16 February 2007

scotland... an overview

ok. i know david is itching to have some sort of more concise thoughts from scotland. seeing as i've managed to come down with a cold and am having trouble organizing my thoughts as a result, this has been slow to come. but it's friday. and worth a shot, even though my nose is runny and my throat sore. it will be informal. forgive me.

one of the things i found really interesting from these two weeks in scotland was the observation that pretty much every group had some story to tell about their machines. here's the bunny running away from a poacher with the gun who's trying to get the easter basket. or here's a guy crossing a road who gets hit by a car over and over. albeit, short stories. but stories nonetheless. which gave me the thought that an interesting direction to take this involving a longer workshop and with more sensor/programming is to make an interactive story. and, i know, david, that you've been mentioning 3-D animation. and, yeah. i think it's a great idea and direction to go in. it's something that the teachers can also get their heads around as a way to bring english/writing skills into something technical and artistic and mathematic. multi-disciplinary. it's something that i think the kids would really get. whether it's a non-fiction or fiction story... doesn't matter.

and this kinda ties in with david nye's assertation in "technology matters" that it's impossible to determine which came first: story or technology. because technology is dependent on story telling... e.g. "i need to do this and maybe if i turn this and use it like this i will get what i want." rudimentary story... but still story. the more complex the technology, the more complex the story, in some sense.

anyway. that was one observation. the other, regarding gender, is that not only are the girls fully involved, even at an age (13/14) where a lot of girls lose interest to science/math/technology, sometimes the girls work better than the guys. especially when it comes to group work. there seems to be a better division of the tasks and less arguing. whether in mixed groups or just girl groups. and having them create something of their own design means that even though the girls may be making a pink ballerina... they're still making a pink ballerina who has to stand up and whose legs move. still technical. but something they care about.

so. other thoughts. lots of kids didn't know how to use pliers or wire cutters. and in the groups where i didn't introduce this to them, it was interesting to see them trying to cut wire at the base of a pair of pliers that has no wire cutters there. like... they got the idea that the wire goes in and that you squeeze, but they missed the fact that it needs to have the cutting part there. so... in terms of introducing kids to building things, it's amazing just how basic you have to be. and something i would've taken for granted at their age is something that i need to remember to explain.

and they really enjoy being trusted to work with the tools. which is good, i think, for building a sense of confidence. this confidence is an important part of me wanting to do this.

that's all for now. a more in-depth look later on.

14 February 2007

meeting with chris re: thesis proposal

originality: marginal. well-traveled technique in art, well-tested technique in STEM education with one change in nuance... it's wired!

contribution to field: "a more diverse construction toolkit that is to be used for building a wider variety of interactive computational artifacts than what currently exists."

contribution to media lab themes: some incremental contribution to education: i do like the use of found objects - this is a good thing for some one in constructivism at the lab to try. otherwise seems about average for the areal.

awareness of related work: good.

proposed methodology/evaluation: fine.

scope: narrow. i believe that nichols could expand the notion of environmentally-specific materials and topics. how does she relate this to design for development style work?

quality of presentation: fine

suggestions for minor revisions: broaden scope to develop methodologies for integrating local materials, themes, topics.

suggestions for major revisions: expand theorization of indigenous or local knowledge and technologies. polanyi and baird refs are good, but should include some geertz, some dunne, and some other viz local/tacit technology. she can see me for more references.


ok. so. wow. it's hard for me to organize my thoughts today.

themes to bring out:
mutual debugging?
local availability of materials

1) mutual debugging being that by using wire, there is the option to "debug" a mechanism... more so than having to rebuild it every single time. is it actually possible to carry the thinking of the computer to the physical world? the physical world back to the comptuer? do they help reinforce each other?

2) as opposed to lego/erector sets/k'nex... using what's locally available. again, this is one of my major arguments for using wire instead of other things as a basis for mechanisms. kids in africa use wire to make moving toys all the time. wire can be found in old telephone cables, old fences, baling wire, etc. and wire can be used to incorporate found objects and found mechanisms... to build stands for things... to prototype.

things to watch out for: don't come off as self-indulgent. be clear as to why i'm doing this but also be clear in my generalizations out from my own experiences. tie into not only the constructivist angle, but also into the sustainable/local/developing angle... and... open source?

sigh. so much to think about. i'll give the proposal another try.

13 February 2007


07 February 2007

thoughts on workshops... seed or not.

