[Squeakland] More thoughts - Re: Demoing Etoys to kids

Alan Kay alan.kay at squeakland.org
Sun Aug 12 07:26:16 PDT 2007

In July I traveled around to a number of workshops in different parts 
of the US. While at CMU in Pittsburgh, I got a surprise invitation to 
talk to 11-14 year olds who were attending a summer computing day 
camp. There were about 25 kids and this was small enough for me to 
show them things and ask questions, etc. For projects, the lack of 
prep time led me to just use what I had been showing the teachers 
minus the philosophy slides. Here's the list that we went through in 
about an hour.

Most of the them are the standard examples I show. There were a few new ones.

Make a car and steering wheel and drive it around. Use a property 
(Wheel's heading). Use a scale (Wheel's heading/3)

Kedama epidemic while graphing the percentage of infected villagers: 
2, 1000, 500, 100. As what the diseases on the extremes look like. 
Answer from the kids: the fast acting one was like Ebola, and the 
slow one was like AIDS.

How to follow a road with a robot car
Ashley and Janae's middle of the road robot car
Middle of the road car with two headlights as sensors
Jenny's Pig Race

Salmon Sniff -- gradient following feedback with single and multiple salmon
Fish and Plankton (this could be omitted, it was just in this sequence)
Ant colony -- the classic ants and food feedback system

Speed and acceleration reflection on increase by (using dots and 
arrows to get visual picture of S and A).
Animation using holder and increase by
Bouncing ball animation (change "speed" increment to change rate 
through the images)
A movie is an animation (example is how the upcoming ball drop movie was made)
A music synthesizer is an "animation" (change "speed" increment to 
change pitch, etc.)

Computer Logic Game (Alex Warth's way to use costumes as visualizers 
of state and for state). Wires, Not, And, Or, etc. gates.
How to make a script (a visual Logo interpreter that uses Etoys 
polymorphism to do the interpretation)
A rule based programming system (another way to do interpretation to 
make a StageCast like interpreter and then do the epidemic sim)
ToyLog (a visual animated Prolog with English syntax and using the 
Simpson family as a database)

==== That was all we had time for ======== Naturally, they loved it 
and wanted to do things with it.

Some advice about teaching geometry to children. It's possible that 
the teacher may not understand geometry very well (and you didn't 
indicate what she meant by "geometry").

In any case, in general (and especially for 3rd graders) I would not 
center the learning on the computer to start with. There are three or 
four things that children this age can learn deeply that using the 
computer in an ancillary fashion with help make stronger. One theme 
to try is "map-making" starting with making models of objects and 
progressing to models of classrooms, school-yards, surrounding 
neighborhoods, etc. Our experience with this came from a highly 
successful adaptation of Doreen Nelson's "City Building" Curriculum 
for 3rd graders that we did in the LA Open Magnet School some years back.

Scaling and proportion are approached by having the children make 
"object costumes" (taking household objects and blowing them up into 
wearable costumes) and then having an "object parade". The Open 
School had made an garden and it was traditional for the 3rd graders 
to design it. So they had to measure it and make a model to let them 
think about it in the classroom. This got them to think about scaling 
the other way. One way to do both scaling is to have two measuring 
systems with equally spaced tick marks but with different distances 
between the ticks, etc. Make the ration between the tick marks 
something the children can compute in their heads (they don't need 
this to do the scaling but they do need it to start understanding ratios).

The scaling ideas can start to be used on the computer, etc.

This part of the curriculum leads to a very rich city of the future 
design effort stretching over many months that combines many kinds of 
math, design, and systems thinking.

Another thing that goes strongly with this way of thinking about 
measurement and scaling above is that nature doesn't care what rulers 
we use. We can use this idea to start talking about and using similar 
triangles to do scaling and indirect measurements (heights of school 
buildings, long distances, etc.). Forget about trig terms, etc. and 
concentrate on similar triangles as one of the most powerful ideas of 
all times.

For example, if we occlude a quarter with a dime and measure this 
carefully, we see that the distance in diameters has to be the same.

And if we then occlude the moon with a coin (as Aristarchos of Samos 
indeed did!) we will find that it takes about 110 coin diameters, and 
this means that the moon is 110 moon diameters away from us!


Children love this (too bad adults don't, or they would know about 
this and teach it to children).



At 06:11 AM 8/12/2007, Brad Fuller wrote:
>On Sat August 11 2007 3:58 am, Luke Gorrie wrote:
> > Howdy!
> >
> > Can anyone suggest a fun way to demo Etoys to kids aged around 10-12?
> >
> > A friend and I are helping out with a couple of summer camps for kids
> > and we're looking for an opportunity to bring Etoys into the mix,
> > either one on one or with a small group, and for only a short period
> > of time (30-60 minutes, say). Most of the kids only speak arabic, we
> > have one OLPC XO and several other laptops.
> >
> > Our first idea was the "Etoys Challenge for Novices" from the OLPC XO
> > but we wonder if this is a bit ambitious based on half an hour with a
> > bright 12-year-old who can read english (I'm not sure).
> >
> > What we'd like is for kids to be amused and to have some glimpse of
> > what a computer is like, and for ourselves to learn a bit about how
> > kids deal with computers. Any advice would be welcome.
>That brings up a related question that I have. A friend is having problems
>teaching 3rd graders (USA) basic geometry. She's not familiar with computers
>and the school is in a financially poor district. I explained etoys a bit and
>gave her the Squeak DVD to watch. She thought it was interesting and etoys to
>be potentially helpful, but complained they didn't have the resources.And,
>even if they did, she wouldn't know where to start (I told her
>about "Powerfule Ideas In The Classroom"). I think there are always resources
>and I have a feeling she just feels overwhelmed.
>My question: what can I do to further this along? What steps have 
>others taken
>faced with similar situations? I appreciate any ideas that you may have.
>Squeakland mailing list
>Squeakland at squeakland.org
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