[etoys-dev] (SQ-749) and Kathleen's question on "What do you mean by Artifacts?"

Steve Thomas sthomas1 at gosargon.com
Sun Aug 22 23:37:21 EDT 2010

Hi Alan,

On Thu, Aug 12, 2010 at 12:54 PM, Alan Kay <alan.nemo at yahoo.com> wrote:

> A good slogan for teaching, pedagogy, and curriculum design is "When should
> it be easy, and when should it be hard?".

This, for me at least, is hard to figure out ahead of time when designing a
lesson. I am much better when I interact with the kids and can improvise on
the spot.

> The notion here is that for education to be transformative, you wind up as
> a different "better" person than you were, and this means that certain
> difficulties were very important to your learning -- the stuff that was
> "easy" you could already do (and some of the easy stuff is not what you want
> to aim at). Building knowledge and skills to get fluent at handling
> difficulties (and in some case rendering them non-difficult) is a key for
> much important learning.

> On the other hand, gratiutous non-productive difficulties are to be avoided
> because they generally both distract and occupy " thinking chunks" that one
> needs for the important stuff.
> (I don't recognize my quote that was paraphrased)
It comes from a video I found in the Bell Labs library around 84-86 (not
sure of video date). You were talking about User Interface design and my
biological memory recalls you refering to using a mouse and saying "If I can
do it in one click, I'll do it.  If it takes two clicks, I might do it. If
it takes three or more clicks, I probably won't do it". I have used and
attributed it to you a number of times since. If I am in error please let me
know and I will self correct.

I really could use Gorden Bell's E-Memory. Hopefully you are heeding his
advice and collecting your E-memory so that we may search and study it. One
way to do this is anytime you give an interview, presentation etc where it
is recorded, request a copy of the recording and all rights to distribute as
you see fit.  Also be sure they video your presentation and not just you so
we can see what you are referring to.  It would be nice if we had text
versions of those interviews. I am working on transcribing the interview you
gave at Natural math <http://mathfuture.wikispaces.com/Important+questions> and
its time consuming. I have a friend who works on Google speech recognition
software and would try and send him a copy, but Ellumintate doesn't seem to
have a way to extract the audio.

> Adults tend to be the biggest problems when trying to help children learn
> things. It's the adults who generally don't want to do the work and don't
> see many things as fun. Kids (and people in general) can spend a lot of time
> focussed and doing when they are having fun.

If not Adults, who? If the goal is transformation I see Adults as part of
the solution.  So does labeling them as part of the problem (which I am NOT
disagreeing with) help or hinder transformation?

> I ask this because I see a lot of teacher bashing which I believe hinders
our cause much more than helps it.

Another choice besides adults is older kids, I have seen this succesfully
used in Scouting and in a public speaking conference my kids attended this
past weekend. They tend to listen to older kids more and the older kids
realize the importance of fun. The key here, as with adults, is guidance and

> Constructivism (one of many such terms I don't use because they have lost
> their meanings) doesn't mean discovery from scratch (this is a huge
> confusion many people have), but does mean "understand and clarifying by
> making a careful descriptive model".

> This can be done with English and writing (it is what descriptive,
> expositional, and argumentative writing are supposed to be about). It can be
> done with mathematics. It can be done in many cases with physical
> construction materials. And a lot can be done in terms of computer programs.
Thank you I really hadn't thought of this before and it is an excellent
point (ie: something I can use with my kids).

> I will look for ways my kids can learn this.

> I like the Montessori curriculum approach of making a carefully designed
> environment for the chilldren that allows choice on their part and allows
> limited the degrees of freedom on the educator's part.

The problem I struggle with is how to design the environment and what games,
playthinks, problems, etc to use.

> One of the best projects we've ever designed is the Galilean Gravity one --
> and it illustrates what you have to do with guidance on the one hand and
> space to play on the other to enormously raise the probability that most
> children will be able to see and understand what is going on without having
> to give them the "answer" to memorize.

I love that project and I find it extremely frustrating. Frustrating because
I really want to do it with my kids, but it is really really hard to do in
Etoys.  The hard part being importing the video. The reason for this I
believe is that the video player only supports MPEG.

