I also fell in love with this book when I read it — and I was 13 or 14 at the time. It didn’t make me fall in love with LOGO (although it did clue me into the fact that, under the surface, LOGO is more-or-less a LISP, and fully-featured), but I really enjoyed the theorizing on learning. Okay, fine, I was a “gifted” teen who enjoyed Ender’s Game, so of course I was going to latch on to something that purported to explain how so much of the educational world surrounding me was broken, but there are things in that book that have remained helpful to me throughout the years. The top two:
Motivation matters. The purest form of learning is when you’re playing around with something to see what happens, and you get an interesting result and try to figure out why to satisfy your own curiosity. The most efficient form of learning is when you’re in the process of creating something, and you need to understand a concept to make it work. Language immersion doesn’t work because it’s immersive; it works because you need to talk to people to live your life, and you need to understand their language to talk to them. Computers are a means of both creation and exploration (with huge potential and minimal cost for mistakes), so “playing” with them inevitably leads to learning. “Educational games” reward a display of knowledge by revealing a bit of story, or an upgrade to the gameplay, or whatever. This creates motivation if the story is compelling, or the gameplay is fun, but because the connection to the learning material is artificial, the illusion is easily shattered, and then the motivation evaporates. “Because I need to pass this test” is the weakest motivator of all… it works, but the material is mostly forgotten after the test is in the past.
The “mental toolbox”. Everyone has different ways of assimilating and understanding knowledge, and although you can create some broad categories, they’re basically idiosyncratic. Good teaching is largely a matter of finding a way of presenting a concept in a way that a given student’s toolbox can engage with. Key concepts enlarge this toolbox, but again, in unpredictable ways. It seems like teachers in the 90s were being taught a version of this, but the impression I got of it was that it was a version designed to “cover the bases” of the most common categories, while avoiding one-on-one interaction, which makes it a pretty weaksauce version that probably makes students feel alienated.
The “Mental Toolbox” concept is super useful for general communication as well. You need to understand your audience’s mental toolbox and present ideas ways that are easy for them to work with.
Lately I’ve seen a lot of this happening around COVID-19. The epidemiologists don’t necessarily explain things in ways that are easy for other people to understand. Conversely, it’s hard for other specialists (e.g. statisticians) to communicate to the epidemiologists. The problem requires a large-scale interdisciplinary response, which means lots of communication between people with few shared “mental tools.”
Super disappointed that this is a long post about Mindstorms but leaves out one of the key educational devices in the book that’s been all but forgotten in the modern computing landscape - Dynaturtles.
I cut my teeth on Atari LOGO, where the turtle wasn’t just a static pen you could order around, but a sprite that could also be given velocity, direction, and a daemon like series of verbs called ‘when’ so you could program the turtle to interact with its environment in various fascinating ways.
Apparently LCSI Microworlds is still commercially available and includes Dynaturtles, but I can’t bring myself to pay what they’re asking.
Through the years whenever I’ve tried to bring this up, people point me at various other LOGO implementations with similar but not nearly identical concepts like StarLOGO or MSWLogo which embody some aspects of the concept but not the key bits of the concept itself.
For a nice exploration of what I’m talking about in book form, check out Computer Art and Animation with Atari LOGO at the Internet Archive.
This reminds me that my notes only cover up to Chapter 5 (of 8 total). Dynaturtles discussion begins in Chapter 5. I’ll updated the post soon with the rest of my notes and scribbles. Thanks for the reminder. Agreed that Dynaturtles concept is really interesting. While reading, the Dynaturtles concepts reminded me of Daniel Schiffman’s book Nature of Code, which uses Processing / p5js to model natural phenomenon like flocking, etc.
Wow, that (Nature of Code) sounds amazing! Thanks for the pointer! I’ve been wanting to learn p5js for a while.
Started working through Nature of Code and it’s incredible!
I know enough Java that Processing is pretty easy for me to pick up, and I’m really enjoying the opportunity to explore some mathematical concepts using graphics without having to wrap my brain around C++.
Daniel Schiffman is a talented guy. His Youtube channel is also chock full of interesting examples, tutorials, and challenges.
Great stuff and just exactly what I need right now since I’m beginning to feel just a bit burned out after ~8 months pushing really hard on Python mastery after hours on top of a fairly intense full time job. Feels really good to stretch my brain a bit on tasks that feel more like play than work :)
Based on the title I expected this to be about Lego’s Mindstorms product line. It combines Lego Technic blocks with a programmable computer brick that can connect to motors and a variety of sensors. I had one of the first versions of this kit (RCX?) 15 years ago; they’ve gotten smaller and more powerful since then.
I think Lego must have taken a lot of inspiration from Seymour Papert and his Mindstorms book. The name is an obvious connection, but it goes deeper than that. Papert apparently designed the line-following Turtle robot for education; that’s one of the first projects I did with my Lego Mindstorms kit. Mindstorms also included a visual programming environment that seems to share some core ideas with LOGO.
I’m very grateful to the engineer-educators who imagined, designed, and built these tools. This was one of my first introduction to programming and helped lay the foundations for my future career.
I should read the book! But this post seems to be a long list of bullet points. Maybe an additional editing pass could’ve made it easier to comprehend?
My goal with the post was twofold: (1) to inspire others to check out this excellent book, and (2) to simply record my notes so that I could reference them later. I do think the bullet points give a good taste / smattering of some of the interesting ideas in Papert’s book and research. But I also just went through and gave them another editing pass - thanks for the feedback!