[Squeakland] the non universals

Alan Kay alan.kay at squeakland.org
Thu Aug 23 15:49:51 PDT 2007

Of course, Mark didn't look carefully enough at either the Squeakers 
DVD or the Kim Rose and BJ Conn book "Powerful Ideas in the 
Classroom" and other materials which show what we actually do with 
the kids (actually in 5th grade for this example).

We don't teach any abstractions, but work our way out from various 
kinds of animated movement in Etoys (constant velocity, random 
velocities, steadily increasing velocity, etc.). From a number of 
such examples the children gradually associate both a relationship 
"increase by" and a history of the movements (shown by leaving dots 
behind on the screen). Later (about 3 and one half months later, in 
the case of the first time we tried this) we got them to think about 
and investigate falling bodies. One example on the Squeakers DVD 
showed 11 year old Tyrone explaining just how he worked out and 
derived the actual differential equations of motion (in 
intellectually honest and mathematical version that computers make 
very practical). He did this by recognizing accelerated motion in the 
pattern of pictures of the dropping ball, measured the differences to 
find out what kind of acceleration (constant) and made the script for 
vertical motion partly using the memory of how he had done the 
horizontal motion in Etoys 3 months before. He explained how he did 
this very well on the video. Also, by luck, I happened to be in the 
classroom on the day he actually made his discoveries and 
derivations. Most the children were able to do this.

The important things about this experience was that Tyrone and the 
other children had learned a model of acceleration and velocity that 
was quite meaningful to them. Months later they were able to remember 
these ideas and adapt them to observations of the real-world. 
According to Lillian McDermott at the U of Wash, 70% of all college 
students (including science majors) are unable to understand the 
Galilean model of gravity (which uses a very different pedagogy in college).

The most important piece of knowledge from cog psych is a study done 
in the late 60s or early 70s that showed exposure to any enriched 
environment for less than 2 years was not retained. But two or more 
years of exposure tended to be retained. This also correlates to 
habit formation and habit unlearning.

So, I would argue that Mark's three examples are very different and 
don't really deserve to go together. And, in any case, all we know 
about the 5th graders is that using this pedagogy and Etoys they are 
generally able to be more successful in both the math and the science 
of accelerated change than most college students. This particular way 
of looking at differential equations has become more and more 
standard as computers have become more and more the workhorses of 
science (partly because they are in a form well set up for creating a 
simulation -- and for the kids, because they are much easier to 
understand than the previous standards for DEs).



At 03:23 PM 8/23/2007, Brad Fuller wrote:
>though I'd pass this along for another viewpoint. Mark Guzdial's latest
>perspective on powerful ideas, abstractions and design patterns:
>Squeakland mailing list
>Squeakland at squeakland.org

More information about the Squeakland mailing list