> The idea that kids take their own videos and then analyze them is an
excellent approach. Avigail Snir had a wonderful example of using video at
Squeakfest.  But as I understand it, even she had a lot of problems trying
to convert the video into MPEG and even more frustrating is she is having
trouble sharing it with the world so other teachers could see it and be

One of the keys in the early Montessori schools was the intense
> comprehensive training of the Montessori teachers -- and the lack of the
> equivalent of this in most of today's schools is a huge problem.

I have also been thinking about using scripts (the theatrical kind) and
cue's to look for with scripted responses as a way of teaching. Perhaps
Actors would be good teachers hmmmm need to flesh out the idea more.

> The scripts in Etoys are independent of the visible appearance of the
> object they are attached to (the objects' "costumes" can be changed at will
> -- and this is how "frame animation" is done in Etoys).

I'm not quite understanding what it is that you would like for teachers
> beyond a repository of projects with extensive notes about how they were
> made and how to make them.

A repository of projects is good, but I would add a repository of objects,
sets of objects and scripts. Ie: I think unit of "things you can
share/store/easily re-use" is too large. I write this then ask myself, why
do I feel this way?  I think it goes back to the point you verbalized much
better than me "It gets annoying after the first few times".  I may be
thinking of what you refer to later in the email as "packaging up" a

I would like to be able to re-use and share those solutions (especially
since Etoys lets me look inside and modify them). The ability to look inside
and modify them is why I would prefer "artifacts" (as discussed in previous
emails and built by Hilaire as part of iStoa) be created with scripting
tiles as opposed to doing so in squeak.  This would allow teacher to build a
set of virtual manipulatives that others could modify or just look inside
and figure out how they work. One response I received was that this would
not scale, but frankly I don't understand why not.

"Packaging a solution" would also let you develop a curriculum where kids
built their own tools (ex: a graphing tool) and re-use them in other
projects. The one tricky part of the graphing tool is labeling the number
lines (trying to align the text is hard, at least I have not found a simple
solution) so perhaps a number line object would be needed.

> If "learning by making" is a good idea, then shouldn't teachers learn new
> ideas about Etoys by making them (but with lots of guidance)?

Okay my turn to not quite understand: Yes I agree "learning by making"
is agood idea. But should teachers and learners have to make
everything from
first principles?  Who has the time?

Would teachers not benefit from using "great literture" created by people
who were PUFx's (ie: had a Profound Understanding of Fundamental <subject

> I have a friend at work who while at Stanford and did very well in Organic
Chemistry, he thought the reason he did so well was he had 7 or 8 core
concepts from which he could derive the rest.  He decided to try and teach
those concepts and when and how to use them to some of the other students to
see if they could use them and "transform".  It worked well and I think this
idea has some merit. Unfortunately he had a head injury and can't remember
them. My challenge is to find sets of core ideas and how to use them, then
figure out how to present them in an age appropriate manner.

I also think you made a good point in the Natural Math interview when you
mentioned Seymour Papert's comment that it doesn't much matter what
mathematics we teach them as long as they are learning to reason like a

On the other hand, there are any number of things in the Etoys design itself
> that could be vastly improved to help both adult and child learning, and
> also for them to make better extensions.

Yes, the question I am struggling with are which are the important ones
worth doing first. To think about that I am considering imposing upon myself
something similar to the Warren Buffet advise to "give myself a ticket with
only twenty slots in it so that you had twenty punches - representing all
the investments I could make in a lifetime". I think instead I will try and
limit myself to three requests for the rest of the year. Those who know me
know how hard it will be to impose that constraint. But one way would be
allow myself to discuss many possible improvement (which helps me think
about them) and then only pick three to request.

> For example, I do all my talk presentations using Etoys and I write scripts
> to sequence "builds" of additive visual material to the slide (Powerpoint
> has a feature for doing this that is more convenient for some goals and
> simply won't allow others). It is very instructive to do this by hand a few
> times, and then gets annoying.

> Etoys does not have a good extension mechanism for "packaging up" a
> solution to "slide builds" that can then be used as a feature. This is a
> real sin against our own precepts. The lack of it is due to EToys being
> thought of as temporary and of limited scope at Disney. It is terrible that
> we don't have it now.

