[IAEP] Physics - Lesson plans ideas?

Alan Kay alan.nemo at yahoo.com
Sun Aug 16 08:50:00 EDT 2009

Bill and Tony,

I simply ask that you ponder much more deeply on this issue. It's very important, and it also is part of the "helping people learn certain modern subjects" problem. Many of the people who have embraced the OLPC and XO and Sugar are using  it for other means (contact with and use of computers, pride, motivation, and so forth). But both of you have shown interest in helping children learn mathematics and science.

And by the way, I don't know of any mathematicians who would define math as "the study of rule-based systems". So this could be one place to start. And science is much more subtle than mathematics. Depending on when you think modern humans appeared on the planet, it took until just about 400 years ago for the real deal to be teased out of our built in desires for explanations coupled with our equally built in desires to accept them much too readily.

None of this issue has anything directly to do with computers. And there are a lot of very good things which can be done without them for both real math and real science. As Papert showed us, computers can be the raw material for several important new forms for good math that are particularly nicely suited for children, and several of these are nicer to deal with physical phenomena than some of the standard algebraic approaches (especially for the equivalents of differential equations and integration of differential relations).

But I always urge teachers to get started on this road themselves by looking at the many wonderful "little books" of Arvind Gupta and one of his main themes of "toys from trash". http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/ Besides being good for children and adults alike, it is also a bit of a temperament tester. Most people who really understand science and its processes will delight in these projects and in helping children do these projects. You can think of them as the immersion engineering part of eliciting interesting phenomena from the world around us. They are all in the children's world, they are made by the children, they do cool and surprising things, and they have real connections to the world of adults. They are not science themselves, but are great motivators and start the kids and adults on the road to seeing mechanicanical cause effect relationships which are the underpinings of math and our abstraction about the real world.

Some of these are ripe for trying to do deeper investigations and to make working mathematical models of them. This is the science part.

In any case, one of the important parts of this discussion is to be able to deal with the magic of playing with a computer. 

Best wishes,


From: "forster at ozonline.com.au" <forster at ozonline.com.au>
To: Alan Kay <alan.nemo at yahoo.com>
Cc: iaep at lists.sugarlabs.org
Sent: Sunday, August 16, 2009 12:25:11 AM
Subject: Re: Re: [IAEP] Physics - Lesson plans ideas?


You ask whether Bill's Physics Activity suggestions have anything to do with real science. You rightly point out that the Physics Activity is an imperfect simulation of the real world and just as mysterious. Certainly playing with the Physics Activity is not the best way to discover how the real world works. 

You draw the distinction between real maths and real science. Bill's suggestions work if you think more like a mathematician than a scientist. We study complex numbers and transfinite numbers even though they aren't real world. Root(-1) isn't real world but its a useful abstraction to study.

Maths is the study of rule-based systems. Some of the maths isn't that useful in itself but the ability to understand and think in that system is a valid educational goal. It strengthens the ability to think in other rule-based systems.

The Physics Activity has its set of rules and Bill's activities encourage students to discover these rules, to think more deeply about them and to compare them to the idealised maths which is used to describe the real world. It may not be a good way to understand the rules that govern the real world but it is a good way to do a scientific study of a microworld which is governed by its own set of rules.

Surely testing and discovering the rules which govern a microworld strengthens our ability to understand other rule based systems including real world physics?

Some advantages of this microworld:
Its engaging
Setup and cleanup are easy
Bills suggestions are suitable for self-directed learning
The cycle time to test a hypothesis is short, more time for cognitive conflict (deep thinking)
With simulations you can perform experiments that are unsafe in the real world

Thanks for your contributions.


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