[sugar] Some discussion on education

Edward Cherlin echerlin
Fri Aug 17 06:31:46 EDT 2007

Just as videophones have not taken off in industrialized nations, video chat
is not a killer app. I have used teleconferencing as a business tool, and it
will have a place in the XO program. But what we really need is quite

There have been computers in schools for 30 years. But they have never been
integrated into the curriculum, because it was impossible to make an
assumption about how much computer time students would get, and it was
impossible to make an assumption about what software would be available. Now
we can create textbooks containing interactive models of phenomena. We can
give children real-world datasets to analyze. We will have powerful data
acquisition capabilities using the camera (including microscopy), and using
the sound input port as a high-speed A/D converter feeding a digital
oscilloscope, and so on.

This gives us an opportunity and a responsibility to look at the curriculum
anew. The time-honored divisions of subjects and sequences of ideas that
made sense for paper-and-pencil learning do not necessarily make sense when
the computer can do the heavy lifting. Just as one example, trigonometry
used to be a semester course, and no doubt still is in many places. That
probably made sense when surveyors in training had to learn to solve dozens
of triangles a day with no greater aid than a book of function and log
tables, but it is absurd in the age of scientific calculators and computers.
The essential mathematical content of trigonometry can be reduced to two or
three pages, including proofs. (It's not my opinion. Saunders Mac Lane
complained about trig in Mathematics: Form and Function, after reducing it
to less than three pages.)

Calculus is still treated as a high-level high school subject, but primary
school children can grasp the notion of the direction of a curve: just put a
ruler up to any convex object. They can equally grasp the concept of the
area under an arbitrary curve. Draw it on paper, cut it out, and weigh it.
Leave the formulas and the proofs for later. When we have the basic ideas in
place, we can use them for many purposes. Then when the students get to the
calculations and proofs, they know what it's all about, and will grasp it
much more readily.

The Internet gives unequalled opportunities for language learning through
online literature, songs, movies, mailing lists, chat rooms, voice
broadcasts, Voice over IP, and video conferencing. We really have no idea
how to take full advantage of all this.

There is much more of this sort of thing. I think we need a separate list to
discuss it properly.

On 8/16/07, Yoshiki Ohshima <yoshiki at squeakland.org> wrote:
>   Hello, Elijah,
> > > http://squeakland.org/pipermail/squeakland/2007-August/003717.html
> > >
> > > This discussion might make you think that claiming a video chat app as
> > > "the killer app" is not a very compelling pitch as an educational
> > > project...
> >
> > video chat alone, not so useful.
> >
> > video chat combined with lots of other practical collaborative tools?
> > pretty great, pretty humanizing, very supportive of lots of other
> > activities.
>   Thank you for the comment.  While XO will have (if it is successful)
> a lot of off-school and recess time, the primary use case I thought
> should be the at school (even it is under tree).  The video chat
> wouldn't match the latter very well.  I don't say it is useless, but
> cannot be the "killer app", and we shouldn't think so.
>   If I understand correctly, the position of the OLPC is that making
> curriculum and organized materials are primarily the responsibility of
> the client governments.  However, we, the software developers, should
> think about making software tools for developing these materials (yes,
> that should be possible on XO), rather than simples games that are
> only useful for 5 minutes each.
> -- Yoshiki
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Edward Cherlin
Earth Treasury: End Poverty at a Profit
WIRE AFRICA  http//www.wireafrica.org/
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