So I've just been reading over this email that David sent to the group. And... I agree with him, I guess. Especially coming from finishing a bunch of small workshops in Scotland. And, though, I realize that these workshops are to establish relationships with schools to then do further work in, I find myself arguing for the same thing each time: more time, repeated work, time for reflection, time for group talk, and most importantly for the teachers to take initiative because I'm only one person and I can't be everywhere at once... and because it can't be me who carries everything... it HAS to come from within. And so, in lieu of writing up my record of the workshops, I'm going to talk about this right now. Although I can't speak to the context that these words were originally spoken about, I think they apply to the more general thoughts. And so I will speak to them from my own (albeit limited) experience.

To quote David, "Discrete, standalone workshops give people a nice experience but that is all. Whenever we engaged in workshops, it was always in the context of a bigger engagement towards change. It was never to just do some workshops that do not have any chance to build upon each other and to make a real change."

This is true. Standalone workshops are simply standalone. Yeah, it may introduce people to things, and yeah it may spark some thing for some short time, but the real learning doesn't come in there. The learning and deeper thoughts come in through reflection and repetition. It comes when the students are working on something they care about... when they try something and it doesn't work so they try again and try again. And if you want to talk about construction, why construction and hands-on projects are important, then talk about experience and the fact that experience only comes through time and the fact that there are things you can only learn through experience. People are going to have experiences, regardless... life is a string of experience. Our jobs are working with others, finding the strengths of all, and localizing for the best possible experience, but to also be realistic that things take time.

In my situation with working within the Scottish school system, I'm using these shorter workshops as a way to gauge the teachers for their own initiative... to try find someone to work with while I'm not around and to set up something that can continue without me around. It's hard working within the school system. No joke. For the teachers to give me even a day with the kids, they have to ask all the teachers who would have the students that day and agree upon it... in addition to the head teachers. So until I gain the trust of the teachers, it's hard to have more than just a short workshop. I'm pushing hard to not let it stand at short workshops... but if the teachers themselves don't take some initiative, then I will just go to other schools. And, you know, I've actually been pleasantly surprised by the thoughts of some of the teachers I've met. At the ones who've thrown away the list of curriculum for their classes and who've gone for something more. You can see it in their students. If things here stayed simply at the level of short things that don't go deeper, I'd feel like I'd failed, because there's potential for so much more.

But some of the teachers here, oh man, they look completely miserable, and I find myself wondering if it's possible to convince them of the ideas... to reignite some sort of spark in them. Some of them, though, will sidle over and ask quiet questions when they see the kids working... you can tell that they're dubious at first, but a few of them start asking more and more questions. At the schools, I try to invite everyone in to see the work that I can, so they can see/hear for themselves. Hm. Maybe I should get to some point. I guess what I'm saying is that in this (my) situation, I think the short guerrilla workshops are maybe more for the teachers than the students... to see what can be done and to hear what I have to say. To spark some ideas in them and to get them talking with each other. To have them carry an idea forward. And to get them to place some trust in me for longer times with their kids and themselves... to get them to try things themselves.

Ok. Back to more points from that email from David: "time is short, needs are huge, and doing nice little things that have minimal impact is not how we should use the privileged positions that we have. Our obligation is to do more."

Right. But, then, I agree wholeheartedly to the idea that I was introduced to at a young age "ab illo cui multum datur multum requiritur" -- to whom much is given, much is required. And I truly believe that we could bring about some great change. But, again, I know that there's only so much I can be doing in a given amount of time. It would be great if our group were bigger, or if there were more people working on this. Which is where I think we should be... enabling other people to do this. And I don't know that I can necessarily "do more" within the timeframe for my master's, but I can certainly do more with my lifetime. I guess I didn't really realize how huge needs are until coming over here and seeing them firsthand. Here's Scotland, a developed country, and a country that's struggling to move past the monolithic curriculum that's been set up. There are teachers here who are meeting together and talking about great ideas and who I really want to succeed. But then you meet some of the other teachers, and you realize just how far there is to go.

Again, back to David's email: "There are plenty of nice little projects in the world, that give a nice little experience, but do not add up. There is far too much dissonance in the educational world between expressed philosophies and actual activities. We cannot be part of that. We have to be honest, with others and with ourselves."

True. But how do we build up a critical mass for change? Connectivity is key, as well as breaking the enforced mediocrity that curriculum provides. Education shouldn't just be about the minimal amount of achievment to get by (both by students AND teachers). Life isn't separated into subjects, either. We should encourage people to find their strengths and use them. An education that's locally developed for the strengths of the students, teachers, and community, but an education that can still address main key topics... I guess the main topic being communication of ideas ... which is math and building things and writing and talking and music: they're all forms of expression/communication.

