Cousins Post 6: LOGO, Lego, and Lifelong Kindergarten

Reading The Media Lab, I was pulled in two directions, both for my post, and for my general feelings about the lab: a mesmerizing discomfort with funding practices and the lab / corporate connection, and a giddy excitement about the cultivation of creativity in education. I feel like we will mostly talk about the former in class, but I was so drawn to what the media lab was doing in the Henningan school — my background before grad school was mostly in arts education, and that’s what I plan on pursuing afterward as well, so it was fascinating to me to see how tech (and the lab in general) might play a role in moving away from product/answer-oriented learning and towards a revaluing of process and possible failure.

Both the Logo program and the sheer availability of computers (especially in 1987) are fantastic resources in and of themselves, but I’m most interested in is the types of learning that the program and the tools open up. As Brand states:

“From the very start they are programming the computer rather than being programmed by it. Since the child is alone with the utterly nonjudgmental machine, activities like guessing, playing, imitating, inventing, all come easily—exactly the real-world learning behavior that is cramped or suppressed in most classroom settings.” (123)

This attempt to bring PLAY back into the classroom (free play, a type of play that is based in creativity and hopefully less directed by social convention / outside direction as we discussed in the M.A.L.) seems like a worthy endeavor to me. The emphasis placed in a traditional classroom on achieving the “correct answer” creates a simultaneous emphasis on “knowing” rather than on “learning”, on the final status rather than on the (possibly messy) process. What Stewart Papert said about programming could also be said about creative activities like the arts:

“Many children are held back in their learning because they have got a model of learning in which you have either “got it” or “got it wrong.” But when you program a computer you almost never get it right the first time…The question to ask about the program is not whether it is right or wrong, but if it is fixable. If this way of looking at intellectual products were generalized to how the larger culture thinks about knowledge and its acquisition, we all might be less intimidated by our fears about “being wrong.” (127)

While I’ve often thought about the arts as giving students the opportunity to both learn the benefits of failure / take ownership over their own learning in this productive way, I’ve never thought about the similar possibilities with tech. It makes sense, though – our previous discussions about DH have emphasized the “doing” and the “making” – somehow those terms are already imbued with experimentation, with trial and error, with process. I love the idea that programming can serve as a platform for that productive creativity in students.

I was curious to see what the Media Lab might be doing now that falls into the same vein. One such program that I found was “Lifelong Kindergarten” – a group within the MIT Media Lab that works under the premise that “people learn a great deal when they are actively engaged in designing, creating, and inventing things” and works to correct the fact that “most children don’t get the opportunity to engage in these types of creative activities” (“Mission”). Their project vary from creating creativity oriented programming languages like Scratch to after school programs for low-income schools, like Computer Clubhouse.

Whatever the project type, programs are focused on the same type of process-oriented learning that LOGO was. Like Papert, program head Mitchel Resnick recognizes that children “learn specific facts and skills, but rarely get the opportunity to design things” (“Mission”). “Lifelong Kindergarten” takes the premise that learning happens through creating beyond childhood and into adulthood as well:

Lifelong Kindergarten

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Maybe I’m drinking some corporate kool-aid, but I don’t care one bit that the lab is funded by Apple and Lego if Apple and Lego are making this type of learning available. I want to take this Singing Fingers program and play with it in a kindergarten classroom!

Screenshot 2015-10-10 21.12.27I want to see how programming can shift students’ orientation from “knowing” to “learning” in all its messy, potential-failure goodness. Yes, Mitchel Resnick’s official title is the LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research. I do think it is weird and possible a little terrifying that LEGO can brand professors in the same way that Redbull can brand a Formula One car. And I do find it a little haunting that there are 107 mentions of cash flow in Brand’s book:

Screenshot 2015-10-06 18.17.22

But would programs like this be possible without corporate sponsors like Lego? Am I being naive in thinking that maybe there are some straight-up good things that can come out of deals with Big Capitalism? Is being a Lego Professor worth it if you get to pioneer projects that have a tangible impact? Why do I get the feeling I’m being seduced by a super villain?

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One thought on “Cousins Post 6: LOGO, Lego, and Lifelong Kindergarten

  1. georgie a says:

    Erin, you’re having a blast on the corporate kool-aid! I’m in a similar boat – extremely excited by the educational impact of the Lab’s research, but also asking questions about potential seduction by the corporate super-villain. It reminds me of Apple’s donating computers to schools in order to get an early foothold in the educational (and through that the personal) computing market; incredibly beneficial for students, but at the same time there was a lot of self-interest behind Apple’s move. Can corporations nowadays leverage their funding into subtle advertising, control over education policy, or equally sinister motives? Or are we getting a little ahead of ourselves, due to the fact that in these cases programs are offered to school not by the corporations themselves, but by the third-party intermediate MIT Media Lab, which presumably is not swayed by their funders’ economic interests (at least, if the Lab still runs by the same principles outlined in “The Media Lab’s” 156-161).

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