“You can’t think about thinking without thinking about thinking about something.” – Seymour Papert
Last week, the Tinkering Studio team traveled to Boston for a symposium celebrating the life and works of Seymour Papert at the MIT Media Lab. Seymour Papert was a revolutionary educator who designed the logo turtle, taught creative computing, and wrote many seminal books including the classic Mindstorms. His constructionist theory of learning, emphasizing collaboration, iteration, and agency, has formed the foundation of our work in the Tinkering Studio and has deeply influenced the entire maker movement.
The event featured many of Seymour's close colleagues, friends, and mentees who shared big thoughts and personal anecdotes in a series of keynote speeches and panel discussions. And since an event celebrating someone who advocated tinkering and play wouldn't make sense without a hands on exploration, we set up some stations where people could try out a sound machines activity that we've been developing with the Lifelong Kindergarten group and the LEGO Foundation.
In the prologue to Mindstorms, Seymour focused on how, as a child, he fell in love with gears, and that love for a material changed his self-perception and allowed him to become more interested in learning about math, science and engineering. So for the event we thought it would be appropriate to try to emphasize gear-based sound machines by creating five pegboard tables where people could work together, using the LEGO gears to expand their constructions. Seymour's work also focused on the powerful ideas that can emerge when playing with programming and computation. LEGO sound machines lend themselves to these types of explorations and we set up several tables with interesting shakers, music boxes, and "cows in cans" that made different sounds when programmed using a version of Scratch on an ipad controlling a WEDO motor and sensors.
This combination of sound machine stations created a joyful cacophony of bells, drums, and shakers that was audible as people got off the elevator and joined the event. The large working spaces also encouraged collaboration and we could see ideas quickly spread around the working spaces. It was great to see learners of all ages experimenting and working together to create interesting rhythms and complex constructions. Some of the participants came back to the stations at each break to keep working on their ideas and testing out new ways of building.
Sebastian worked on one of the most compelling programmed instruments that included a disc with holes, a bright LED, a solar panel and a speaker. When the light passed over the solar panel in an off/on pattern it created a frequency that could be heard over the speaker. Programming the motor to move the light back and forth over different parts of the disc made a changing tone that sounded pretty amazing. This and other interesting examples really demonstrated the high ceilings possible when combining LEGO pieces with real world sensors and materials.
One of the best things about this unique event was that it gave us the chance to invite some of our biggest inspirations, like Eleanor Duckworth, to try out our new activities. It was so cool to be able to reflect together on the activity design, faciliation, and materials with a group of educators and thinkers that we deeply admire. All in all, it was really special event and a great place to continue the prototyping of some of our #LEGOtinkering ideas. We plan to continue to think about how environmental elements can support collaboration, the ways that programming can be more seamlessly integrated into the activity, and which real world materials can support furthered investigations. As well, hearing about and discussing the legacy of Seymour Papert also helped to see the context of this activity and the larger Tinkering Studio program as one of the "seeds that Seymour sowed" all around the world.