And, I guess the last bit that I have questions about: "When I hear of projects like on climate change, or on alternative energy, there is nothing real that kids can construct that gets deep enough to demonstrate the value of construction. There is no use of computation and computational thinking. They are nice little science fair projects. But everyone does those. we are not needed in this regard. we are needed to bring the ideas to life that we have, that are important, that are different, and that others do not get."

True, everyone does science fair projects. And everyone must believe that doing them has some value, else they wouldn't be doing them. But I'm just wondering what's considered something "real", something "deep enough". Where do the values of construction come in? And, I realize that within the context of the email, climate change and alternative energy has one meaning, but is it possible to get "deep enough" with those topics? If a school worked on alternative energy and managed to get their school off the grid -- is that deep enough? If a classroom studied climate change and managed to change something in their community -- is that deep enough? I mean... I guess what I'm saying is that maybe it's not deep enough to just introduce the idea that there's alternative energy and look you can make models of it... but if they actually start figuring out how to apply it to their lives? I guess I'm just not sure where you define "deep enough"... or is there ever really an enough?

Anyway. Just some off the cuff thoughts not overly censored.

06 February 2007

Lionel Academy pt. 1

Out on the Outer Hebrides. Two groups... only an hour and a half for each, believe it or not. Much less than ideal, but the students did well, all things considered. I'm especially impressed with the bunny being chased, by the car crash, and by the giraffe eating a tree. More discussion on this to come in the following post.

Group !
(bird flapping)

Group @
(pink panther dancing)

Group #
(bunny chased by poacher)

Group $
(dancers... failed)

Group %
(dog wagging its tail)

Group ^'s plan
Group ^
(giraffe eating)

Group &
(man drinking tea)

Group *
(man hit on head with boxing glove)

Teacher Meeting

So the night after Nairn, I went to a meeting of ten or so teachers discussing a possible activity to go along with the new curriculum for excellence. Their idea is to have schools take 6-8 weeks and study wind power (a topic that's quite relevant, because a lot of debates are going on locally about where wind turbines should be and whether or not in the ocean or on the land, etc.). The meeting was interesting because it wasn't just math or science teachers... there was an english teacher, too... and maybe others?

Maybe I should introduce the curriculum for excellence before I go any further. I guess the main goal is curricular change. But focused around a multi-disciplinary approach... a project-based one.... redefining what "evaluation" is. Hm. I guess the webpage has that on there. But it's all rather vague still, and it seems that even the teachers themselves are trying to get their heads around it. There's also glow, which is meant to be a way for all the schools to be connected together.

Aaaanyway. So this group of teachers was focusing on one of the examples for the new curriculum. They're trying to put forward a guide rather than an instruction set... something that can allow for the teachers to have flexibility for their schools and local strengths. They don't want it to be something that is the same everywhere. They want the teachers to communicate what they're doing... what worked and what didn't.

The english teacher was really excited about getting kids to write about things related to project. The math teachers are interested in working with science teachers. Everyone at that table seemed really excited about this.

And I'm not getting it across well here, but I think they all had a good mindset about things. They're interested in process instead of goal-oriented learning. And not only process, but repeating the process and trying to get things growing and changing.

Yeah. I'm not sure where I'm going with this, other than just being happy that after the meeting in Nairn, it was refreshing to be with a group of teachers who seemed to really care about what they did and also a group that was really trying to push new things forward. I think that they're maybe a group that could really benefit from contact with our group/seeing what our group has done in the past. And it made me really wish that we had a better system for showing/talking about what we've done.

nairn part 2

Okay. More thoughts from the Nairn trip.

As far as the workshop went, only one team tried a more complex mechanism. The rest just tried to mount the motor and get direct rotational motion out of it. And the team that tried a mechanism didn't really finish. So. Hm. I blame this on myself. Because even with the same amount of time (or less), other schools managed to build something off of a mechanism... and could actually explain the mechanisms to me.

In addition to the workshop with the kids, I also met with a group of teachers after lunch. It was amazing how different this group was compared with Jamie in Plockton. I guess, first off, the room we were meeting in was very dark and an old nurse's office.... a little creepy, actually. The teachers seemed downtrodden, tired. It was quite a lot of work to get them to talk with me. There were two chemistry teachers, a math teacher, and a technology teacher. Out of the four, the technology teacher was the most talkative. And after a while, the math teacher opened up and started talking more. One of the chemistry teachers never raised his head from staring at the ground. The other chemistry teacher had seen the workshop and had good thoughts, but was overall still very quiet. All in all, the teachers at Nairn seemed interested, but reserved. The teachers who were around the room while the kids were building things all just observed things and then would come over and quietly ask me questions. I did my best to give them a feel for what I was about and what was going on.

