MIT News, suggested that Seymour Papert’s “…ideas and inventions have transformed how children around the world create and learn” (MIT, 2016). Papert contributed to creating change in education by recognizing that computers can be used to deliver instruction and information and he acknowledged that the use of computers could empower children to experiment, discover and explore information. Papert created the idea of Logo, which was the first programming language for children. Through this programming language, Turtle Geometry was produced which allowed children to program the movement of the turtle (as a small mechanical turtle or a graphic object) on the computer screen. Seymour Papert passed away on July 31, 2016 (MIT, 2016). Through his progressive thinking and revolutionary vision of education technology he left a remarkable legacy which includes but is not limited to advocating for a strong culture of educational technology in the classroom, creating Logo programming to creatively teach math while enhancing a student’s geometry, thinking and problem solving skills and promoting constructionism through building, making and constructing objects using Turtle Geometry.
Seymour Papert advocated very strongly for revolutionizing the culture of educational technology in the classroom and believed that educators were influential to its success. Although, I advocate for his vision, there was not a lot of empirical data to support his research. On the one hand, Papert (1987) suggested that adopting the culture of Logo programming encompassed, not only, how educators talked about it to others, but also, how educators communicated the messaging to parents and children. This would influence the development of the computer culture and the learning culture (p.23). In addition, he posited that the culture of educational technology included the use of Logo programming in the classroom as a method for children to create ideas and develop thinking skills. Papert (2016) advocated that teachers should be part of the learning community with scope to exercise judgment and decision making regarding how Logo programming and computer technology is implemented into the classroom rather than having to follow curriculum created outside of the classroom. On the other hand, Papert (2016) argued that teachers are “cast in the role of technician, carrying out procedures that are laid down as part of the so-called syllabus of curriculum designed in a hierarchy, laid down from up top and dictated to the teacher” (p. 4). The example identifies that teachers are not in a position to develop curriculum (using Logo) where there is a strict hierarchy and administrators control the learning outcomes. Papert (1987) maintained that if the culture of the classroom does not promote computer technology it actually disempowers students. He suggests it is necessary to empower students and this is exemplified through George Franz, a science teacher at the Computer School in New York City. He asked students to work in teams to create a clock that would measure time. Students could use Logo or any other materials (paper, string, etc.) Some students chose to use Logo and because of this several students came to understand aspects of Logo they did not know before (Papert, 1987). Influencing learning outcomes involves “centering [the educator’s] attention on the culture – not on the computer” (Papert, 1987, p. 25) to teach Logo programming.
Educators, who use Logo programming, can creatively teach mathematics to children, promote Turtle Geometry and can, not only, teach children the basics of geometry, but also, teach children thinking and problem-solving skills that are useful to them in years to come. On the one hand, Papert (1972) argued that in order for children to learn mathematics, they needed to be actively involved in doing the math rather than merely knowing the math. Doing the math can be accomplished through the use of Turtle Geometry to tell the turtle to move in different directions to generate geometric shapes. As Papert (1980) postulated turtle geometry builds two types of knowledge. Firstly, there is mathematical knowledge about the geometry itself and secondly, there is mathetic knowledge which is knowledge about learning. Mathetic principles relate to “Mak[ing] sense of what you want to learn” (Papert, 1980, p. 63). This connects to making sense of something that resonates with you or means something to you. Turtle geometry makes sense to children and helps them develop strategies for learning (Papert, 1987). Children can tell the turtle how to move through Turtle Talk, and they will create shapes through articulating their mathematical thinking (Papert, 1972). Children learn how to think about problems and problem solving when they want to move the turtle in a new direction. It is known as turtle play, and Papert (1980) refers to this as “teaching the child a method, a heuristic procedure … [which] tries to establish a firm connection between personal activity and the creation of formal knowledge (pp. 58-59). On the other hand, the more traditional form of arithmetic does not introduce learning heuristic thinking (Papert, 1980). The example is Bill a fifth-grade student who attempts to learn multiplication tables in school by “… making your mind blank and saying it over and over until you know it” (Papert, 1980, p. 65). This demonstrates that this type of learning does not create a relationship with the knowledge. Papert suggests that without a relationship learning cannot take place. Papert provides a lot of qualitative data, however, he lacks quantitative data to support this. Logo programming promotes a creative environment where students have a relationship with the information because it resonates with them and more importantly students are constructing their own learning.
An environment that promotes a culture of learning and provides opportunities to learn and discover Turtle Geometry is built on constructionism principles that benefit students. On the one hand Papert (2016) stated that there are two ways of improving education. Firstly, learning can be improved by having better instruction and an example of this is computer aided instruction. Although, Papert (2016) agreed that instruction is required in certain circumstances where the instructor may need to tell the student information they may not already know (p. 7), he does not believe that this builds knowledge as much as constructionism. Secondly, although there is merit in instructionism, Papert (2016) recommended that giving students the opportunity to build robots or giving students computers to program involves prospects for constructing, making and building which will improve education and make things better for students (p.7). Albeit there are two ways of improving learning for a child, constructionism creates learning for both the educator and child. Papert believed that students want to build and create and be challenged and this is evident in this example of a child leaving a Project Mindstorms class and sharing with the other children that Logo is fun but it is hard (Papert, 2016, p. 8). On the other hand, Papert (2000) provides the example of Michael, who is expected to find the common denominator of fractions, although he does not have a relationship with school math. As previously discussed without a relationship in math (an interest in fractions) he finds the work boring because it does not resonate with him. This is because he is being told what to discover (instructionism) rather than building and discovering fractions on his own and under his own terms (constructionism).
Seymour Papert left the educational technology world a legacy which we will continue to grow and develop. Children throughout the world have been positively impacted and their learning transformed through his ideas and inventions. He acknowledged the importance of educators advocating for a strong and united educational technology classroom, using Logo programming in the classroom to enhance geometry, problem solving and thinking skills and most importantly his strength and commitment toward recognizing constructionism has left the world a better place. Seymour Papert wanted educators to see how the use of educational technology could revolutionize learning – the dream is becoming a reality.
Professor Emeritus Seymour Papert, Pioneer of constructionist learning, dies at 88 (2016, August, 1). Retrieved from http://news.mit.edu/2016/seymour-papert-pioneer-of-constructionist-learning-dies-0801
Papert, S. (1972). Teaching Children to be Mathematicians Versus Teaching About Mathematics, International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 3(3), 249-262, DOI: 10.1080/0020739700030306
Papert, S. (1980). Turtle Geometry: A mathematics made for learning (pp. 55-93). Mindstorms: children, computers and powerful ideas. Retrieved from http://http://worrydream.com/refs/Papert -Mindstorms 1st ed.pdf
Papert, S. (1987). Information Technology and Education: Computer Criticism vs. Technocentric Thinking. Educational Researcher, 16(1), 22–30. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X016001022
Papert, S. (2000). What’s the big idea? toward a pedagogy of idea power. IBM Systems Journal, 39(3), 720-729.
Papert, S. (2016). The Peristroika of Epistemological Politics. Australian Educational Computing, 31(1). Retrieved from http://journal.acce.edu.au/index.php/AEC/article/view/108