Paper and Pencils

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In the External Developers page is the following comment.

Expect that the kids have no paper, pens, pencils, books or trained teachers. Many OLPCs will be deployed into just such an environment.

This page is started in the hope that a sponsor can be found for paper and pencil packs to be provided to the children.

Doesn't it seem rather wasteful to spend money on disposable resource like pencils and paper when you could be spending it on more OLPCs? It is possible to design educational content that does not require expensive support materials.
I am no expert on education, I just thought that the children having no paper and pencils was horrendous and that it would be good if they have some. I was thinking of five and six year olds learning to write. They will need to be able to write with a pen or pencil on paper in adult life. I began to have the idea that an exercise book and a pencil could be provided as part of the welcome pack with the laptop, together with some extra items for the teacher, to cover contingencies. I thought that starting a page about it might be a starting step to it happening. It might not be the same money as would otherwise be used for more laptops.

History of Writing

Long, Long Ago in a land far far away

Long, long ago people did not know how to write. But they liked to draw pictures. They had no computers and no paper so how did they draw?

Sand Pictures

First, they used sticks and drew pictures in the sand. Can you draw pictures in the sand? Does the wind blow your pictures away?

Next, they used their sticks to draw pictures in mud. When the mud dried, the wind couldn't blow their pictures away. The dry mud would crack and they could carefully pick up a picture and show it to a friend. Can you draw pictures in the mud? What happens when the rain comes?

Then, somebody made a fire to cook some food right on top of the mud pictures. The next day it rained and rained and rained. After the rain stopped, the people saw that the mud picture was still there. People tried different kinds of mud and learned that clay mud made the best pictures. Can you bake your mud pictures? What happens if you pour water on it after it is cold? Can you find mus that makes the best pictures?

Bark Pictures

  • You get the idea?
  • charcoal for writing
  • mix grease and charcoal and colored dirts (research life of George Washington Carver for ideas)
  • paints and pigments
  • glues

Woven Grasses

  • mats of tightly-woven grass or other fibres
  • paint several coats of gesso to provide a smooth flat canvas
  • use your paints

Pictographs and Ideographs

  • Ancient Sumerian clay tokens
  • Ancient Chinese oracle bones
  • Harrapa clay tokens
  • American Indian pictographs and sign language
  • Standardized symbol sets

Rebus and Alphabets

  • Rebus principle
  • Simplified pictographs
  • Phoenician alphabet
  • Japanese Hiragana evolution from Chinese
  • Innuit syllabics

To be done

Obviously a lot more needs to be done but you see how a curriculum can lead kids towards writing through guided experiences in art that parallels the evolution of writing. At the same time the kids learn many different drawing materials that they can use to write with and which they can acquire themselves in their local area.


However, we might want to use the laptops as a disruptive element in the traditional mindset of teaching and learning that glorifies the use of pen and paper. Papert says:

In Mindstorms (Papert, 1980), I asked (choosing one out of a vast
number of possible examples) why the quadratic equation of the
parabola is included in the mathematical knowledge every educated
citizen is expected to know. Saying that it is "good math" is not
enough reason: The curriculum includes only a minute sliver of the
total body of good mathematics. The real reason is that it matches the
technology of pencil and paper: It is easy for a student to draw the
curve on squared paper and for a teacher to verify that the assignment
has been done correctly.

I have noted elsewhere (Papert, 1996b), that School's math can be
characterized by the fact that its typical act is making marks on
paper. Explorations in the Space of Mathematics Education develops
this idea by imagining an alternative mathematical education in which
the typical activity begins with and consists of creating, modifying,
or controlling dynamic computational objects. In this context the
parabola may be first encountered by a child creating a videogame
as the trajectory of an animal's leap or a missile's flight; here,
the natural first formalism for the parabola is an expression in a
child-appropriate computational language of something like "the path
followed when horizontal speed and vertical acceleration are both

Many readers will say that is too abstract for children. This is
because they have in mind children who grew up using the static
medium of pencil and paper as the primary medium for representing
mathematical ideas. Attempts to inject this treatment of the parabola
as an isolated innovation into an otherwise unchanged School will
confirm their negative view. For children who have acquired true
computational fluency by growing up with the dynamic medium as a
primary representation for mathematical thinking, I argue that it
would plausibly be more concrete, more intuitive, and far more
motivating than quadratic equations. My experiments support this
expectation by showing that the dynamic definition is indeed
accessible even to elementary school children who are given the
opportunity to acquire a degree of computational fluency that is still
very limited though considerably more than a few students develop in
what are misleadingly called computer labs in contemporary schools.