Learning stories

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Please add your favorite stories about learning here.

towards real research by learners

I was teaching computer science in UK in the early eighties when coursework projects were first introduced. It seemed natural that each learner should do a unique project. First ventures with an early WIMP system worked excitingly well with projects from truly outstanding to laboured, with much inter-student interaction, but national rollout of coursework across the sciences and maths brought one project per school (all in a school do the same project, often over two years. Ugh.) as the norm. In my last years of teaching, by now Physics, I tried to get every pupil to handle six to twelve unique projects each. The highest flier did over twelve in the two years, taking only two normal school days to complete each. Inspirational at a time when science coursework nationally had become a weak, disliked, and problem area. I note that London Gifted and Talented www.londongt.org has this year launched a scheme for unique projects, which seems to address the issues positively and with outreach. Hence the unsolicited plug.

started by Bruce, age 63

reading and writing

Just a simple but amazing application of the laptop as a reading and writing tool. My 2 year old Peter loves his abc books and has extended this love to the computer. Using Google images he types in a word presses "return" and gets to see a picture of what he wrote. At 2.5 years old he goes through the entire alphabet, "apple" to "zebra" and uses the computer with a proficiency that he has learned from trial and error.

Started by Lin Shon Wan

programming, age 5

I learnt to program a computer at a very young age (around 5 or 6). Like many programmers my age, I first learnt to program in BASIC on a c64. Unlike many programmers who learnt to program at a young age, my family was poor. We received the c64 as a christmas present on Dec 28, as we had to wait until the post-christmas sales for it to drop to a price my parents could afford. Every birthday or christmas, my two brothers and I would receive presents in the form of software (mostly games) to capitalize on the investment in a computer that my parents had made. I remember spending long days during school holidays entering lines and lines of BASIC and machine code from magazines, just to make it play a tune or display some poorly drawn graphics. Through reading other people's programs I learnt to write my own, and shortly after learnt assembler, Pascal, C and many other computer languages.

I always thought that small computers, which even poor families could afford, would be available to help children learn, but around the end of the 80's, this phenomona died and it wasn't until the late 90's, with the arrival of the internet, that the concept of a family computer caught on again. Perhaps the OLPC project can do for someone in the third world what the c64 did for me.. but maybe, just maybe, it can do so much more.

by Trent Waddington

Learning by making games

Read Seymour’s parables on learning, better still read the Works of Papert, then come back here and what I am saying will make more sense.

The OLPC is not a hardware project or a software project, it is not even a teaching project, it is a learning project. The computer is an “object to think with”, a sandpit which is only limited by human imagination.

“The computer is a medium of human expression and if it has not yet had its Shakespeares, its Michelangelos or its Einsteins, it will. …. We have scarcely begun to grasp its human and social implications.” Computer Criticism vs. Technocentric Thinking By Seymour Papert

For kids to learn, they need an activity which is authentic and relevant to them, they need something which is easy to get into but can take them a long way, they need a “low floor and high ceiling”. The making of computer games can meet these needs, it can give opportunities for self-directed learning. Learning that may start in schools but continues at home.

"Games are thus the most ancient and time-honored vehicle for education. They are the original educational technology, the natural one, having received the seal of approval of natural selection. We don't see mother lions lecturing cubs at the chalkboard; we don't see senior lions writing their memoirs for posterity. In light of this, the question, "Can games have educational value?" becomes absurd. It is not games but schools that are the newfangled notion, the untested fad, the violator of tradition. Game-playing is a vital educational function for any creature capable of learning." Crawford, The Art of Computer Game Design

A number of teachers have found that the latest generation of drag&drop game programming tools provide just that “low floor high ceiling” environment for self-directed learning. more about kids learning by creating games here.

Games programming can be justified on three grounds: transferable cognitive skills, metacogitive skills and affective benefits

The idea behind transferable cognitive skills is that students are learning skills in areas such as mathematics and literacy while programming games and that these skills will transfer to the more traditional areas with measurable outcomes: Cartesian coordinates; Negative number; Position, speed, acceleration; Algebraic variables; Relative & absolute value; Estimation; Chance; New unidentified skills for a digital age

Metacognitive skills are the self management skills we employ when we are learning.

Affective benefits refers to our attitudes to school, teachers and classrooms. If students enjoy going to school, they will learn better.

Etoys is the game programming activity that will ship with the OLPC, to provide such an environment, the essential features are:

. easy entry level programming with drag and drop programming

. a true versatile programming environment, not just selecting from limited scenarios

. top end extensibility through fully featured text based programming

. licencing which allows kids to continue to work at home for free

Etoys is looking good to meet those goals providing it has the "low floor".

by Tony Forster"The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled." Plutarch (46 - 127)

An idea for school stories

such as Esperanza School

  1. Think about integrating computers into a curriculum at all stages. What does this mean for each teacher and class?
  2. Have students and teachers spend a week thinking about all the projects and experiments they have done over the past year; and describe them for others students of a similar age elsewhere around the world