Category Archives: Beyond Bits and Atoms

Beyond Bits & Atoms – Week 3 – Reading Notes

Ackermann, E. (2001). Piaget’s constructivism, Papert’s constructionism: What’s the difference.Future of learning group publication, 5(3), 438. Chicago

  • “And if we believe, as Piaget and Papert do, that knowledge is actively constructed by the child in interaction with her world, then we are tempted to offer opportunities for kids to engage in hands-on explorations that fuel the constructive process. We may do so at the cost of letting them “rediscover the wheel” or drift away when shortcuts could be welcome.” (Ackerman, 2001, p.1)
  • “Because of its greater focus on learning through making rather than overall cognitive potentials, Papert’s approach helps us understand how ideas get formed and transformed when expressed through different media, when actualized in particular contexts, when worked out by individual minds. ” (Ackerman, 2001, p.4)
  • “In all cases, situated approaches to learning revalue the concrete, the local, and the personal! Such a shift has important implications in the fields of cognitive research and education.” (Ackerman, 2001, p.6)
  • “In reclaiming the deeply grounded, experience-based, and subjective nature of human cognition, Papert’s approach reminds us that alternative epitemologies are indeed possible, and that concrete thinking is no less important than figuring out things “in the head”. ” (Ackerman, 2001, p.7)
  • “Becoming one with the phenomenon under study is, in his view, a key to learning. (Papert)” (Ackerman, 2001, p.8)

Blikstein, P. & Worsley, M., Children are not Hackers: Building a Culture of Powerful Ideas, Deep Learning, and Equity in the Maker Movement

  • 4 cultures with diverging ideas
    • The hacker culture: extreme autodidactism
      • “The popular image of the hacker is that of a disheveled, unshaven white male in his twenties, doing all-nighters in a messy electronics lab, capable of learning anything by himself by scouring the web or doing late-night runs to the library.”
    • The publishers’ culture: product before process
      • MAKE magazine & Maker Fair
      • “Having spectacular projects is the natural path of evolution for an exhibition, but not very inviting for novices.” (Blikstein & Worsley, p.3)
    • The culture of informal educational spaces: the “keychain” syndrome
      • “This incentive helps the proliferation of the “30 minute” workshop model: fast, scripted, perpetually “introductory” workshops—what we called in previous work the “keychain syndrome”—children keep doing keychains and other trivial objects but never move on to more complex projects, which require more complex facilitation, curriculum design, and equipment (Blikstein, 2013).” (Blikstein & Worsley, 2001, p.4)
    • The “job market” culture:
      • “Despite the best of intentions, this Silicon-Valley-inspired fixation on K-12 education as STEM job market training has influenced the tools, goals, and pedagogies incentivized (or allowed) in schools.” (Blikstein & Worsley, 2001, p.4)
  • Fun vs. Hard Fun
    • “In fact, early Constructionists were not interested in pitting serious against playful (Papert & Harel, 1991, p. 1), but instead finding ways to live at the intersection of the two. ” (Blikstein & Worsley, 2001, p.5)
  • Abstract versus concrete thinking
    • “In fact, the richness of makerspaces comes not from the fact that the abstract is left out, but that it is brought in together with new ways to build relationships with and between objects and concepts. ” (Blikstein & Worsley, 2001, p.5)
  • Research versus gut feeling
    • “The history of educational technologies and education reform (Collins & Halverson, 2009; Tyack & Cuban, 1995) has repeatedly demonstrated that the implementation of “revolutionary technologies” often leads to considering their benefits as self-evident. We see research (done together with teachers) as a tool for both measuring learning outcomes and as a way for teachers to reflect upon and optimize their own practice.” (Blikstein & Worsley, 2001, p.6)
  • The need for on boarding in fab labs
    • “In our own research (Blikstein, 2013; Davis, Bumbacher, Bel, Sipitakiat, & Blikstein, 2015), novices coming into a maker lab need a considerable amount of onboarding and facilitation before they can start “hacking” and learning by themselves.” (Blikstein & Worsley, 2001, p.6)
  • The job market’s needs effect
    • “Research suggests that the best predictor of STEM career choice is not a student’s K-12 math or science performance, but their self-reported love for science and if they see themselves as scientists in the future (Maltese & Tai, 2011).” (Blikstein & Worsley, 2001, p.8)
  • From a keychain culture to a culture of deep projects
    • The need for dedication and inspired curricula
    • “Allowing teachers to “pair up” and design curriculum together, even if they are from different areas, greatly expands the range of activities that can be done in the labs and makes it possible to attract students with a variety of different interests.” (Blikstein & Worsley, 2001, p.9)
  • From a product culture to a process culture
    • “When we compared the efficacy of example-based and principle-based reasoning, we found that students consistently performed better when primed to use principles instead of just using examples from the real world.” (Blikstein & Worsley, 2001, p.10)
    • “Learners should be aware that they will be evaluated not only by the quality of the final product, but also about their process–including, for example, how they collaborated with colleagues, how they managed the work, and how much they went outside of their intellectual comfort zone.” (Blikstein & Worsley, 2001, p.10)
  • Maker’s Pedagogy
    • “However, now, it is time for educators to take back the driver seat. The maker movement will only survive and fulfill its educational goals if the decisions are being made by teachers, education researchers, and education policy makers—professionals that really understand schools, teaching, and learning. ” (Blikstein & Worsley, 2001, p.12)

