[Etoys] some comments

Alan Kay alan.kay at squeakland.org
Thu Aug 30 09:38:26 EDT 2007

Hi Bill --

What follows is not an argument against (a) using 
a game making approach (great for some kids) or 
(b) the worth of getting all children to learn to 
program (probably a good idea).

What we need to contemplate is the probability of 
"gaining enlightenment" by being in contact with 
various kinds of environments and epistemologies.

If we look at the class of "those who know how to 
program" we see a generally unenlightened group 
(maybe similar to humans in general, maybe even 
less enlightened). In any case, we have to 
conclude there is nothing intrinsic about 
learning to program that leads to deeper 
thoughts. One of our rueful jokes about the Logo 
vogue in the 80s is that everything would be OK 
if we could just package Seymour on the floppies!

I think it would be even easier to justify the 
same generalization about gamers and game makers.

Or about archers ... There was an intriguing book 
in the 60s zeitgeist called "Zen and the Art of 
Archery" by Herrigel, that made a similiar point: 
learning archery doesn't confer any automatic 
enlightenment, but it could be used as a path if 
much were added to standard training.

Or about any activity that requires 
concentration, focus and learning. My grandfather 
Clifton Johnson (a writer and illustrator of many 
books and also an early photographer) once got 
asked in 1904 to write an article for the 
Saturday Evening Post on whether photography 
could be an art form. He said "Art enters in when 
one labors thoughtfully over a goal; that is, 
when one cuts loose from actions that are merely 
mechanical". It's in that space of "laboring 
thoughtfully" where there are opportunities for enlightenment.

"Enlightenment about what?" brings up the 
environmental influences. I don't think that 
archery or cooking (or photography) are 
cosmically interesting -- so the kinds of 
enlightenments in these environments are likely 
to be personal ones, but with some flashes of 
"the world is not as it seems". On the other 
hand, if science is the environment, and one is 
dealing with its huge epistemological differences 
with commonsense perceptions -- that is: science 
has much of cosmic significance in its purview -- 
then there are great and deep opportunities for 
enlightenment. (But no guarantees here either, just higher probabilities.)

My interest in education is not as a form of 
vocational training or preparation, but in 
helping children to become adults who are more 
thoughtful, and whose perspectives for thinking 
are much wider and deeper than the adults of 
today. The built-in "universals" that are 
destructive to human growth can be countered to a 
considerable extent by a modern "real education" 
that includes powerful invented points of view 
(the "powerful ideas") that act almost as 
additional brain/minds and can form a much 
stronger and less brittle heuristic base for 
thinking well under wider conditions.

In the end, the epistemology of science can lead 
to many more and better perspectives on the human 
condition, and this is where I think education 
should and must go. Whether children learn 
computers or not is not the issue for me (nor 
even whether they gain math or science knowledge) 
-- it's whether they can gain clearer 
perspectives on "us and what to do about us" that is critical here.

The established Arts -- including writing -- have 
as one of their main properties to provide other 
perspectives and wake-up calls, but they have 
been less effective than one would hope: they are 
generally too easily overwhelmed by distracting 
media, and they have enough story elements that 
they tend to be compartmentalized (as is the 
natural case with stories). On the other hand, 
even though our brain/minds want to make stories 
out of everything (and judge them by how apt they 
seem), science stubbornly tries to rise above our 
"storyminds" to help us make representations of 
the "what's out there" that are much more 
accurate "maps and models" (especially including 
accurate maps and models of ourselves). This is 
what we need to concentrate on when trying to 
design new educational experiences.

I don't think we are doing very well at these 
grand goals for education at the moment, but we 
haven't forgotten them in all the technical 
flurries that accompany the invention of new 
media to hold new ways to look at important ideas.



