I want to document but I need to learn first!

Doreen Nelson doreennelson at earthlink.net
Tue Mar 11 12:30:06 PST 2003

Dear John,
Are you working or just doing this stuff???

Hugs from a little voice that knows,

From: John Steinmetz <johns at cloud80.net>
Reply-To: squeakland at squeakland.org
Date: Mon, 10 Mar 2003 20:45:35 -0800
To: squeakland at squeakland.org
Subject: Re: I want to document but I need to learn first!

Thank you for these comments, Jerry. I think you're bringing up important

I think it needs to be emphasized over and over again that Squeak is a
research system. It is not a completed product, but a work in progress, and
that causes ome of the frustrations teachers and other novices experience.
Perhaps more could be done on the Squeakland site to make this clear.

Any programming environment provides challenges to non-expert users, and
expert help is often needed. In my opinion many who promote computers as
tools for learning say too little about the amount of support teachers and
students need in order to get good results.

I'm sure most people on this list are excited about the promise of
Squeak--many kinds of promises, really. It's astounding that Squeak has come
so far, and that has a lot to do with people helping one another. Clearly,
to get to the next stage, with ordinary users and ordinary teachers being
able to use Squeak, much more needs to happen. The book by BJ Conn and Kim
Rose is one step in that direction. But you are right to remind us not to
confuse possibilities and promises with what is really doable now. While
working to make some of these possibilites real, the Squeak community needs
to try to stay clear about what's not real yet.

One other thought: Squeak is interesting not just because it makes certain
things easy, but also because it is rich and complex. Rich, complex things
(music, sports, math, art, etc.) are often difficult, often need very good
helpers to be present, and sometimes need a huge amount of infrastructure.
For instance, I am a musician today only because my school had a very good
music teacher and a pile of instruments made by expert craftspeople and
music manufactured by expert composers and publishers--and my parents got me
lessons with still another expert, and I was able to play in youth
orchestras with more expertise at hand. Even with all this help and
encouragement, and even in such a supportive context, it took many years for
me to get any good at all. Most of the helpers were able to provide very
satisfying projects at every stage--even students who did not become
professional musicians were able to have a good time participating.

Probably very few schools can offer the kind of infrastructure for computer
learning that my school music program offered. Yet I think computers need
the same kind of multilayered help and expertise, and a supportive context
of enthusiasm and encouragement for the activity.

Maybe we need to lose the idea that doing interesting and valuable things on
the computer can happen in isolation. One of the constantly-reinforced
fantasies about computers is that they will make good things happen all on
their own. It's an attractive notion, but it's a fantasy. If good things are
to happen, people will be required.

      John Steinmetz
      Squeak enthusiast
     bassoonist, composer

I am hoping this message will not make a persona non grata on the Squeakdev
list, or make me go squeaking back to my little lurker hole in the wall ...
but as a competent programmer in many languages (and around Squeak since
*before* 2.7), I nonetheless feel the way R. O'Keefe does, *in spades*.  And
as for Rachel, cited in H. Hirzel's epigraph/email, she, like so many
newbies to the squeaklist, appears to be long gone.  I did begin, awhile
ago, doing a kind of ethnography-of-disappearing-squeak-newbies, tracing
their initial enthusiastic postings, the helpful replies (always, always
including Ned Konz, bless you sir), the dreadfully high percentage of cases
in which this initial enthusiasm would fade away ... but it was too
depressing, and to what end?

I am not here to trash Squeak -- far from it!  I have been around so long,
on and off, because I truly do believe, on the one hand, that herein lies a
potentially *great* environment for newbies to programming.  As a teacher of
teachers and an advocate of programming, this gets me very excited, as you
can imagine.  (And the record 2005 posts to squeak-dev in Feb 2003 was due
in no small part to a sudden upsurge in the pedaogical consciousness of the
list...also exciting...less so recently...) But I think that if the Squeak
insiders really believe that "kids in fifth grade are able to master etoys"
(A. Raab, 2/10/03) without one or more Squeak insiders hovering close by,
they are sadly mistaken!  (This is similar to a problem a fellow named
Papert had vis a vis the "learnability" of Logo in the late 70's - early

"So why should we even listen to this guy?"  ("Maybe he really can't even
program his way out of a paper bag...") Well, maybe some of you have stopped
already.  I've made many false starts in Squeak, and the responsiveness of
Ned Konz, Karl Ramberg, and Stephane Ducasse (to name a few) to my previous
postings is part of what keeps me around ... now I'm responding, instead of
Rachel, to Hannes Hirzel's request.

>But we need "customers" like you. What are your interests in
>doing with Squeak?

***I want to see -- and show others -- a viable learning path through etoys
to Morphic-Squeak proper.***

I have some "field notes" from an attempt I made to show etoys to
teachers-to-be in UCSD's Teacher Education Program that I would love to
share with people on this list.  Some of the contents border on painful, but
if I could only answer all *their* questions (and remember, if I am twice-,
these teachers are three-times-removed from Squeak-insiderness), I would be
able to document some of the projects on Alan's "Partial list of Etoy
Projects" -- posted to Squeakland 2/11/03 (but not SqueakDev!).  Get a load
of these (the total "partial" list was almost 40 lines long):

Gradient following - Salmon and Clownfish
Tree Growing
Multiple Mentalities
Grey Walter Conditioned Response Learning
Circuit Models
Anyone who could create projects like these in any programmable medium, I'd
say, would have a serious leg up on "real" programming by anyone's
hard-nosed definition of that elusive (and ever-changing) concept.  My
students (same ones as above) wrote programs in NetLogo, Microworlds (a
descendant of Logo), and Stagecast Creator, including a "Turtle Epidemic"
model in NetLogo for which I wrote the tutorial (see
http://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/resources.shtml) and a "Food Fight" game
in Stagecast Creator, for which I'd love to be able to write the "etoys
tutorial", if I could only see how to do several simple things in Etoys, for
* have an agent (smiley) create another agent (burger) in the space next to
* have an agent (smiley) send a message to a counter agent (count down) each
time he "uses up" a burger, and another message to a counter-scorer agent
(count up) each time one of his burgers hits his opponent
...just to name two.

So, speaking of "viable learning paths", does anyone have a suggestion for
one for *me*?  Who wants to respond to all the questions my teacher-students
raised in my field notes?  Who wants to help me complete all the projects on
Alan's list?

If *I* can't figure out how to do this stuff on my own, there's no way any
of the teachers I teach -- even after they've been thoroughly
Balzano-indoctrinated to the virtues of programming and completed my
more-rigorous-than-99%-of-other-teacher-ed-computer-courses course -- will
be able to figure it out either.

Respectfully submitted,
Jerry Balzano
Dr. Gerald J. Balzano
Teacher Education Program
Dept of Music
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
Cognitive Science Program
UC San Diego
La Jolla, CA 92093
(619) 822-0092
gjbalzano at ucsd.edu

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