Papert, S. (1999). Papert on piaget. Time magazine’s special issue on” The Century’s Greatest Minds, 105.

  • “Piaget was launched on a path that would lead to his doctorate in evolutionary biology and a lifelong conviction that the way to understand anything was to understand how it evolves.” (Papert, 1999, p.2)
  • Ask a child – “What makes the wind?”
    • Answer might not be “true” but certainly “coherent” in the child’s mind

Beyond Bits and Atoms – Week 2 – Class Notes


  • Education = QWERTY
  • Skinner’s Teaching Machine – first ed tech?
  • Monday – Someday : how does all this apply once Monday comes?
  • If a surgeon goes back 100 years he/she will not recognize a surgery room. If a teacher goes back 100 years, he/she will not see many differences.
  • Education: Driveresque & Latinesque
  • Final Project
    • Talked about the idea of creating an object that could teach aobut health – you’d need to feed it with the right stuff or it will get fat or sick for example.

Second half of the class we looked at the wood-working tools, the vinyl cutter (to make stickers), and how to make movable joints and gears with the laser cutter.


Beyond Bits and Atoms – Week 2 – Reading Notes

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. Basic Books, Inc..

Introduction, Chapter 1 & 2

  • Instrumental use of the computer
    • As a tool, but does not inherently change our way of thinking and our daily lives
  • “Every normal child learns to talk. Why then should a child not learn to “talk” to a computer?” (Papert, 1980, p.6)
  • “The idea of “talking mathematics” to a computer can be generalized to a view of learning mathematics in ‘Mathland’; that is to say, in a context which is to learning mathematics what living in France is to learning French.” (Papert, 1980, p.6)
  • “Although technology will play an essential role in the realization of my vision of the future of education, my central focus is not on the machine but on the mind, and particularly on the way in which intellectual movements and cultures define themselves and grow.” (Papert, 1980, p.9)
  • “… this book is an argument that in many important cases this developmental difference can be attributed to our culture’s relative poverty in materials from which the apparently ‘more advanced’ intellectual structures can be built” (Papert, 1980, p.21)
  • “… two kinds of thinking Piaget associates with the formal stage of intellectual development: combinatorial thinking, where one has to reason in terms of the set of all possible states of system, and self-referential thinking about thinking itself.” (Papert, 1980, p.21)
  • “… educational intervention means changing the culture, planting new constructive elements init and eliminating noxious ones.” (Papert, 1980, p.32)
  • “I see ‘school math’ as a social construct, a kind of QWERTY.”

