# It works if you substitute the chicken for a frictionless orb

The agent-based model of an ant colony provides us with a “glass box” (as opposed to a “black
box”), through which we can examine and observe the operations of the ants, and discuss and
test whether or not hypothesized mechanisms are valid.

As I stated in class, I’m not one of those students that is simply satisfied with being told to use an equation. I have to know why it works. I have to build it using what I know to be true. If I can derive the equation from scratch I know I can do it again any time I wish. If I cannot derive the equation I know that there is a piece of information that I lack and I learn it in the process. If I had simply memorized the equation I would not have found this lack of information. This is probably why I had a deep distrust of physics.

Most physics require the user to not only memorize and equation, but memorize the conditions when such an equation would be accurate. I remember when I was learning about velocity and the force of gravity. Given a force and an angle I was told that I could accurately predict where a projectile would fall. To illustrate this we used nerf guns and predicted where the darts would lie. I tried that dammed experiment several times and the dart never hit my estimate. When I asked the professor about the anomaly he simply stated that it was because we had left out several factors. There was air resistance, the force of friction of the dart against the gun, and the fact that the force used was just an estimate of the true force of the gun. He explained that if I was in a world with frictionless guns and no air that the dart would always hit my estimate. He failed to mention that these conditions do not exist, and, more importantly, that without air I would probably die.

The second paper touched on this concern. While models are a great approximation of the world they often do not take into account things like air resistance. This is troublesome since our world will never lack air. I think that the idea of using sensors to make models true to their natural equivalent is an excellent step in the right direction and keeps these models from assuming things that would never really occur.

# Degeneration Response

While reading Degeneration I couldn’t help but think that one day our statistics will also seem ridiculous. Computer memory and storage alone double every 6 months. In fact I remember watching a rerun of friends where Chandler gets a brand new computer. I couldn’t help but laugh as he read off the specs. My Ipod had more computing power than his top of the line computer. It is laughable to think that the same thing won’t eventually happen to our technology. Heck, even my friends reference is showing it’s age. Still, even in those dark ages people managed to get work done.
I find it curious how little we value technology that is considered “outdated”. Old products are cast aside or thrown away in favor of new and flashy models. Sure, to those who can afford it, purchasing new technologies seems to be a logical step, but it’s important to realize that old technologies are still cutting edge to those that cannot afford it. I wonder what would happen if all of the “outdated” computers were donated to the less fortunate instead of simply recycled or thrown away. In the worst case scenario they may not be used (similar to what would have happened anyway). But in the best case scenario someone will have access to technologies (and the affordances they provide) that circumstances would have rendered impossible to attain.

While reading “Models of growth — towards fundamental change in learning environments.” I found it interesting, but not surprising, that process was heavily emphasized. While I attended high school I was a part of 3 major restructuring attempts. This ranged from having 3 vice principles, to having 3 different “Academies”. Did any of these restructures work? Well… I don’t know Maybe it worked at some other school. Maybe the conditions weren’t right at our school. Maybe we didn’t have enough time to see any changes. There are many variables that play into where or not the changes could be considered successful that it’s hard to say how or why things are effective. This is why I think focusing on the process makes sense. Perhaps the point wasn’t that 3 principals would equal a great school, Perhaps the point was that with more vice principals there would be less workload for each which would translate to better management. It’s too bad that most people are content adapting to things that worked in other situations rather than trying to figure out why.

# Damn you Rodolph, or Piaget is A ZOMBIE!

A long time ago my brother, Kevin, was explaining one of his beliefs to my mother’s friend, Lisa. Lisa found Kevin’s view of the world amusing and asked him to repeat it. Kevin did so with some hesitation and Lisa was once again amused. I watched as Lisa then gathered a few people and asked Kevin to repeat his view of the world, so that the others might hear. It was at this time that my brother, frustrated that he had to repeat himself again, told his audience, “This lady need’s help. Either she’s dumb, or she can’t hear”.