I also got a chance to talk with the ICT youth challenge teams. Two of them. That was nice. The kids were really talkative and happy to give me their impressions/ideas. Neither group had gotten through to the next round. I was amazed, though, at the fact that they were still adamant that their ideas were good ideas. The team that had proposed the idea for an electromagnetic sphere that could levitate you and get you to move around in response to video games... well... a good sci-fi holodeck idea... but not something that was really feasible. But the one boy was convinced that it would work because he had "done the equations." Which I'd be happy to see, but I doubt that they were quite right. Nor do I think it would be as cheap as 1000 pounds (sterling), like he seemed convinced it would be. I mean... I guess my thoughts on that would be that he would probably learn quickly after starting to try to prototype this just how hard and expensive it would be... as well as just how little his equations probably helped.

But despite the students' enthusiasm, I left the school with a feeling of heaviness. The slightly oppressive architecture wasn't helping, either.

nairn part 1

I have the documentation of this workshop (2.5 hours) mostly on the school video camera... so I'm waiting on the footage from them. Since there was only one of me, it was hard to get photos as well as try to video the kids explaining their ideas. So for now, I'll just put up what I have and try to explain until I can get stills from the videos (as well as the videos themselves).

Group *
Group *'s finished product
This group was a group of three mixed boy/girl... two boys, one girl. Twelve years old. Their idea was an ice skating penguin. They really had trouble trying to get it to stand upright, and in the end, it just collapsed. When asked what they would do differently next time they replied "focus more on getting it to work and then work on getting it to look nice." They worked well together as a group, trying to split up tasks between them. Penguin was attached to the motor, and the motor was on top of this plastic cup with a hole in it. In the end, it was just too much weight for the strength of the plastic cup.

Group &
Group & (pt 2)
This was a group of four mixed boy/girl... two and two. Again, age twelve. I don't have a proper photo of this finished as of yet. But it's a cow leaping over a moon with a shooting star chasing it. There's the star and the cow there. They were quite clever in how to get this to stand up ... kind of like a tri-fold poster presentation thing. they attached the moon directly to the motor to make it spin. Complete with stars and a background. They finished right on time, but I feel they didn't really push themselves as far as the mecahnism went. But they came up with good structural solutions for the shooting star (they had problems with it spinning around the wrong way) as well as the motor mount.

Group ^
This was a group of four boys who made a hero/villain fighting while flying over Hollywood. That's a palm tree there. Again, this group attached the people directly to the motor. Instead of mechanism problems (i.e. not using a mechanism other than the motor spinning), they had really hard structural problems. As in, they had trouble figuring out how to hold things in place. So, although maybe not as mechanically sophisticated as one might've hoped, they figured out a bit of structures. And they came up with a particularly quick/clever solution (thought not a good long-term one) of holding the motor in place with a rubber band.

Group %
This was a group of four girls who made a boat with a baby and a shark swimming around the boat with a person who had fallen in the water. Quite a complex story, there. Shark directly attached to motor. They had trouble with the stand for the boat (that you see there), but after asking them a few questions, they came up with the idea to give it some supports coming down from the top to the corners (making triangles to help keep it upright). This group worked exceptionally well as a team, dividing up tasks so that everyone was working all the time and it all came together at the end.

And then there's one more team that I don't have any photo of. Nor do I really remember right off hand what they worked on (this is what I get for waiting a few days to write this up... but I haven't had any spare time to do so and now I'm just staying up way too late to get this done before I forget). But this team of four boys had so much trouble. They wanted to do everything! And in the end, they really didn't have anything that worked. They were the only team, though, that tried to make a mechanism, of sorts. But they got distracted by the super hero/villain team. And they got discouraged by not knowing the answers right off hand, though I did my best to encourage them and talk them through questions.

plockton part 3

i also got a chance to meet with jamie's senior product design class where the kids were working on their portfolios... models and drawings and design concepts. i was pretty impressed with the kids' ideas and ability to make models... but, still, the idea is a product. and they don't really get a chance to actually build the thing they design (short of models). but unlike other teachers who teach this subject, jamie doesn't confine them to "chairs" or something along those lines. he lets the students come up with their own ideas to work on. the students seemed really engaged and excited about what they were doing, which was nice to see.

hm. i don't know what other thoughts i have about this.

i guess i could expand on jamie as a teacher. he has a lot of skills in being creative and building things. and he's a really engaging teacher... passionate about what he gets across.

