[IAEP] Sugar Digest 2013-10-05

Walter Bender walter.bender at gmail.com
Sat Oct 5 13:19:39 EDT 2013

== Sugar Digest ==

1. I mostly look forward rather than back, so it is not often that I
think about my time at the MIT Media Lab. But I had three occasions to
think about it in the past week. I joined Yumi Mori and Toshi Takasaki
in Tokyo last week to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Pangaea [1], a
project they started while I was director of the lab. I met some old
friends, including K. Nishi, a pioneer in electronic publishing and
Bernie Kirsher, who started the rural school program in Cambodia that
was the catalyst for our founding One Laptop per Child program. Next,
I gave a lecture at Kyoto University at the launch event of a new
research program meant to bring Japanese industry and the university's
design school together. I dusted off an old presentation, "The Seven
Secrets of the Media Lab" [2] and then went on to describe how the
same principles of design apply to Sugar: the foundation for learning
is the same, whether you are 8 or 80. Finally, I was reminiscing with
John Maeda, president of RSID and former colleague at MIT, about
Jerome Wiesner. Jerry was the true visionary behind all of the
programs in the arts at MIT, a proponent of "STEAM" rather than STEM
[3,4] since the 1960s. Jerry's one-sentence mission statement for the
Media Lab, still has relevance:

"Technology in support of learning and expression by people and machines"

2. In anticipation of next week's events in Paraguay (See items 3 and
4 below), I wrote a short manifesto about learning. Claudia Urrea will
be fleshing it out with me, but I include a rough draft here:

"A good reason that kids should learn to paint, compose, play music,
act *and* program computers is that each form of expression require
deep commitment, careful thought, reflection, sensitivity to external
and often unanticipated stimuli *and* build upon a young person's
remarkable capacity for intensity. They also allow a kid to spend
intense periods of time inside of their own head." -- Gary Stager

Motivation is a key factor in education: how do we motivate children
to learn and how do the mechanisms of motivation impact how and what
children learn. Typical of most schools is the use of "carrots and
sticks" (rewards and punishment, in the form of grades, stickers, and
stars, and, in some places, literally the stick in the form of
corporal punishment). This approach results in children learning to be
adept at avoiding the stick, keeping their heads down, reciting the
correct answers. Creativity and intellectual risk-taking are drilled
out of them, as is the love of learning. An alternative approach,
grounded in the literature, is to use autonomy, mastery, and a sense
of purpose as motivators: children become practitioners of creative
problem-solving, on the path to entrepreneurial pursuits.

In the early 1960s, while studying with Jean Piaget, Seymour Papert
had the insight that computation was a "thing to think with". He and
his colleagues created Logo -- the first programming language for
children -- in order to bring computational thinking to schools.
(Early versions of Logo controlled a robot that raised and lowered a
pen as it moved forward, left, and right on the floor. This robot
resembled a turtle; consequently the turtle became synonymous with
For the next 40 years, Papert and his colleagues at MIT explored the
use of Logo (and other tools) while developing a pedagogy that
combined computation, personal expression, and authentic
problem-solving in pilot programs around the world. Many of these
pilots involved 1-to-1 computing, in order to ensure that the computer
could be used as readily as a pencil by each child, in exploring and
expressing. (As early as the 1980s, we were doing 1-to-1 computing in
Sengal, Pakistan, and Colombia.)

In 2005, a team of researchers from MIT founded the One Laptop per
Child program in an effort to provide every child with the opportunity
to engage in the pedagogy of computational thinking. We pioneered the
development of low-cost hardware that computation, sensors, and a
durable form-factor suitable both classroom and beyond-the-classroom
exploration. We coupled the hardware with software that provides the
scaffolding needed to encourage children and teachers to "imagine and
realize" and "critique and reflect" upon their creations. Central to
this effort is programming: Turtle Art, Scratch, Etoys, and other
programming environments are made freely available to every child. Our
goal is not to raise a generation of computer scientists, but rather,
a generation of children who are comfortable with the discipline of
computational thinking and able to apply this discipline to
problem-solving in a wide range of domains: children who can invent
their own future.

