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Gifts from the Logo Culture of Learning

The beginning of a new year is a time in which I often think about old friends and get in touch with them to wish them a Happy New Year! Often I "google" an old friend (enter their name into the Google search engine) to see if there is any new information on-line about them. I did this with an old friend "Carol Sperry" who used to head the "Mindstorms" school project in California which implemented Logo and the philosophy of Seymour Papert in a select group of elementary school classrooms. Carol was a good friend during my days of study in Boston at MIT's Media Lab and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Usually, we only write once or twice a year around New Years, but somehow we haven't been in touch for a while.

When I googled her, I came up with some links to Logo that brought back many memories and made me think yet again about what is important in educational environment design and also what is lacking in most learning relationships. Here are a couple of things I found:

I opened the "Logo Update the Logo Foundation Newsletter, Vol1, Number 1, Fall 1995", on-line at http://el.media.mit.edu/logo-foundation/pubs/logoupdate/V1N1.html#welcome. This newsletter was issued just shortly after the publication of Papert's second book, The Children's Machine. I was particularly interested in Papert's article called "Where's the Elephant" and Carol Sperry's "Sound Mathetic Advice - 'Look for Connections!'." Reading both of these articles reminded me what I valued so much from the Logo Philosophy and encouraged me back in 1980 in Japan to start a study/praxis group called "SMILE", Society of Microcomputing in Life and Education. SMILE has long since died, but the key ideas behind it live on in various educators and classrooms and even lives. But sadly, these ideas are still not reflected broadly in the basic educational philosophies of learning. What are these ideas?

The first is: Making mistakes gives us a great opportunity to learn! In fact, it can be even more important than being right, because it allows us to learn something about our thinking and also to extend it beyond our present understanding. Can you imagine a classroom where a teacher says, "Great! That's wrong! Let's look at your idea." every time a question is asked and an unusual, surprising or just plain wrong answer is given? Can you imagine a test where the high score is for the person who got the most WRONG answers? (Obviously, in such a case, the test wouldn't be the end of thinking, but the beginning!) When someone knows an answer in a certain situation - usually a very limited one set up for spitting back some memorized facts - s/he usually stops thinking. "I know" is usually a sign that thinking will stop. But "I don't know" can be a sign for thinking to start! However, in most situations, this lack of knowledge is not greeted with joy from anyone - yet it should be - it's a chance to learn for everyone - for the teacher (or parent) who needs to understand the learner's mind (as well as his or her own!) and for the learner him/herself. But usually what happens? The teacher says, "Wrong!" and keeps looking until s/he finds someone who "knows" the "right" answer; that is, the one the teacher was thinking about. I believe that until we change the testing culture which only emphasizes being "right", attitudes about learning will be basically destructive to human creativity and deep knowledge hunting.

Also related to our views about "not knowing" and making mistakes is the way we look at confusion. Being confused is very similar, I think, to being "wrong", in that both signal important states of growth. Actually, in one view, we are never right, because we only know part of the whole story, and it's when we have some awareness of our state of incomplete knowledge, that we feel confused. Again, recognizing confusion for what it is, and learning how to use it to move to a new level of knowing, seems to be a primary task for teaching/learning environments.

The second important concept I was reminded about in learning is a combination of two ideas: playfulness and connectivity. In the "elephant" article, Papert refers to a part of himself as "associationist bricoleur". These words have this meaning to me: " bricoleur" means to me someone who has a playful , creative approach to learning, following paths as inspired, not through any step-by-step, hierarchical approach. Other phrases related to bricolage: tinkerer, playful handyman/woman, using what's at hand, not avoiding confusion but entering into it with a spirit of joyful opportunity. "Associationist" refers from the concept of making connections between things, seeing how things relate to each other. I remember how most of my school studies always seemed so "disconnected" to things in my life that I felt were important. It was a very rare teacher who helped me find connections, and it was only much later in my life, partly through my coming into contact with people such as Papert and Sperry, that I began to see my own power in finding/making connections. This relates to what Papert called "the powerful idea of powerful ideas." So although there were moments in my younger learning life when someone showed me or helped me see relationships between things, no one ever helped me realize that it was the idea of making connections which itself was so powerful! Imagine if we would help young learners have some understanding about the power making connections gives us!

Sperry tells the story of Papert telling the story in" Children's Machine" of how he learned to learn the names of flowers. Papert tells

....how he learned to overcome his inability to remember names of even the most common flowers. This is a lovely and informative account of an individual journey of learning, of finding ways to learn. He discovers a mathetic principle that works powerfully for him - that of connecting what he calls a "hot" area - his love of etymology, with a "cold" area - this strange business of flower names."

Carol Sperry, Logo Update the Logo Foundation Newsletter, Vol1, Number 1, Fall 1995, "Sound Mathetic Advice - "Look for Connections!"

Making connections to things we love, learning playfully and fully, seeing the value and fun of making mistakes and being confused - these are the main gifts which coming into contact with Logo and it's proponents has given me.

Don't we have a lot to look forward to as both learners and teachers in the future!

 

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