I am a deep believer in Piaget’s idea that children are not incomplete people, but are instead viewing the world through the mental models they’ve created. Sure Kevin’s mental model of the world may have seemed foreign and amusing, but it was not because he was incapable of understanding the “right” model. After all, he was able to create the model indicating that either Lisa was either incapable of understanding or deaf after being with her for only a short time.

However, to say that all of Piaget’s ideas are infallible would be a mistake. Sure we can develop a mental model for almost anything we come in contact with based what we know. Still, this does not guarantee that our model will be accurate. The is much to gain by actually being in the situation we model. The mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity were designed based on what we knew about Mar’s surface. Even with ideal conditions the rover was not expected to last longer than the time it took to complete the 90 day mission. Yet, for some reason, both rovers work to this day and still send signals back to earth. Obviously we cannot rely simply on generalized models that internalize.

This is not to say that we should ignore our priori models. Rushing into a situation without considering what we know would be unwise. Knowing that tigers eat people, and generalizing the model so that you can assume a tiger would eat you, is probably a model you want to keep. In fact this model would probably prevent you from dying in what would other wise be a very educational experience.

So in short, Piaget is dead but his ideas are not. It is with little hesitation that I say Piaget’s ideas will probably consume the minds of many scholars for years to come. BRAIIIINS!!!!111!!

# The far and distant future

I hate the fact that schools still use the drill and kill method to teach subjects. I guess looking back on it it’s kinda difficult to teach the material using another method. The fact that standards still need to be met every year, usually assessed through multiple choice achievement tests, it is not surprising that the drill and kill method is still being used. While the drill and kill has been shown to be far less effective than other methods it still remains the easiest way to present students with material thus fulfilling the absolute minimum job requirement of a teacher.

I guess the reason that I’m being so critical is because I’ve seen programs that have taken similar challenges and have developed engaging ways to present the material. I remember using one of these programs to explore the world around me. The program, wikiworld, used gps positioning and social networking to share a community’s knowledge. With wikiworld I could ask questions about anything in the world around me. All I had to do was stand in the area where the question occurred to me and I could post my question for others to answer. I could later review my question and see what others had suggested as possible answers. For an inquisitive, but shy, person like me this application was perfect. I could ask questions without worrying that people would think I was uneducated.

I could also answer questions that I found scattered about. This was quite possibly the most fun I had with the app. As a kid I had a deep interest in zoology and visited nature reserve by my house as often as I could. One day I used the wikiworld app at the nature reserve and I found that many people had left questions about animals they had seen in the reserve. Naturally I took to answering these questions as best I could, and many times my answer was selected as the best. When I found a question that I didn’t know the answer to I would quickly scan any posts that were left as possible solutions and then searched for the answer on wikipedia, at the library, and within my own books for the answers. I remember how addicting it was to search for posts left by others. In many ways I feel wikiworld worked as a catalyst to expend my knowledge.

It is amazing to think that this effective means of teaching was executed on such meager technology as an Ipod touch. The wifi connection was atrocious, and memory capabilities were quite limited. Still even with this technology that is now capable of running on our paper I learned so much. It’s a shame that these holograms, realtime streaming, and tactile feedback which are now commonplace in our schools and homes are used simply used to drill and kill information. It’s a shame that even though our technology has changed so much, our thoughts on education have changed so little.

-Ender Connor

# Thoughts on Eisenberg and Edwards

Do we live in math world?

While reading Eisenberg’s paper I was captivated by the description of a real life mathland. Mostly, I mused on the fact that many of these things can be, and in some places are, used today. If you want to get technical about it almost everything requires some amount of math to create. Chairs, beds, windows are all composed of geometric shapes. We live in a math world. But, that doesn’t mean that we speak math. A chair is not a construct made of polygons, it’s a chair. Unless, someone can show us otherwise.

