[Squeakland] the non universals

Bill Kerr billkerr at gmail.com
Fri Aug 24 19:17:03 PDT 2007

On 8/24/07, Alan Kay <alan.kay at squeakland.org> wrote:
>  Hi Mark --At 05:01 AM 8/24/2007, Guzdial, Mark wrote:
I'd like to argue with your claim from cognitive psychology, though.
> "Length of exposure" is an ill-defined variable which has since been better
> refined and tested.  What does "length of exposure" mean?  One hour a day
> for two years?  One hour a week for two years?  Here's a brief thought
> experiment to address this point: I'll bet everyone on this list remembers
> exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first learned of
> the 9/11 attacks.  That wasn't a very long exposure, yet everyone remembers
> it.  Why?
> All I can say is that this was very thoroughly studied in the 60s (as was
> deep habit formation). What they were testing were not memories of isolated
> unusual incidents (nor of "movie recognition memory" which is also from one
> trial). What they were doing was testing changes of paradigms in outlook,
> and for most children these took immersion in an environment for well over a
> year to be strongly detectable years later.
> The two new variables that are more often studied are:
> - Time on task.  The more time you spend on an activity, the more likely
> that you will remember the experience and lessons of that activity later.
> - Amount of reflection.  The more often that you reuse an association, the
> more often you think about and talk about an experience, the more likely you
> will retain it.  That's the best explanation I know for the 9/11 effect (or
> the Challenger effect, or the JFK assassination effect).  You thought about
> that moment later that day, and the next day, and you've discussed it with
> your friends.  That leads to longer term learning.
> To me, these are not as interesting (nor are they parallels) to large
> scale epistemological shifts.

A connection can be made between "time on task", "amount of reflection" and
large scale epistemological shifts but not through reference to sensational
events like 9/11. Remembering 9/11 does not imply deepening reflection about

However, Seymour Papert made this connection through the concept of building
a relationship or falling in love with a subject domain

I think much of Seymour's mathetics, as outline in The Children's Machine,
can be fairly directly connected to "time on task" and "amount of
reflection". To present this briefly more in the form of slogans than
detailed comments:

   - Play is OK
   - The emotional precedes the cognitive
   - Our knowledge is like our relationships with other people
   - Take risks
   - Take your time (aka slow deep thinking)
   - A good discussion promotes learning

If you immerse yourself - out of passionate interest - in something (eg.
gears, LEGO, logo) that connects in some way to the powerful ideas on the
non universals list then increased time on task and reflection are likely to
flow from that

So our task as educators is to provide the materials which allow powerful
and not trivial relationships to be formed.

Some controversy takes place around what the powerful materials are. eg.
playing computer games such as World of Warcraft, is that powerful or

Other discussion takes place around how to make the powerful materials more
accessible to unsophisticated learners eg. etoys (visual programming) is
more accessible than text base python programming

Alan's claim that a significant paradigm shift takes more than a year is
crucial to our analysis of what happens in School, since School is organised
on a one year teacher-student turnaround. If the claim is correct then
perhaps School ought to be organised on at least a two year teacher-student
turn around. I have taught in one secondary school that encouraged teachers
to double up on both subjects (eg. take the same students for maths and
science) and time (take the same classes of students for more than one
year). I did notice some remarkable changes happening at around the 18 month

Bill Kerr
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