[Sugar-devel] Sugar Digest 2008-12-29

Walter Bender walter.bender at gmail.com
Mon Dec 29 09:35:55 EST 2008

As 2008 comes to an end, it gives me an excuse to do some reflecting
on what we are doing as a project and foundation. Most of the
following you've read before, but it is helpful—at least to me—to
revisit these ideas periodically.

The world faces many seemingly intractable problems: war, a faltering
economy, an energy crisis, global climate change, to name just a few.
My generation has failed to solve these problems. Our children will
inherit them from us. But we can leave them something in addition: the
means to become a generation of critical thinkers and problem-solvers.
The investment that we can make on their behalf that will have the
most return is learning. It has a bearing on all of the challenges we
face and is essential if our children are to excel in an ever-changing
world. Providing every child with the opportunity to learn learning
will allow them both to achieve a clarity of purpose and to develop
independent means towards their goals.

What should children and learn and how should they learn it?
Information is about nouns; learning is about verbs. Of course
learners should have access to power ideas (I won't debate here which
ones we should teach). But they should also engage in exploration and
collaboration, appropriating knowledge while engaging in authentic,
open-ended problem solving. This can be accomplished within a
framework of accountability, one that complements rigorous national
standards where learners engage in a process of reflection, public
expression, and critique—a "portfolio" approach. What am I learning?
How did I learn it? Why is it important? Can I teach it to others?

We have some simple, universal points of leverage:

* Everyone is a teacher and a learner.
* Humans are social beings.
* Humans are expressive.

You learn through doing, so if you want to learn more, you want to do more.

Love is a better master than duty—you want people to engage in things
that are authentic to them, things that they love. Internal motivation
almost always trumps external motivations.

These ideas are not immiscible with current norms within schools, but
too often we fall back on what we "know". I challenge you to think of
a great learning moment in your life: was it sitting in a classroom,
all eyes forward, listening to a lecture or was in when you were
trying to solve a problem that was important to you?

We know of no better tool for learning than a computer—it is a "thing
to think with" when it is used as a means of knowledge creation.
(Unfortunately, it is too often thought of and used as simply a
mechanism for information retrieval and rote learning in our
schools—the modern equivalent of the mimeograph machine, AKA the
"purple" plague.)

Three experiences can characterize a computer-enhanced learning platform:

Sharing: The interface should always shows the presence of other
learners. Collaboration is a first-order experience. Students and
teachers dialog with each other, support each other, critique each
other, and share ideas.

Reflecting: A "Journal" should record each learner's activity. The
Journal serves as a place for reflection and assessment of
progress—the basis of a portfolio.

Discovering: We can accommodate a wide variety of users, with
different levels of skill in terms of reading, language, and different
levels of experience with computing. It is easy to approach, yet it
doesn't put an upper bound on personal expression. One should always
be able to peel away layers and go deeper and deeper, with no
restrictions. This allows the direct appropriation of ideas in
whatever realm the learner is exploring: music, browsing, reading,
writing, programming, or graphics. The student can always go further.

These are the core ideas behind Sugar. By embodying these ideas
directly into the affordances provided by the user interface, we can
skew the odds that teachers and learners will engage in more than the
accumulation and transfer of information.

In Sugar, have in hand the tools to reinvent how computers are used
for education. Collaboration, reflection, and discovery are readily
integrated directly into the learning experience. Children and
teachers have the opportunity to use computers on their own terms,
reshape, reinvent, and reapply both software and content into powerful
learning activities. Learning can be focused on sharing, criticism,
and exploration. We have a lot of work ahead of us to refine these
tools and to refine the practice around them, but we have a solid

We can raise a generation of critical thinkers, armed with the
complementary tools of science and the arts. (Relatively speaking, it
is a trivial investment—probably less than the cost of a single
"bridge to nowhere". All of the necessary tools are freely available
under free software licenses. But we do need to invest in engaging
teachers, parents, and children in learning learning.) So let's make
it happen.

===Sugar Labs===

Gary Martin has generated another SOM from the past week of discussion
on the IAEP mailing list (Please see

Happy New Year.


Walter Bender
Sugar Labs

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