This lack of speaking math seems to spread onto the other examples that Eisenberg provides including his paper tape. Sure, you CAN develop the ideas of privative simple commands creating a more complex program. But when you’re simply playing with paper tape it’s hard to come up with that idea on your own. This is true for most transitional items and application. Unless someone help people find similarities, or there is incentive, the paper tape will probably end up being a testament to the user’s skill with paper tape. Not his geometric ability.

Microworlds vs Video Games: Why can’t we just get along.

When reading the Edwards paper I was continually reminded what defined a micro world. A microworld is a subset of known actions or commands that represent real life ideas. These actions and commands can then can be built upon or used to obtain a goal. Obviously, logo is a good example of a mathematical/programming microworld.  In logo a turtle knows a few basic commands that make up it’s world. The user can then use those known commands to create almost anything, provided it doesn’t violate the existing rules.

With this definition in mind I submit that all video games are in fact micro worlds. Take the game pac man. Pac man’s “world” is composed of a few simple actions: turn left, turn right, go up, go down and eat. Using these actions players can then construct more sophisticated maneuvers such as eat all pellets, avoid enemies, and eat ghosts. Yet, people are hesitant to associate microworlds with video games seeing the former as academic and the latter as frivolous. This is very unfortunate since a well constructed video game, in my opinion, would probably serve as a very powerful microworld.

Anyone can ask a physics question and present multiple outcomes. However, if the user is immersed in the problem and is given the freedom to explore the possible outcomes themselves then learning can occur. For example, let’s place the user in a scenario where they are stranded on an island and need a way to get off. Suddenly, a question about buoyancy and engineering becomes much more involved. If executed correctly the user will be able to test different materials with know densities, and through trial and error come to the conclusion that a lower density correlates to a better floating raft. Yes, a problem about buoyancy is not explicitly presented, but the concept will be. Once the user understands the concept their understanding of the formulas that go with it will also increase.

# Dewey Need Educational Video games?

People have struggled with the idea of creating educational video games for many years. A few companies have made some progress in this field but for the most part there has not been much study into the game’s effectiveness.

Speaking from experience I would argue that games, such as the ones created by MECC in the 80’s, are effective. I remember playing “Number Munchers” and memorizing my multiplication tables faster than I would have in a lecture setting. I remember assuming the role of a fish in “Odell Down Under” and learning about how I (my fish) fit into the food web. These experiences have stuck with me and to my knowledge it has also stuck with my friends who have also played these games. Obviously, MECC was onto something. Unfortunately that something must have been magic to them as well, as evident by their closure in 1999. So what is this magic? And if we can find it, what do we do with it?

Today educational video games lead a cursed life. For the most part they are loved by parents and loathed by kids. This is not surprising considering that the most popular (at least for parents and educators) educational video games follow a prize winning formula. They make academics explicit. Math formulas are plastered all over the front of box. Claims that students need practice are slathered on the back. If one didn’t know any better they might think their holding the very essence of the subject they want to study. Once the actual program is booted up the user is bombarded with questions, sometimes in exchange for an animation of some sort that disappears only to be seen when another question is answered. They feature academics so well that they forget it’s an educational game, not a virtual worksheet. The parents are over joyed, they feel they got what they paid for. The kids feel slighted, weren’t they supposed to be playing a game?

Unfortunately, there is a disconnect between how much an game sells, and how much it gets used. I’ve noticed quite a few times how kids get bored with an educational video game that forgets it’s a game. I would argue that this is probably the reason those games fail in the first place. Why should Batman waste time answering the question “2+2 = ?” ? Almost any kid knows that Batman much smarter and much too important to waste his time on such things.