I think Ricardo's GSoC Morph I/O may help solve at least part of the
problem.  You can save an object (including a playfield and its embedded
objects) in a file and import it later. I have used it a number of times and
find it very useful.

Why don't we do it now? Because we've been trying to move on to the next
> design since before OLPC came along. And so forth.

I look forward to seeing the next design (I have only caught glimpses from
what I have read on the VPRI site and reading into emails and
discussions). Is there a time frame when we can expect to see it?

All that said, I think the most important thing to work on now is great
content (projects, lesson plans, screencasts, etc.)

Many Cheers for all you have done and continue to do,

> Stephen

> *From:* Steve Thomas <sthomas1 at gosargon.com>
> *To:* Bert Freudenberg <bert at freudenbergs.de>; Kathleen Harness <
> kharness at illinois.edu>
> *Cc:* etoys-dev dev <etoys-dev at squeakland.org>; squeakland <
> squeakland at squeakland.org>; Alan Kay <alan.nemo at yahoo.com>
> *Sent:* Thu, August 12, 2010 8:11:46 AM
> *Subject:* Re: [etoys-dev] (SQ-749) and Kathleen's question on "What do
> you mean by Artifacts?"
> I have been reading Alan Kay's Thoughts About Teaching Science and
> Mathematics To Young Children<http://www.vpri.org/pdf/m2007003a_thoughts.pdf>
> :
>> I think one of the trickiest issues in this kind of design is an analogy
>> to the learning of science itself, and that is *"how much should the
>> learners/users have to do by themselves vs. how much should the
>> curriculum/system do for them?"* Most computer users have been mostly
>> exposed to "productivity tools" in which as many things as possible have
>> been done for them. The kinds of educational environments we are talking
>> about here are a*t their best when the learner does the important parts
>> by themselves, and any black or translucent boxes serve only on the side and
>> not at the center of the learning.* What is the center and *what is the
>> side will shift as the learning progresses, and this has to be accommodated.
>> *
> By exposing everything in Etoys as "First Principles" (which in this
> particular case I understand to mean, that we have a minimal set of
> scripting tiles and objects from which everything can be built) we avoid the
> "productivity tools" issue because everything is exposed.  It is also a
> beautiful, elegant and exposes a powerful idea.
> The challenge in a system where everything is done from "First Principles"
> is that when you are designing an"educational environment"  "lesson",
> or "Artifact" ( better terms might be "playthink" and/or "tool to think
> with"), it can take a lot of work to build those preferably translucent
> boxes.  And to paraphrase another Alan Kay quote on user interface design:
> "If it takes one step I'll do it, If it takes two steps I might do it, if it
> takes three or more steps forget about it!"
> No, I am not arguing to make things easy for everyone, we need find ways to
> get kids to have "hard fun." Hard work and ragging a problem are good
> habits.  I also strongly believe that giving kids a "blank canvas" and a
> great set of brushes and paints is an excellent and preffered method, but
> not the only one we should use.
> I am arguing (and struggling) with is how in a "First Principle" system
> like Etoys, we can find ways to make it easier for teachers/designers (ie:
> make them more productive).  I fear I see in some folks (none on this email
> list of course) a tendency towards what I initially saw (and fell into
> myself) as the constructivism trap. Where I encountered people who thought
> kids should construct all knowledge themselves from Scratch (pun intended
> ;).  As I recall Alan (and others pointing out) we can't expect kids to do
> that, they will repeat the same mistakes people did over thousands of years.
> My initial thoughts are a repository of Artifacts that teachers can use
> along with a set of scripts (the problem with the set of scripts idea is
> that the scripts in Etoys are not decoupled from the ?morphs? (not sure of
> the correct term here, but basically the pixels visually representing the
> object). Bert's idea that we have a Player Variable and the scripts that
> operate on it is a good one, but I think there may be some bugs there, need
> to test more.
> Now I will more directly address Kathleen's question: "What do you mean by
> "Artifacts".
> I will switch from "Artifacts" to the term "Playthinks" (which I
> encountered in the "The Big Book of Brain Games<http://www.amazon.com/Big-Book-Brain-Games-Mathematics/dp/0761134662>"
