“formal” thinking

Mindstorms, by Seymour Papert offered some interesting nuggets throughout the reading.  I thought one of the most intriguing parts of the reading was about how when a child learns to program, the process of learning is transformed. I started wondering when I learned to “program” but Papert states it, but he says that formal thinking doesn’t develop until around the age 12. But this was written in 1980 – how have things changed since then?

I grew up with computers. I have never lived without one. All through elementary school I took typing classes and got the chance to play “learning” games like Troggle Trouble Math and Jump Start. I continued to take typing classes and play these games throughout middle school (my mom really loved that if she bought me a computer game, even if it was educational, I would sit still for hours until I could finally master the game). When I reached high school, I was fortunate to be in a great school system where they purchased a laptop computer for every student. I feel like this experience helped me realize the educational value that computers hold, but did it change my way of thinking? Did computers help kids my age learn formal thinking earlier? This is a question that I don’t know the answer to. I don’t even have the slightest idea of whether computers can change a person’s “program.”

This leads me to the next section I found interesting, the psychological impact of the television show and how computers can increase the impact.  I immediately thought about the Malcom Gladwell book The Tipping Point (Check it out! Its a great book!)  about the kids television shows, Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues. When Sesame Street first came out it was the first of its kind! Parents loved the puns and wordplay, while kids loved how interactive Big Bird and the other characters were. Did it really get kids to think though? Or did they just enjoy feeling like part of the show? Did they understand what the characters were saying and doing? When Blue’s Clues came out, it really changed the way television interacted with kids. They would ask the kids questions like “where is the clue?” and pause, waiting for the child watching at home to answer. But there was something special about the show that Sesame Street didn’t do. The same episode of Blue’s Clues would play over and over again in one week. They wouldn’t air another episode in one week. The children would have to remember how to find the clues, what they were looking for, and what the end solution was. It helped children learn and think like no TV show had done before.

After reading what Papert had to say about how the computer could increase the impact of TV, I wonder what’s next? We already have interactive websites that coordinate with the TV shows, but what can make computers and TV connect even more? What will be the next idea that can help children learn “formal” thinking?

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