So what are we to do? Well, why don’t we set the game up so that the skills desired must be applied in order to win? Say you wanted to teach english. Why not create a world where the student is a proofreader at a local paper. They are given a few articles that need corrections and must make the correct decisions before their deadline. Now the subject and the game are one. If a student wants to beat the game (they usually do) they must acquire the skills needed to be a proficient proofreader. Spelling, grammar, reading comprehension, anything a proofreader encounters can be inserted into the game. So proofreader doesn’t get you excited? Well then why not use Batman a better way? Batman is a detective . Thus students who play the game should also assume the role of a detective. Say you want to find the joker. Why not have the students analyze a letter from the joker to find out where he strikes next? If Batman needs to get into a room with a combination why not have the students crack that code? Cryptography involves many subjects including Math. In both this case and the previously mentioned case students must use math to advance the game. But only in this one do they not feel like it’s irrelevant.

Allowing the student to assume various roles in order to learn? What an odd idea? It’s not like someone’s already proposed learning through experience… What a strange idea to be applied to video games.

# What's the Big Idea?

On Informal Learning
The relationship between informal learning and more traditional lecture style learning is a strained one. Lecture style learning has been around for a while, it’s been there done that and has taught millions. For lecture style learning, order and timelines are important. Informal learning, on the other hand, plays by it’s own rules. Informal learning is messy, fun, and a bit of a slacker. You would think that if these two were people they wouldn’t get along very well. Their personalities clash, they have different our looks on life and have different methods for achieving success. And yet we cannot resist getting them together.

I have to admit, I’m guilty of trying to use informal learning in a formal learning environment (In fact I still think it can be done). This is perhaps why one of Papert’s statement really jumped out to me. Papert states “[Discovery learning] is disempowered in part because discovery stops being discovery when it is orchestrated to happen on the preset agenda of a curriculum”. Here Papert argues that there is disconnect with the idea of discovering something that has already been found, or in this case is meant to be found. This presents a problem considering the fact that schools today must ensure that key concepts are being taught. There are no guarantees with true discovery learning, but that simply cannot exist in a standards based curriculum.

On technology
Further more, Papert puts forth the idea that it is not enough to learn through discovery if what the student discovers is of no use or interest to them. The ideas used and the ideas formed must be appealing to the students. The problem is: What idea is big enough to encompass the interests of all students? I love to learn about animals and the various defensive strategies they’ve evolved over millions of year, but others can’t even make it to the end of that statement without nodding off. This is exactly why there is so much interest in computers as educational tools.

There seems to be a misguided idea of what educational technology is, and at what point it is useful. Everyone seems to be waiting for that new program that can teach anyone anything. The truth is it will never come. Computers are seen as these magical creature that help people learn through their programs. The reality is that computers are no more than an evolution of paper. They are merely tools that display what others have created. If we take this a step further programs can then be seen as books, or pieces of artwork created on this paper. But just like in real life, some books really connect with the readers and expands their minds, and other don’t.

Perhaps this is why Papert believed Logo to be an excellent learning tool. Logo, as any other programming language, allows students to write and draw on this new paper. Now, I’m not saying that programming is the only option but I agree with the logic behind it. Allow the student to create what they want with a computer. If logo allows them to explore their Ideas, then great. If Microsoft Word allows students to express their ideas, then allow them to be used! The beauty of computers is that they are flexible enough to become whatever the student needs. Maybe Resnick said it best when he noted that “These new technologies should provide children with design leverage, enabling them to create things that would have been difficult for them to create in the past”.

# Questions and comments on Papert

While I agree that a child who grows up in france will learn french easier than say a person living in America I’m not quite sure that this is enough. Speaking french is quite different from say analyzing french poetry. Papert’s “math world” does get the children associated with some ideas of geometry but does it teach them poetry? I remember playing with logo, and I also remember others who did the same. We made some cool pictures, but only a few of us sought to make these pictures on purpose. Furthermore, I find it a bit difficult to say that everyone could express those ideas in terms of geometry.

If we agree to abide by the language analogy we will soon run into the problem of translation. A great french scholar may be crippled if he is forced to express those ideas in another language. At some point or another the children need to leave the math world. When then do they need to make sure that they can express the ideas they learn in the non math world. If they cannot translate these ideas and use it in other contexts they are at a disadvantage.