described this project, they loved it and I showed them the pictures and that was great. But they said, so I asked them, “What do you do, how would you add to this?” 

So they had one interesting idea, the said, “When we go to the Blue Hill Fair,” which by, some of you might know from Charlotte’s Web which is the place where Charlotte’s Web happened and is right next to where I live. “If you go, when we go to the fair, we like going on the rides.” There were rides in the Reggio thing for birds, there was a Ferris wheel, “but we also like these competitions where you throw balls and throw darts… Can’t we do that for the birds also?” How do we do that for the birds when they have a very good idea which we actually programmed although we didn’t try it for the birds we might this spring. 

We’re going to make a thing so that we’ll put some bird seed in the middle of this little target. If the bird pecks in the middle of the target, bird seed will drop out. They knew how to program this because they know how to use sensors and they knew how to, they just really, it’s quite simple and knew how to do this, it was a very simple program. As simple as the traditional Logo stuff that you might, that you might remember from my user track.

This is a different direction not better or worse but extra that shows how or to use programming in a natural way to make an extension of something that couldn’t be done. It’s very different quality from say, well, let’s use a Lego motor to drive the Ferris wheel, was one of the suggestions I’d give. That’s a, in our discussion, that’s not a good way. The kids they used water-power to turn it an that’s much better than using a computer-controlled electric motor. 

To get the bird pecking at the center of the target, that’s something that you couldn’t do with the kind of technology that 5 year olds usually have. Then that becomes an example of using technology for the empowerment. The other thing is, we can talk for 6 hours about lots of examples of that. Yes.

Female: Unlike most people up here, I heard a lot of things that made me uncomfortable today but I have to say I’m also very excited about you getting the thinking process going so thank you for that. I have a couple of questions, 1) I wanted to know, I know you’re not fond of classification and Montessori would classify our children 3-6, 6-1. When you’re talking about the classes, are you talking about starting as early as 3 to 6 pre-kindergarten with these technological ideas and concepts? 

The other thing is, I would like to know what your classroom would consist of when you have children for 5 hours a day and what would be in that classroom, how would you besides focusing on this, the social emotional needs of the child, is that important? You know. What, those things fitted to your classroom?

Dr. Papert: Of course maybe I don’t the word classroom. It has some connotations but that’s irrelevant remark. 

[audience laughs]

Of course the emotional and social needs are vitally important and I didn’t say explicitly, but I think in all the examples that I’ve given about how probability can be empowered, this is the kid having a different relationship with this idea because it corresponds now to a real need that came from the kids desire, it wasn’t imposed by somebody else. 

So right on from the emotional and what the kid feels about ideas and activities is absolutely central. And I don’t, I think it’s very clear by examples that that’s, I think that’s a guiding spirit in fact. I didn’t say it maybe because I should think it, but it needed, but I thank you for making me make it explicit. And yes it is crucial. Now, what would the learning place look like? Well I think a lot of the principles that you get from Montessori would be there. 

First of all it would not be age segregated, as schools are. The only reason for the extreme age segregation is that we have a, it’s motivated by introduction model of just handing out the knowledge in little bits. You’re going to get the knowledge when you need it, there’s going to be rich in activities that draw on all sorts of knowledge. So it’s got to have sources of knowledge. Sources of knowledge could be people, could be written things for slightly older kids. Younger kids, I would like to see, I’m sure we will get to a much greater extent than we have now, ways of getting at non-textual sources of knowledge in an electronic form. There’ll be lots ways of get, but all, there’ll be ways of communicating with other kids. One of my graduate students recently, now a doctor, wrote her PhD thesis, this is Michelle Petzet. Her PhD thesis was called, “20 heads are better than 2, classroom as virtual expert.” 

She did some experiment the class that happened to have 20 kids, this was in a public school, where the kids went on their long term project we’ve done a lot of where they’re using Logo to make computer games. They make their own game. They’d rather write the rules if you make one, if you make them you will play them. That’s enough, you don’t, the kids love making the games, once you get out of the initial obstacle and giving them enough knowledge to be able to get deeply involved. 

This has been going on for several years in this classroom. What Michelle introduced was a new element where with just these 20 kids there, it was a mechanism. So if one of them needs, has a problem, you can ask the others. It’s interesting with 20 kids in a real room, you’d think they were all there but you can’t be shouting all the time, “I have my problems,” it’s too noisy and people don’t care to hear you. What she did was put electronic bullet mic kind of thing where she could put out the problem. 

You could throw a problem into this and everybody could see it. Then somebody could pick up and say I just would like to offer my help. This was like having a virtual expert because although, what each of those kids knew was hardly qualified as expert knowledge. Between them, they knew a lot. And by feedback between them they would amplify what they knew. So that, this communication system became a way of having a sort of expert coach there except it wasn’t one, it was the same kids. I think the same idea on a bigger scale with more stuff and more sort of storage database of frequently asked questions and things of the sorts.

Basically, ways that you can get in touch with other people who want to do the project with, that you’re really interested in. So that you have a broader range of projects because you can find people who are helpful with it. [???] I think that’s why, again, another way in which the technology can be, can make a dramatic difference to some of the problems that you get if you’re trying to take, well in particular Reggio approach where they use, make such a lot of news on the best artists and so on. 

Not that that isn’t a good thing, and we should always try to do that, but you can’t, there’s a limit to how much you can do in that way and this extent. So those are some, some spotlights on aspects of what I’d see as the learning place, as it is going to be, it’s not that I’m recommending it, I think that this is the, it’s like [inaudible 01:00:10] commute [canoe?]

[audience laughs]

that you can’t stay tied to and stay back and the only question in front of us is: how long it’s going to take, are we with it? 

To take up Stephen’s question again in the beginning of our theories of techies. The unfortunate aspect of that whole computer evolution is that, in a lot of ways the theories have taken a negative attitude to technology and then to the techies to shape the culture around computers and the way that they design and their software works and this sort of digs in at that unfortunate gap between the humanistic and individual and the nature-loving [???] goals that we will share and what goes into the computer systems that are made by people who happen to not like that kind of world, who happen to like living in this isolated world of working only with machines. I think that we’ve all got to get into that or we have to all become part of guiding the future of the, of the technology. It was interesting, last night on 60 Minutes, they had a segment on women and the internet and women and the computers which featured in detail about MaMa Media about the way. 

If you haven’t ever taken a peek at MaMa Media you would, mamamedia.com. It’s a website for kids. The interesting point that that was made, on this show is that while the computer was made by men, all of a sudden, there’s a turnaround in the last year. The majority of users are now women. And the segment where the use of the internet is growing fastest is women. 

The appeal that was made by some of the voices of that 60 Minutes including  Idit Harel, who was also one of my graduate students once upon a time and now she’s created this wonderful thing for kids on the web. It’s an example that she exemplifies and also spoke about that says, “Look, we, women are beginning to move into here.” And it’s a call to women and teachers and, humans generally, to get into that world. 

And don’t think of it as, “Well, Microsoft Office has this and Apple Office has that but there’s people to do this choose between them.” The education world should be doing better than that. Montessori, but especially you should be doing better than that. Better than taking attitudes to good software, to like or not like, you should be a major force saying to the world, “this is a bad way” and be a major participant in making better ways. I guess I really want to stop.

[audience applauds]