[IAEP] foundational skills in literacy and numeracy

Bill Kerr billkerr at gmail.com
Sun Jan 4 10:48:31 EST 2009

I'm cutting and pasting because the discussion became broken up.

I love constructionism but too often we focus exclusively high-level
math and science and not "foundational" skills or art, literature,
grammar, health, etc. By foundational skills I mean basic literacy and
numeracy. Kids can't create an Etoys game until they can count properly.
They can't read the dialogues until they understand phonics properly.

Some vocabulary has to be memorized and kids have to be able to add #'s
quickly in their head. When was the last time you reached for a
calculator to compute 5 + 5? If you did, you would work much more

I find that Sugar contributors from developed countries are focused more
on high-level thinking because that is a deficiency in their local
school systems. Their kids can do basic math and _usually_ know basic
grammar. Poorer countries are focused on basic numeracy and literacy.
You can't program until you can add and read.

Countries like Peru and Brazil have schools where kids are ready to
focus on high level problems. They also probably have schools struggling
to impart basic literacy and numeracy


I don't understand the construing of constructionism with "exclusively
high-level math and science" and I don't quite what you mean by
"foundational skills". I don't think anyone would argue that we don't
want numeracy and literacy to be "low shelf" tools in every child's
repertoire, but what does this have to do with the other topics in
this thread?

It has to do w/ this thread because it is easy to create simple
animations using Flash but hard to add collaboration and "View Source."
I am trying to make the point that a lot of activities don't need those
features in order to be very effective


It might be best to drop the word constructionism because it is generally
used in a religious sense or alternatively as a swear word

I'm not aware of anything that Papert wrote about teaching foundational
skills like number (meaning integers) or basic literacy using phonics.

btw I recently saw a brilliant and funny video about the evolution of human
understanding of number which others might like to watch as food for


Idit Harel as a student and collaborator with Papert did a brilliant thesis
about fraction knowledge which is a foundational skill and widely regarded
as poorly taught in primary schools in the industrialized world. See


Logo or turtle art does require knowledge of number to start with. I like
the sound of Ed Cherlin's suggestion to develop a version with new tiles
that may not initially require that.

Some people now argue (in Australia) that it would be best if calculators
were banned in primary school because many kids arrive in secondary school
with a poor sense of number, eg. can't add up or estimate a grocery bill in
their heads.

Others argue that kids develop a good real life sense of number just through
growing up in the modern world but that they find the formalism of
arithmetic, eg, the use of operations such as plus, minus, multiply, divide,
quite confusing and that it does not transfer readily to their real life
experiences. eg. Children and Number by Martin Hughes


That particularly references discusses games as a possibly solution.

I'm not claiming expertise in this issue but there is a lot of good
educational research out there.

Teaching basic literacy (reading and writing) has been a controversial area
(phonics versus whole language, perhaps it still is).

Once again, I'm not an expert language teacher (my main area is maths,
science and IT secondary education) but I have been following the issue of
teaching literacy to aboriginal children in Australia, a severely
disadvantaged group.

The methods used (Accelerated Literacy and Making up Lost Time in Literacy –
MULTILIT) do not use computer mediation as far as I am aware. They are
teacher intensive. However, I have watched videos of the methods used and I
think that aspects of them could be programmed. See the videos on the LHS of
this page:


This would seem to me to be well worth further investigation with literacy

The point I'm making here is that I can't see how quality activities in
these foundational areas will be developed through the methods being
suggested by Bryan. They will only be developed through educational research
into the best way to teach these areas and then working out how this can be
enhanced by computer mediation.
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