Papert, S. (2000). What’s the big idea: Towards a pedagogy of idea power.

  • Public access to empowered forms of ideas and the ways in which technology can support them fertil- izes the process of new growth.” (Papert, 2000, p.728)


Beyond Bits & Atoms – Week 2 – Gears Essay Assignment


Write a “Gears” essay – a short essay on “evocative” objects from your childhood/youth which have had an important impact on your intellectual life, in the same spirit of Papert’s foreword to his book Mindstorms – available here:

This is a typical assignment in constructionist course and many collections of such essays have been published by MIT Press. One of them is this book by Sherry Turkle:

“Gears” Essay

I knew I had aced the 8th grade Science exam. I wrote ‘I love science’ at the bottom of the last page – even though my conception of Science was infant. Mrs. Rotten-berg’s enthusiastic lessons linked the concepts with our everyday lives. It was the kind of information that resonated with me. History, Geography, English classes did not make my gears turn.

I suppose having a hands-on, futuristic architect as a father helped. I grew up going to construction sites with him, and we lived in a house he built. A spherical house, inspired by a tree whose footprint in minimal and surface area is maximized. He proposed to build spherical apartment complexes, that one day would be able relocate by flying around. Imagine if houses were built and researched the same way the car industry does. With this, I’ve been always fascinated with technology, design, and how human interacted with their environment, objects and tools.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 10.23.00 AM.png

While my father drew houses I tried to draw all-in-one media systems: a record player, with two cassettes, a radio, and the rotary phone integrated into the house. I would take apart these things, to the despair of my parents, and most of the times put them back together.

Seeing this, next Christmas I got Legos. I’d use the instructions to build the model once and then take it apart to build something new. Around the same time my school set up a computer lab with Apple IIe’s, LOGO on 5 1/4” floppy disks, and a LOGO turtle. I connected with the concept of programming immediately – just like building a Lego model, you build a set of commands for the model to perform.

Then I saw a Macintosh. I was fascinated with how it integrated images, text, and music in one box. I saw the possibilities of creating with it. I knew how hard it was to create architectural drawings on paper – make a small mistake, carefully scrape the ink off with a razor blade. Make a big one, start all over. There is no ‘undo’. Which made me always think about doing, creating, redoing, rethinking, and exploring.

Exposure early on to new technologies and an inquisitive stimuli was essential and paramount for my intellectual life. The mental freedom that is offered by simply knowing about the possibilities that are out there is enormous. To look at the world and your own capabilities with a growth mind set allows you to tinker with it, change it, and create in it.

The challenge is how to teach teachers to teach that in the classroom. How to encourage parents to encourage their kids to be inquisitive? How to change the culture of teaching from an industrialized process to a life-long skills based curriculum, with content, exploration, creativity, and interpersonal skills at its core? How to create curriculum that attend to the various demographics, socio-economic levels, cultural contexts, school organization styles, and policies?

I guess at this point in my life I am trying to integrate all of these questions and tools into one of the most complex issues facing humanity – education. How can we leverage technology’s media integration capabilities, mass distribution potential, community building tools with the research on cognitive processes, pedagogical best-practices, and content knowledge? I believe it is an eternal evolution with no silver bullet or definite answer.

“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”, Aristotle.

“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”, Einstein.

Beyond Bits and Atoms – Lecture – Week 1 – Notes


Paulo Blikstein


In class exercise: 

My Learning and Teaching Story

When I was a kid a was fortunate enough to have many Lego kits and a father who is an architect. I was always fascinated at how he was able to think of a space in his head, draw it on paper, and the build it. Legos offered me that experience – especially when I moved to their Technique series. I was never interested in playing with Lego as a storytelling arena or a fantasy world environment. I was interested in building the models offered in the instructions in able to learn what specialty pieces I had and then repurpose them into new formats and functions. This thought me enormously about spatial thinking, mechanics, gears, electric motors, and reverse engineering. I clearly remember my mother going nut when I disassembled the TV set just to look at how it was built inside. Without my experience with Legos, I am sure I would never have been able to put the TV back together.

