LOGO-L> Re: Is symbol synthesis necessary? 
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 LOGO-L> Re: Is symbol synthesis necessary?


>> we're not in the business
>> of production programming, or even the business of training production
>> programmers.  We're in the business of making the computer as invisible
>> as possible as a kid works with some desired creation.

  There is a crucial theoretical reason why you don't want to do away with
the language: Combinatorial fluency. This process underlies creativity in
all thinking. I think it's fair to say that c.f. is what Papert was after
in creating the child-friendly interface. He knew from his work with Piaget
that the more intricately the child worked with symbols, the greater the
child's proficiency in conjuring original, intricately customized ideas to
represent problem spaces and solution tests. This is how language works.
  Would it be desirable to make the symbolic elements of "natural" language
invisible so that perhaps pictures and metaphorical phrase chunks could be
globbed together to make or interpret meaning? That's kind of how language
started, but it wasn't sufficient, so symbol systems were invented that
give much greater intricacy and combinatorial diversity to linguistic and
associated semantic constructions.
  Of course, you see combinatorial diversity in all of nature. It's evident
in the nearly infinite possible permutations of gene structures. Diversity
is important to the survival of any species.
  I think that one of the biggest and generally not recognized problems in
math education is the lack of opportunities for novice learners to generate
unique (at least to them) mathematical expressions using combinatorial
media--and get feedback. To be able to do so is inherently interesting to
the mind, which in humans is prewired at birth to work combinatorially with
symbols. To the extent that it's largely deprived from doing so in most
human cultural settings there is deprivation. When this condition is
remedied there tends to be a feeling of psychological exhileration. I have
seen both children and educated {*filter*}s gasp with delight at the slightest
successful execution the first time they did something in Logo.
  Papert knew all this from his years with Piaget. He has probably looked
into enough glazed eyeballs to stop dwelling on it, although his colleagues
at MIT certainly do. But I believe it's the main reason for his
longstanding advocacy of using Logo environments with young learners.
  Feedback welcome.

>This is nice. But, wouldn't you agree that, philosophically, it doesn't take
>much to extend the notion of "working on some desired creation" to: making
>the computer/language invisible if one wants to encourage people working
>*together* on some desired creation.

>(Brief rant: one of the things that *is* frustrating in a production
>environment is how many programmers do not know how to *collaborate.* And
>because it is alien, they resist it. There are many dimensions to this, but
>one of them has to do with their experience learning to program, which is
>largely as individuals working on individual projects, using programming
>techniques & languages that do not support the sharing of code or the
>division of problems into pieces that can be worked on by teams. Ok, I'm
>done now :-))

>Of course, *implementing* this is another thing entirely ..... :-)



Wed, 03 Jul 2002 03:00:00 GMT  
 LOGO-L> Re: Is symbol synthesis necessary?


> >> we're not in the business
> >> of production programming, or even the business of training production
> >> programmers.  We're in the business of making the computer as invisible
> >> as possible as a kid works with some desired creation.

>   There is a crucial theoretical reason why you don't want to do away with
> the language: Combinatorial fluency.
>   Feedback welcome.

Well, you make a number of assertions about Piaget, Papert, the relationship
between the two, the genetic basis of combinatorial manipulation of symbols,
the origin of language, etc. There's a lot to respond to here -- and I'm
going to leave most of it for others :-)

Let me respond by talking a bit about what I mean by making the
computer/language "invisible." I mean that I am interested in the design of
tools/environments that allow a person to engage in personally meaningful
activities. And the tools/environments should be easy/powerful to learn/use
("low threshold, no ceiling") -- and should not *get in the way* of engaging
in that activity.

There have been lots of discussions over the years about the Logo turtle:
its origins, its advantages and disadvantages, its application to the design
of other learning materials. There are lots of pedagogical/instructional
environments that are called "microworlds." These often focus on making some
particular concept or set of concepts more "concrete" or appealing. In this
approach, there is e{*filter*}ment because list manipulation to generate poetry,
for example, encourages individuals to learn about grammar -- or Turtle
manipulation encourages individuals to learn about angles. In this approach,
there are *activities to make the tool(s) visible.* Often the idea is to use
personally appealing activities (such as playing video games) to teach
unappealing tools (such as fractions). ("Let's make a 'fractions microworld'
to teach kids about fractions", etc.) There is nothing wrong with this
approach, but this only reflects one possible design orientation.

Another design orientation is the one that makes the tools invisible by
powerfully connecting the individual and the personally meaningful/appealing

So, here's an analysis of the Logo turtle from this perspective. (Note: I'm
not claiming that this is *the* way to analyze the Turtle, nor that this was
the original/intended design orientation.)

Many kids like to draw -- and might enjoy drawing "on a computer." Now, in
order to facilitate this new kind of drawing, the individual has to learn
how to use a new tool/medium (just like learning how to use different
physical tools/materials to engage in different kinds of physical drawing:
charcoal, crayons, pen & ink, paper, glass, stone, etc.). There are
currently two major types of tools for generating computer-based drawings:
programming/scripting languages and pen-like interfaces (mouse, tablets,
etc.). Which tool to provide? Well, pen-based approaches leverage a lot of
existing knowledge for kids. But in this new medium, other considerations
also arise: how to print, save, etc.? So, there are now commands for these
things. These commands don't have to look like programming (they can be
pull-down menus), though they could (keyboard commands). And because
computer/tv images are also part of what a child usually knows, there are
often expectations about animation. So there can be extensions that are,
again, more like programming (whether it is icon-based commands, simple
visual scripting, or text-based programming). And so on.

In this approach, the focus is on what the person would like to do -- and
how the use of particular tools (or participating in particular communities)
often results in wanting to do new things, which computation-based
environments can often be extended to support.

This description over-simplifies many things about this design orientation
and its goals -- but hopefully it clearly presents a different approach than
the "use the Turtle to teach fractions" approach.

One of the things that has been interesting over the years is how difficult
it has been to create a music environment using this design orientation.
There have been lots of attempts, but to my knowledge, nothing as powerful
as the Turtle has emerged as a result. In other words, there have been a
number of tools/environments that provide computational control over music,
and some of them are easier to learn/use than others. However, there hasn't
been a music tool/environment where one can quickly leverage one's existing
knowledge to make music, the way one can quickly leverage one's existing
knowledge to manipulate the Turtle and draw pictures.

Poetry and story-telling are interesting border-line cases. On the one hand,
if we take these activities to be the *literate* manipulation of symbols,
then there is a sense in which Logo and list manipulation is already
appropriate. On the other hand, this literate manipulation, as it currently
exists, sets quite a high threshold. It's not clear whether one could invent
a powerful "object to think with", a la the Turtle, that could lower this
threshold. Another approach would be to focus on the poetry & story-telling
that kids can do that is pre-literate. This approach could involve the use
of microphones and various techniques that are being developed for voice
navigation/manipulation of audio. It's not clear whether the appropriate
"object to think with" in this case would be visual, acoustic, or some
combination. But, developing a powerful and personally meaningful "object to
think with" for either of these situations (the literate or the oral) is a
fascinating design problem.

Finally, this is not meant to suggest that everyone should design this
way -- or that individuals shouldn't create tools for teaching, say,
fractions. It is also not meant to suggest that there be no explicit
thinking/discussion about specific tools, such as fractions. It *is* meant
to surface a complementary design approach -- and one that I wish more
people would engage in.


Thu, 04 Jul 2002 03:00:00 GMT  
 [ 2 post ] 

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