XP on OLPC - a contrarian view

K. K. Subramaniam subbukk at gmail.com
Sun May 18 23:41:35 EDT 2008

On Monday 19 May 2008 12:16:40 am Albert Cahalan wrote:
> From what I can tell, constructionism (c13m) is a buzzword that
> vaguely refers to an age-old teaching practice: learning by doing.
> The idea appears to be extremely old, though not the norm. Ditching
> the buzzword would be appreciated; it only serves to obfuscate.

You are partly right and partly wrong. C13m is indeed an old concept but it 
does not refer to physical construction. Construction refers to how people 
construct knowledge in their mind. Recall that any physical construction 
follows mental construction. Ideas and concepts are "churned" in the milky 
ocean of our mind until the "nectar" emerges and then the physical 
construction follows (cf. mantha in Sanskrit means to churn, manthanein in 
Greek means to think from where we get our word mathematics). The physical 
construction, though secondary, helps to stimulate and reinforce further 

While the idea has been around for centuries[1], I believe it was Dr. Maria 
Montessori's work in early 1900s that alerted us to the applicability of such 
approaches to young children. Seymour Papert, in Mindstorms, spends lot of 
ink in explaining how body syntonic (turtles) or cultural syntonic (yatching, 
navigation) approaches to learning help build a better understanding of 
angles than lines on paper. Learning is no more in the turtle than music in a 
piano but a robotic turtle helped children in building upon their intuitive 
math better than marks on paper.

Today, math and science teaching in schools, globally, is based on "ink marks 
on paper" rather than direct observation or simulation. Even where direct 
observation is used, there is potential for the teacher to "dominate" 
knowledge construction in the child. There just aren't enough good teachers 
for all our children. A personal computer could help us tackle such problems. 
A computer is not a subsitute for a good teacher but could help a good 
teacher reach out to a larger number of children, than is possible today.

Please don't let an *ism distract you from understanding the ideas behind it 
and participate in "constructive" ;-) criticism.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurma


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