Programming For The Natives: What is it? What's In It For The Kids? - Papers & Essays



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Programming For The Natives: What is it? What's In It For The Kids?


Programming is many things to many people, and not everyone agrees on its potential for human learning. This is especially true at a time when even very young children are increasingly "expert" gamers, tweeters, information-seekers, and digital "bricoleurs". Mostly self-taught, or at least grabbing much of what they know outside the classroom, today's youngsters (also referred to as "digital natives") indeed surprise—and on occasion surpass us—with their clever uses of all things digital. Question is: how much of this "expertise" is deemed sufficient by experts in the field? This paper looks at programming as an opportunity to address issues of agency, control, and interaction styles, as played out in the creative and critical uses of "smart" tools by curious minds. The focus is on views and uses of "programming" as a means for 1) making things do things (instruct them to follow and execute orders); for 2) "animating" things (endow them with a mind of their own, teach them to "look out for themselves"); and for 3) "poking" things (modulate how things act or interact by tweaking some parameters in their environment). I present settings where youngsters are invited to give and execute orders, to take over or relinquish control, and to compose with things endowed with a "logic" or integrity of their own. I draw lessons for the design of programmable play kits for young children.

Keywords: Program, model, simulate, animate, object-relation, agency, control, bricolage, children


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Edith K. Ackermann


Edith K. Ackermann is a Visiting Scientist at the MIT School of Architecture and Senior research Associate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cambridge, MA. Previously, Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media laboratory, she also worked as a Scientific Collaborator at the Centre International d'Epistémologie Génétique, under the direction of Jean Piaget. She earned a Doctor of Developmental Psychology [Com Laude] and two Master's degrees in Developmental Psychology and Clinical Psychology, all from the University of Geneva, Switzerland.

In her work, Ackermann partners with researchers and practitioners from diverse backgrounds to help shape the future of learning. Two lessons she learned: When it comes to learning and creative uses of technologies, children have more to teach adults than adults to children! When it comes to designing for others, don’t guess what they want or do what they say: co-create what they—and you—will love once it is there!