[Squeakland] the non universals

Bill Kerr billkerr at gmail.com
Fri Aug 24 22:20:12 PDT 2007

In response to another part of Mark's blog post at

I haven't seen the arguments for and against teaching design patterns early.
My guess is that the argument for would be that a design pattern might be
something easier to have a conversation about than code or pseudo code - and
that the conversation is good for learning the structure of complex systems

But the complaint about your blog is really that, to quote alan, that the
"three examples are very different and don't really deserve to go together"

I just reread Seymour Papert's "The Gears of My Childhood" and I think you
do oversimplify what he was saying to a level which degrades his real

He is saying that his early childhood playing with gears, especially the
differential gear, played a big part in his creation of a mental model that
was invaluable for his later understanding of some aspects of maths,
- that a system could be lawful and comprehensible without being rigidly
- multiplication tables
- equations with two variables

It also served as a model to help him understand Piaget's assimilation. At
this point he pauses to mention / criticise Piaget for not saying more about
the emotional ("affective") aspect of assimilation, only focusing on the
cognitive side.

A bit later Papert says:
"I fell in love with the gears. This is something that cannot be reduced to
purely 'cognitive' terms. Something very personal happened ..."

Papert's argument is that intense immersion in certain "objects to think
with" (eg. gears in his individual case, logo and LEGO) can lead to the
development of internal useful mental models that can be applied to new
learning at a later date

I think what Papert is saying is consistent or at least not inconsistent
with what you say in paragraph four of your original:

"... As we think about and generalize across our concrete associations, we
create new associations that abstract the concrete knowledge we have. These
newly inferred associations generalize the concrete details, in the sense
that they make clear what's an important detail and what isn't, based on
what are the common parts of the concrete associations we're connecting. As
we learn new concrete associations, we might recognize the abstractions as
being immediately applicable, because they match the common and unnecessary
details of other experiences we know. We might also infer new abstractions
that take into account both older concrete associations, older abstractions,
and new associations."

btw I'm not saying that Papert is necessarily correct. From my reading of
more recent research about the mind (eg. Andy Clark, Daniel Dennett) the
whole idea of internal mental models (and Minsky's frames) seems to be now
regarded as suspect. I don't really know. Nevertheless, my gut feeling is
still that Papert's position here does provide a useful guide to good
practice. Since there is no unified learning theory we have to cherry pick
the best bits.

Bill Kerr

On 8/24/07, Brad Fuller <bradallenfuller at yahoo.com> wrote:
> though I'd pass this along for another viewpoint. Mark Guzdial's latest
> perspective on powerful ideas, abstractions and design patterns:
> http://www.amazon.com/gp/blog/post/PLNK13L1MC1Q3613J
> _______________________________________________
> Squeakland mailing list
> Squeakland at squeakland.org
> http://squeakland.org/mailman/listinfo/squeakland
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