Moving ahead in time, I found myself teaching Lego robotics as an extra curricular activity in high schools. Lego Techniques had advanced into Lego Mindstorm, where you could finally program behavior, use sensors, and outputs. It increased the learning curve for the kids who had to first learn about structure, reinforcement, and forces that acted upon what they were building. Then they had to understand about inputs, outputs, thresholds, activation and deactivation. Finally they had to put it all together into a ‘robot’ and program its behavior. What I learned from this experience was that teaching is the best way to learn. I quickly realized this and suggested to the kids who were further along or finished their own project, to help their neighbor. The class came alive and the projects rapidly moved from frustrations to energetic show and tell.


Equity – it is not only about making materials available, it is also about training the teachers well, and most importantly, promote a growth mindset on the students.

Example of 2 day cares in Brazil – both rated equally, funded equally, and with good teachers. The difference was in the socio-economic level of the students. The higher income students were more demanding of the teachers. Lower income students would remain quiet and felt it was not their place to demand for attention or to say that they did not know how to do something.


In class Reading: 

Papert, S., & Solomon, C. (1971). “Twenty things to do with a computer.”

“Only inertia and prejudice, not economics or the lack of good educational ideas, stand in the way of providing every child in the wolrd with the kind of expereince of which we have tried to give you some glimpses”, p.40

My ‘new’ ideas:

  • Use the LOGO turtle to demonstrate Newtonian physics of mass, speed, friction, and acceleration.
  • Use the LOGO turtle along with 2 light sensors to look at a white strip on the floor and have the turtle follow the line on its own.


Should everyone learn how to code or should everyone learn how to use the computer?

Does a product’s ubiquity be a necessity for people to learn what is going on ‘under-the-hood’?

At the time of the paper, there was no internet and the integration of these simulations with learning goals were not explicitly stated.

At the time – the challenge was to teach the teachers on how to use this technology within their curriculum. The eternal problem of Teacher PD (Professional Development).


“Nothing could be more absurd than an experiment where computers are placed in a classroom and nothing else changed.” – Seymour Papert

Painting elephants: guided by their trainer through the elephant’s ear they produce great paintings. But this is similar to our educational system… the students produce results but are they really aware of what they are making?


Categories of technology

  1. Cost cutting: iPod did it for the music industry
  2. Making the impossible, possible: Computer graphics, a technology that made it possible to create new movies such as Avatar or the Matrix.

This is going to be a fun class 🙂


Post-It activity: What are learning technologies? How would you categorize them?



Fabrication Lab – looked at laser cutter and rapid prototyping techniques with cardboard, foam core, hot glue and tape.


Beyond Bits and Atoms – Week 1 – Reading Notes

Papert, S. & Solomon, C. (1971). 20 Things to do with a computer.

“Some think of using the computer to program the kid; others think of using the kid to program the computer. But most of them have at least this in common: the transaction between the computer and the kid will be some kind of ‘conversation’ or ‘questions and answers’ in words or numbers.” (Papert, Solomon, 1971, p.1)

  1. Make a Turtle (LOGO)
  2. Program the Turtle to draw a man
  3. Turtle biology
  4. Make a display turtle
  5. Play spacebar
  6. Differential geometry
  7. Draw spirals
  8. Have a heart (and learn to debug)
  9. Grow flowers
  10. Make a movie
  11. Make a music box and program a tune
  12. Play with semi-random musical effects and then try serious composing
  13. Computerize an erector set crane and build a tower of blocks
  14. Make a super light show
  15. Write concrete poetry
  16. Try C.A.I. and psychology
  17. Physics in the finger-tips
  18. Explain yourself
  19. Puppets
  20. Recursion line (think of 20 more)