Saturday, March 04, 2006

papert's Mindstorms

I've republished a review I wrote in 1990 of Seymour Papert's ideas based on a thorough reading of his most important book, Mindstorms and some other texts.

In 1990 Papert's theory of constructionism (Papert's word, a combination of Piaget's term constructivism with the word construction) and the logo programming language which he promoted were what radical teachers turned to in their efforts to transform School.

Since then, we've had the rise of the world wide web (a new source of radicalism) and theories that go under the name of constructivism (social constructivism) have entered the mainstream and have been integrated into official curriculum statements.

I don't think what Papert (and Minsky) were attempting is very well understood today. They developed theories about a "society of mind" (title of a book by Minsky) and Papert promoted software and hardware objects such as the logo turtle and LEGO TClogo robotics in an effort to transform the traditional knowledge of maths and science in a way to better fit the learner and accelerate their learning.

I don't see much correlation at all between those ideas and the politically correct nonsense that passes as social constructivist top down curriculum reform over the past few years. In my opinion the whole idea of promoting constructivism in a top down fashion through curriculum statements imposed by a hierarchy are farcical and doomed to failure. Papert was always against centrally imposed curriculum arising out of his basic analysis of how a "society of mind" evolved in each individual.

Today, new theories have stepped up (George Siemen's Connectivism) that are also in opposition to a centralised curriculum, this time arising from the tremendous growth in networks over the past 15 years. So, the struggle continues.

In the article I also explored Papert's ideas on the interplay between technology and culture and the instrumental and heuristic role of the computer in change. Parts of my essay could be improved (eg. the importance of LISP, of which logo is a dialect) and I hope to publish some follow up articles about this.

In the article I describe Papert's ideas as "revolutionary" but I don't really see him that way anymore. There is nothing really revolutionary about the idea of "humanistic computing studies".

Another reason for publishing this is that I've just been critical of Marc Prensky for not having a deeper learning theory and so I thought I ought to show what such a theory might look like.

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