An important characteristic of the tools we provide is that they are
not black boxes: children are free to delve deeply into the tools, see
how they work, and even modify them. We do this by utilizing free and
open-source software (FOSS), AKA Software Libre. We provide the
license to use and modify the tools. We also provide the necessary
scaffolding to enable them to make use of this license. Children are
given the opportunity to make their own tools. With this opportunity
comes a sense of ownership and responsibility. Thus we immerse
children in a culture that values autonomy, mastery, and a sense of

We have been working in Paraguay in collaboration with Paraguay Educa
and colleagues at ANU since 2007. Here we have found a community of
educators well versed in the pedagogy of contructionism. They have had
positive and pronounced impact on how computation is used in the
classroom and in extra-curricular activities that has had far reach.
We have also found talented practitioners. (An example of the quality
of their efforts is Dextrose, a branch of our Sugar learning platform,
which was conceived and developed in Paraguay and is used by more than
500000 children in Uruguay, Australia, Nepal, etc.) And we have also
seen creativity in the teachers we work with in Caacupé. In the course
of our collaboration, they have demonstrated not just the ability to
apply our tools, but also to invent new ones, e.g., the Caacupé

Looking ahead, in order to bring computational thinking to all the
children of Paraguay, we need to: (1) provide Guarani language support
(Sugar and Turtle Art are easily translated -- learning in one's first
language has demonstrable impact); (2) adapt to local culture (both in
terms of content and pedagogy); and (3) rethink the mechanisms we use
to motivate children to become active and expressive in their
learning. Together we also need to create a space of growth for the
remarkable learning community in Paraguay so that they can make a
difference in Paraguay, and consequently have a reason to stay in
Paraguay. Together, we will raise a generation of problem-solvers;
confident that they can be entrepreneurial; inventing the future

=== In the community ===

3. International Turtle Art Day will be on October 12. Pacita Peña and
Cecilia Alcala will be hosting an event in Caacupé and there will be
other events around the world sharing ideas and resources. Brian
Silverman and Artemis Papert will be featured guests. There are guides
to holding a Turtle Art Day event available in English [11] and
Spanish [12]. (Tip of the hat to Claudia Urea, who has led this

4. Another Turtle Art Day event will be held on October 15 in
Montevideo, organized by José Miguel García. Details soon. We also
have a Turtle Art Day planned for Malacca on November 16.

5. From 10-13 October, there will be an EduJam!, in Asunción [7]. On
the 13th, we will hold a hack-a-thon, and hopefully make some headway
on some of the open issues with Sugar on Android. We will also take
advantage of the occasion of so many Sugar oversight board members
(Gonzalo, Claudia, and me) in one place to hold a SLOB meeting (on
Sunday morning).

=== Tech Talk ===

6. We are wrapping up Sugar 100 and need all hands helping with both
closing a few outstanding tickets [9] and helping with testing.
Gonzalo has prepared a new image (Fedora 18) for OLPC AU that can be
used for testing in XO-4 hardware [10].

=== Sugar Labs ===

8. Please visit (and contribute to) our planet [11].


[1] http://www.pangaean.org
[2] http://www.media.mit.edu/publications/bttj/ForwardPages5-6.pdf
[3] http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/Archive/Current_Events/2011-08-07
[4] http://stemtosteam.org/
[5] http://people.sugarlabs.org/walter/Guia_Ingles_10-08-2013.pdf (en)
[6] http://people.sugarlabs.org/walter/Guia_Esp_12-08-2013.pdf (es)
[7] http://ceibaljam.org/drupal/?q=edujam2013
[9] http://bugs.sugarlabs.org/query?status=new&status=assigned&status=accepted&status=reopened&priority=Immediate&priority=Urgent&component=Sugar&status_field=New&order=priority
[10] http://dev.laptop.org/~gonzalo/AU1B/33019xx4.zd
[11] http://planet.sugarlab.org


Walter Bender
Sugar Labs

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