At 10:21 PM 8/29/2007, Bill Kerr wrote:
>hi paulo,
>Thank you for the link to squeakcmi, it looks 
>great, I'll spend some time there
>I'm a secondary teacher and in the past few 
>years I've mainly been using GameMaker - but now 
>think Squeak / Etoys is potentially more 
>powerful for a variety of reasons which I have 
>articulated a little but it needs improvement
>The Game Making approach is flavour of the month 
>and is good for motivation and engagement of 
>many students (not all). Also many teachers are 
>engaged by the concept. I received hundreds of 
>emails from teachers in just one state of 
>Australia when I initially promoted Game Maker a 
>few years ago. However, it is also true that 
>many teachers oppose Game Maker because they 
>don't see a clear link to curriculum, some see it as pandering to populism.
>Both you and alan have mentioned this outlook, 
>to quote from alan in this thread: "a 
>productively environment (Scratch is aimed at 
>productivity) and an educational one (EToys is more aimed in this direction)"
>I sort of agree with this approach but am also 
>torn. Game Maker is unashamedly populist, the 
>focus is absolutely clear from its name. So kids 
>end up programming on an inferior platform - no 
>morphic, no late binding, Windows only, 
>proprietary code. It would be nice if more young 
>people spontaneously picked up on etoys / 
>squeak, that it could generate that sort of 
>appeal. The way kids view school these days to 
>promote something as "educational" is almost the kiss of death!!
>I would see Etoys / Squeak as more powerful than 
>either Scratch or Game Maker. I wouldn't see 
>young students moving over from Etoys to Scratch 
>as a step upwards, it seems more like a step backwards to me.
>I like the low entry, high ceiling approach. You 
>don't need the high ceiling for all students but 
>in any group a small proportion of hackers 
>emerges, say 5%,  which does need the high 
>ceiling. One aim ought to be to encourage that 
>advanced group, one thing they do is drag the general level upwards
>For the students I teach (secondary) the quality 
>of their sprites is very important. I have seen 
>them abandon their game making projects simply 
>because they couldn't find the sprites they wanted on the web.
>I'm still a beginner with etoys / squeak but 
>have done more study recently and now understand 
>how the morphic approach fits in to etoys (the 
>Player class, prototyping approach).
>What I'm saying is that it would be good to have 
>multiple pathways into etoys, not always 
>starting with a painting, which is a v strong 
>default at the moment. This would probably mean 
>the ability from the start to select a variety 
>of morphs from a supplies or widgets tab, which 
>is a feature of eg. my squeak 3.8 full image but 
>not a feature of the OLPC/etoys image. You only 
>get the paint option. I can't find the world 
>menu to access morphs in that way at all in the 
>etoys image so I'm wondering about the design 
>decisions that have been made in this case and the rationale behind them.
>I think what you and alan will say is that the 
>target group for the OLPC is ages 6 to 12, one 
>of the core_principles: 
>Fair enough but I think for this group my 
>comments still do have some relevance, so I'll send to the list as well
>- Bill
>Bill Kerr
>On 8/27/07, Paulo Drummond 
><<mailto:ptdrumm at terra.com.br> ptdrumm at terra.com.br> wrote:
>On Aug 26, 2007, at 10:07 PM, Bill Kerr wrote:
>>On 8/25/07, carla gomez monroy 
>><<mailto:carla at laptop.org> carla at laptop.org> wrote:
>>However, for some people it can be quite 
>>intimidating to get a blank screen when they click on "Make A New Project."
>>I'm wondering why the first step is always to 
>>make a painting - and then when you keep the 
>>painting you have an object and can then do 
>>more powerful things at that point.
>Imho, the first step is to understand a little 
>of this environment and what was the idea behind 
>Etoys. Depending on the age/grade, the deepness 
>varies. However, the teacher has a crucial role 
>here: to understand it first. The book "Powerful 
>Ideas in the Classroom" is of enormous value.
>The next expected step for a child (in this 
>environment) is to create an object. Children 
>usually like to pictorially represent their 
>world. They need to express it as they need to 
>situate themselves in the surrounding society. Contextualize.
>They can also use other predefined objects like 
>ellipses/circles, rectangles/squares etc to 
>complement  their painting, or give a more 
>"realistic" display of their object-symbols. 
>Conversely, they may use the paint palete to 
>"personalize" some geometrical primitives they've place in their world.
>It has been demonstrated 
>that kids at initial grades can use Etoys as a 
>starting point to understand it and to express 
>their ideas, paving the way to more advanced 
>representations using the very same environment.
>>A naive user might think it is just a paint 
>>program. Also some people don't like painting 
>>or are not good at it, eg. me. Also it's hard to paint well with a mouse.
>Children can use Etoys as a mapping tool. 
>Actually they don't give a penny about accuracy, 
>just because they don't need to. Adults 
>generally do, even not knowing a bit of its usefulness.
>>Why not have prepackaged sprites which can be 
>>loaded immediately (as well as the painting 
>>option)? Then the user is one step closer to 
>>the more powerful stuff. It also sends a 
>>message that it is not just a paint program - 
>>there has to be more to it than just loading a sprite
>>LogoWriter, MicroWorlds and GameMaker all have prepackaged sprites
>Then Squeak Etoys would be another thing. When 
>not-so-young kids need a more sophisticated 
>expression-driven, more in the realm of 
>productivity authoring tools — with many of the 
>programmatic aspects of Etoys, they may go to another great tool: Scratch.
>>I have given to the teachers in printed form
>>    * powerful ideas in the classroom
>>I think *all* of the book, Powerful ideas in 
>>the classroom, should be available on the web. 
>>The car tutorial on squeakland is great but 
>>it's not enough. There are some good pdfs on 
>>squeakland too but the site is poorly organised
>Afaik, a new squeakland website is in the works.
>>and it took me ages to find them. I wrote a 
>>blog about the frustrating but eventually 
>>successful search for etoy resources here:
>>It would be good to have a comprehensive help 
>>manual in one place. Pop up help is good but 
>>sometimes more detail is needed. Such a manual 
>>would probably be used more by teachers than by 
>>students but that is still useful.
>I could not agree more. Etoys documentation is 
>really very scarce and sparse. With the help of 
>the Squeakland community worldwide, these things 
>are starting to show up here and there. It has 
>been posted in <http://laptop.org>laptop.org's 
>[Community-news] that the Etoys dev team has 
>started a discussion about this issue.
>— paulo
>Etoys mailing list
>Etoys at lists.laptop.org
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