> by Ivan Moscovich).
> One of the best and simplest "Playthinks" for teaching I ever encountered
> was Robert B. Davis' classroom warm-up (which I showed at Squeakfest and
> have wrote about here<http://mrstevesscience.blogspot.com/2009/12/taking-tic-tac-toe-to-next-level-if-you.html>.)
>  Basically it involves drawing on the board a 4 x 4 grid
> . . . .
> . . . .
> . . . .
> . . . .
> Then having kids pick two numbers and using those two numbers as X and Y
> counting from 0 at the origin point in the lower left and then If they land
> on the board marking an X or O until one team wins.  Some of the keys to
> this "Playthink" are:
>    - you let kids puzzle it out for themselves, they figure out the rules,
>    you don't tell them
>    - it contains a powerful idea
>    - it can be easily extended to other concepts (negative numbers, a
>    number is all the ways you can name it, is this game fair ...)
>    - *its fun *
> Other examples of "Playthinks" would be cuisenaire rods, pentagrams, area
> blocks, other good "virtual manipulatives" and my feeble attempts Circle
> Explorer <http://www.squeakland.org/showcase/project.jsp?id=10212> and Pattern
> Blocks and Tools <http://www.squeakland.org/showcase/project.jsp?id=10216>
> .
> *Bert*, your comments on SQ-749 sparked my writing this, I will address it
> more specifically in a separate email after some more thought.
> Including *Alan* so he can correct any misinterpretations and hopefully
> comment
> FYI: A lot of other excelent writings from VPRI are here<http://www.vpri.org/html/writings.php>,
> most are Computer Science related but a number deal with educational issues
> and Etoys.
> Stephen
> On Thu, Aug 12, 2010 at 5:02 AM, Bert Freudenberg <bert at freudenbergs.de>wrote:
>> On 12.08.2010, at 10:32, Steve Thomas wrote:
>> > On Thu, Aug 12, 2010 at 3:32 AM, Bert Freudenberg <bert at freudenbergs.de>
>> wrote:
>> >> This would likely be simple to implement, but could break existing
>> projects. E.g. the morphing stuff in the showcase. Maybe you could take a
>> look?
>> >
>> > Checked "Morphing" by Kazuhiro Abe and that should be fine. Each Polygon
>> in the holder has the same number of vertices and the script simple changes
>> the positions of the vertices one at a time.
>> >
>> > "The Walkers" and associated remixes by P.A. Dreyfus uses a special
>> category "morphing" which would be great to get into Etoys (although I would
>> suggest the addition of some way to show/manage the frames) to make the
>> invisible more visible and to make it easier to create these kind of
>> animations. Anyway, whether this would be a problem or not depends on how it
>> is implemented.  If he stores complete information about the polygon in each
>> frame, I see no problems. If he only stores differences and
>> adds/removes/repositions each vertex that MAY cause a problem.
>> >
>> > Anyway if it is a simple change and you can make it, I think I can
>> easily test the change by opening the project, then file-in the changes and
>> see if anything breaks. Or you could also ask P.A. Dreyfus (master of
>> polygon's and connectors) what he thinks as he knows and can check the
>> changes against his implementation.
>> >
>> > Stephen
>> Thinking about this more I do not like the proposal. It would makes the
>> system less predictable.
>> Having the new vertex remain at the same position is the only sensible
>> choice. It matches the "copy" behavior of regular objects, which also appear
>> in the same position. It would not scale anyway - see this image where I
>> only inserted 4 vertices. The position quickly converges to the next vertex
>> position.
>> Also, I'd argue that "add a vertex at beginning" and "add a vertex at end"
>> tiles are not needed in the first place. To be useful they would, as you
>> noticed, have to be "set cursor to beginning and insert vertex" and "set
>> cursor to end and insert vertex", because otherwise one cannot assign their
>> position immediately. But that makes them perform two operations that are
>> available separately. There is no good reason to coalesce those steps into
>> one.
>> In any case, inserting a vertex should not change the cursor. If you want
>> a cursor change to occur, insert a tile.
>> So my counter-proposal is: remove the "add vertex at beginning" and "add
>> vertex at end" tiles. (to not break existing projects, the tiles would only
>> be hidden)
>> - Bert -
>> _______________________________________________
>> etoys-dev mailing list
>> etoys-dev at squeakland.org
>> http://lists.squeakland.org/mailman/listinfo/etoys-dev
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