[etoys-dev] (SQ-749) and Kathleen's question on "What do you mean by Artifacts?"
alan.nemo at yahoo.com
Mon Aug 23 07:57:30 EDT 2010
Thanks for the thoughtful note!
By "when easy and when hard?" I meant parts of the pedagogical and learning
processes that have been tested out ahead of time. For example, Ted Williams
(one of the greatest hitters of the last 70 years) determined through experiment
that using a batting tee (which he invented) would really help one very
important aspect of learning to hit. On the other hand, it has also been
determined by experiment that putting frets on a violin doesn't help, and is
even retrograde. There are many such questions in mathematics, science, and
especially computing. In writing, it is not thought to be a good thing to use a
"library of already written sentences and paragraphs" to aid composing a piece.
But it is done all the time in computing (and sometimes this is helpful for some
of the reasons you list, and sometimes it is a very bad idea because it makes it
easy to ignore building some of the important fluencies).
I still don't recognize the quote .... but if you send the Elluminate video to
me, we can certainly do a transcript (there is a very speedy and reasonably
inexpensive transcription company here in LA).
Criticizing teachers and adults accurately is not bashing. And the real problems
have to be faced. I was very lucky to have learned to read fluently and rapidly
before I entered school, and this gave me a way -- via home and town libraries
-- to bypass "the barriers of adults in learning" pretty effectively except for
too many unpleasant personal interactions. That being said, I also had several
exemplary teachers who made a big difference in my life (and you can't
substitute books for these). But the ratios of bad vs good were horrendous, and
books can be read and discarded rapidly to find the good ones. The wide range of
personality and motivational types we find in children suggests that "better
adults" are really critical for many of them -- not all of them will be as
driven as I was to get around the barriers.
The "older kids" path is a good one, and can help a lot, and much more should be
done with it.
The other thing to ponder is that it is philosophically possible to make a
technology that lies somewhere between what books already do -- bring us
important parts of genius teachers and minds in a form that can be replicated
and distributed by the millions -- and what great human teachers can do. Exactly
how far this can go and what kinds of people it can work with is yet to be found
out. For example, could we imagine "a book that can help kids learn how to read
it"? What if we took (say) Dr Seuss books and "did something" that could help a
child to read them in a variety of ways? (And by the way, here is a perfect
example of "when easy, when hard?", because an overshoot of giving too much help
could remove the motivation of the children to learn how to read themselves.)
To pick neutral ground, a lot of really valuable help in learning music could be
given by "superbooks" -- and this is partly (a) because there is a lot known
about how to teach various aspects of music (especially learning how to play an
instrument), and (b) because this is one area in which "good listening" can
already be done by computer programs. ("Good watching" is not so easy to do at
this point.) And (c) because the computer doesn't have to do all the listening
-- it can help the learner listen as well in a variety of ways. This is a key
idea in several language learning environments available now.
Some subjects will be quite challenging to do "good watching" in for some time
to come. But quite a bit of mathematics and especially that which overlaps with
special kinds of programming have the possibility of doing good watching, so we
can expect to start seeing much better environments for children over the next
10 years or so.
Re Maria Montessori -- she struggled to design her environment as well, but she
stuck with it (and was a special kind of genius), so she got many good results.
She is definitely a patron saint of ours ....
Re Galilean gravity ... For now, I suggest the much easier route of making "jpeg
movies" (they are just a folder of images whose names sort in order). The Etoys
movie player has an option for playing such jpeg files.
One of the projects for etoys that is illuminating is to make a simple movie
player using animated images. (This is a perfect example of Etoys needing to
have a way to package up objects (it actually does, but it is not very
convenient -- the "world menu" has an option for saving morphs, and all the
connections between them will be preserved if the objects are put in a Playfield
That said, I completely agree that "objects should be easy to package, reuse and
I think I'm not understanding your graphing example. It is "pretty easy" to
position text objects containing numbers (you can adjust the centers of any
object and the x and y coordinates can have some arithmetic done to them with
results put in the numeric value). Please give me more info here.
I don't think "just everything" should have to be made from scratch in order to
learn -- but I also think that one of the reasons that so many adults don't get
fluent at this stuff is that they don't make enough things from scratch.
(Analogies to drawing and painting, sports, music, etc. should be drawn here.)
And, sure, they are already busy and there isn't a lot of spare time -- so the
bootstrapping process is difficult when the adults start late, after they are
already busy. There are chicken and egg problems also. The more fluency that is
attained also changes perceptions and realities about easy and hard.
To go to science, most scientists learn most of their knowledge from reading,
but it is the "real science" they do when they are starting out that changes
what they are doing later from "believing in a new catechism" to "actually
thinking as a scientist about scientific relationships". Similarly, there is a
certain amount of "To know the world, one must construct it" (Pavese) that is
absolutely critical in learning mathematics, where part of the main point is to
chain together inferences and to understand how claims are preserved via that
Re: the next Etoy-like environment. The current plan is to work on a "science
and systems" curriculum for ca 8th grade and to make a computer environment that
can really make a difference for this curriculum. This will not be an extension
of Etoys, but will be more comprehensive in many areas, and will have new
abilities in others. It should wind up being better than Etoys for the 5th
graders that Etoys was originally aimed at, and it should fix many of the
problems that we all agree are there in the current version.
Please do follow through with your plan of asking for 3 (or 20) things --
thoughtful comments like yours are like gold for us.
From: Steve Thomas <sthomas1 at gosargon.com>
To: Alan Kay <alan.nemo at yahoo.com>; Bert Freudenberg <bert at freudenbergs.de>;
Kathleen Harness <kharness at illinois.edu>
Cc: etoys-dev <etoys-dev at squeakland.org>; squeakland <squeakland at squeakland.org>
Sent: Sun, August 22, 2010 8:37:21 PM
Subject: Re: [etoys-dev] (SQ-749) and Kathleen's question on "What do you mean
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
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
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 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 training.
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
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
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 solution.
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 a good
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 matter>)?
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 mathematician.
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
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
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
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,
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
>I have been reading Alan Kay's Thoughts About Teaching Science and Mathematics
>To Young Children:
>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 at 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
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
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
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
I will switch from "Artifacts" to the term "Playthinks" (which I encountered in
the "The Big Book of Brain Games" 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.) 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
* 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 and Pattern Blocks and Tools.
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, most are Computer
Science related but a number deal with educational issues and Etoys.
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>
>>> 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.
>Thinking about this more I do not like the proposal. It would makes the system
>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
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