03 February 2007

plockton part 2

ok. so. a more thorough discussion of plockton.

as i mentioned, the students didn't quite manage to finish. but despite this, they all were excited to take their machines and work on them to get them to work, even without me around. jamie kean has a great area and is a good teacher... i think he has the right mindset about what works for the kids. it was the first workshop, so i was a bit nervous.

the kids were mostly first year (12 years old). i was a bit nervous at the start. taking charge in front of a group of kids is something i definitely need practice at. the kids seemed to have good ideas as to what to do, and definitely things that were feasible, but they seemed to have trouble figuring out how to make things move. also, kids seem to be on the whole more concerned with making things look nice before trying to get it to work. i don't know if that's because it's easier or because they want it to look good before trying to get it to work... something along the lines of make the parts right before putting them all together.

the laptops didn't work with the gogo boards. we had USB to serial converters, but still the computers wouldn't communicate with the board. and with only two hours for the workshop, i didn't really have time to figure that out (i hadn't recieved the laptops until that day). so... i gave them a basic program to run the motor with a touch sensor to turn the motor on. not ideal in the least... but... triage?

plockton part 1

Wednesday the 31st, I ran my first workshop of the year in Plockton High School. Jamie Kean is the head teacher of technology/technological studies there, and it was his classroom and his space that I used for the workshop. I met Jamie when he came to MIT last September with one of the winning teams from the ICT Youth Challenge. I only had two hours to run the workshop, much like the workshops back in May, and this wasn't quite enough time for the kids to finish. But there were some good ideas and some good thoughts that went into things. I guess I'll go into more detail now.

Group !
This was a group of four girls age 12. As they didn't think they were really good at drawing, they ended up just writing a few words down and then starting to build. This group wanted to make a bird whose wings flapped to begin with, but after they tried to make a bird out of wire, they decided that the bird looked more like bumble bees. As a result, they changed their original idea, and went with multiple bees. They thought that if they put the bees on a spiral, then the bees would look like they were constantly flying up.

Group @'s preliminary design
Group @
This was a group of three boyx age 12. One of them played the guitar. They tossed around a few ideas at first, but because they were working in a group, they decided that a band would best work. They wanted the drummer's head to bob up and down (the motor was hooked up to the head via a wire/straw that you can see here. In the end, it sort of worked, but things weren't all held down in their places.

Group #'s preliminary design
Group #
This was a group of three girls age 12. They wanted to make a ladybug that flapped its wings. They thought of this because they liked ladybugs. While I was asking them how they thought they could get the wings to flap, and asking them if they'd seen anything like it around, one of them said that they had a wooden duck whose wings flapped at home (similar to the butterfly I made in Costa Rica, actually). So they went about trying to make it. They made a stand for the motor out of straws and wire and plastic strips and were going to put the ladybug on top. The cotton balls were to make the ladybug's body... they were going to wrap yarn around the balls to make the right shape.

Group $'s preliminary design
Group $
This was a group of three girls age 12. As you can see in their preliminary brainstorm, they went through several ideas before settling on this one: a man who has a hoop in his hand to blow bubbles. They managed to get his arm moving, but didn't have time to attach everything to the base.

Group %'s preliminary design
Group %
This was a group of three boys age 12. They wanted to make a football player kicking a football (i.e. soccer, for us Americans). They got the leg moving, but didn't manage to make the thing stable enough to stand.

Ok. Now for some more in-depth thinking on my part after just getting past what it was that the kids did. Coming soon (i.e. after dinner... maybe in two hours or three)...

01 February 2007


quines and loons.

anyway. \\\\\\\\

two workshops so far. plockton and nairn. plockton was 2 hours. nairn 3 hours. less than ideal, no doubt, and not quite what i had wanted. at least in the sense that i had wanted (and asked for) longer workshops and workshops where i could have the same group of kids for a repeated time. tomorrow is stornoway, and will certainly be a long day. i'll go into more depth on things in the posts to follow.

so, yeah. not as long as i had wanted, but as i've been explained, this is because of two reasons. 1) it's hard negotiating within the schools, because even though one of the teachers might be really keen on this, they have to convince the teachers before and after them to give up their class periods. 2) this is a way to find new schools/teachers to work with, introduce myself to them, win them over, and then ask for more time/more intensity from them in march. so this visit, i'll see who i work well with and who is willing to carry the ball farther.

more thoughts to follow.

from Nairn today