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George Washington Carver was born as a slave in 1864. He was the first black student to graduate from Iowa State College where he studied botany. He then went on to teach and research at the Tuskegee Institute where he made many discoveries which revolutionized the economy of the Deep South. For instance, he discovered 300 products that could be made from a trash crop known as peanuts. Before long, thousands of acres of former cotton fields were being planted with peanuts.

We mention Carver on this site because of his approach to science and to research. He was an inveterate scrounger who used to scour rubbish dumps to find things that he could use in his laboratory. At schools, on farms, and county fairs, Carver urged others to recognize their own potential, and that of their surroundings. He was committed to learning by doing. Students were encouraged to "figure it out for themselves." They need a thorough preparation to "do all common things uncommonly well." Carver's talks and writings were direct, practical, and engaging. His warmth and charm allowed him to develop and maintain close personal relationships with students, farmers and powerful philanthropists over the years. Long before there were computers, George Washington Carver was already practicing constructionist education.

Anyone interested in developing software to support the teaching of science would do well to read a biography of George Washington Carver before starting development.

Hidden curriculum

Every educational system is pervaded with unstated assumptions about culture, morality, and other factors that do not show up in the formal curriculum. If we are not aware of these assumptions, we risk colliding with them and having our offerings rejected or coopted to serve ends that we may not approve of. This is a large and difficult question with a growing literature and several quite disparate communities of interest with quite different views on what is appropriate or desirable.

The problem is that existing education systems were designed to create barely competent shop clerks and factory workers in the vocational track, and a compliant military, government bureaucracy, middle management and research establishment in the academic track. Education for the children of business leaders was handled by private schools.

Essential Ideas


This is the heart of constructivist/constructionist education. On the XO it is implemented as collaborative discovery.

We cannot just tell teachers, parents, governments, etc. this. We must engage as many of them as possible, and enable them to discover discovery themselves.


Any fool can know. The point is to understand.--Albert Einstein

This distinction is well illustrated by the difference between the ferocious rivals Thomas Edison, who simply tried everything (most famously, over a thousand materials for light-bulb filaments), and Nikola Tesla, who could visualize three-dimensional magnetic fields, and believed in calculating likely possibilities before starting experimentation.

At the schoolroom level, the difference is between knowing rules for manipulating variables, and understanding what a variable is. (Basically, a variable name is a pronoun that can refer to a different number each time it is used.) Caleb Gattegno was particularly good at inducing understanding of arithmetic and elementary algebra using Cuisenaire rods. Everybody involved in XO software and content should read his work. In fact, a Cuisenaire rod activity would be brilliant.

Another example from grade school: English does not have vowel quantity, that is, longer and shorter vowels, in the manner of, say, Latin, Hindi, or Japanese. But in schools we use the terminology of long and short vowels taken from Latin. In fact, so-called long vowels in English are not the same vowels spoken longer, but entirely different vowels (actually diphthongs) that happen to be written with the same letter (though not always), and marked by a following silent e (but by no means always).

This is due to the great lack of vowel letters in alphabets descended from Greek (Latin and Cyrillic mainly). The Greek alphabet was adapted from a Semitic alphabet that had no vowel letters at all. Some other alphabets such as Korean Hangeul and the Shavian alphabet for English have many more vowel letters, and use unique combinations for writing diphthongs. As though we wrote "Ai keim to yur haus," and didn't pretend that 'ai' was a version of 'i', and 'ei' a version of 'a'.

  • a ei cap cape
  • e How would you write this clearly in Latin alphabet? We would have to just make something up. met meet mete
  • i ai sit site
  • o ou for fore four, but not cop cope
  • u ?? tun (ton) tune, tun (ton) tune, cup coop, but not cut cute /kyut/

but note that book uses 'oo' for a different vowel than in coop.

It takes some children days to work out that the long and short distinction is nonsense, and that they can and should ignore the plain meaning of the words, and just memorize the list. Some never get it.

See also

It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with [[:{{{1}}}|{{{1}}}]]. (Discuss)