Computing as a Matter of Course Series: WORLD MEDIA EDUCATION. Part 3. in the Last of 3 Special Reports, Writers for the World Media Newspaper Network Peer into the Future of Education, Especially the Effects of Computers, and They Contrast the Ways in Which Two World Leaders - the US and Japan - Have Structured Their Systems of Learning. the Preceding Parts Appeared Sept. 8 and Sept. 15 (World Edition, Sept. 10-16 and Sept. 17-23). Third of 5 Articles Appearing Today
Keith Henderson. Keith Henderson is a writer for The Christian Science Monitor., The Christian Science Monitor
THE Hennigan School in the ethnically mixed Jamaica Plain section of Boston has been germinating the classroom of the future for eight years. Called Project Headlight, the experiment is a joint venture of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, International Business Machines (IBM), and the Boston public schools.
According to Seymour Papert, the MIT mathematician who conceived the project, the Hennigan School has become a fountainhead of information about how children and teachers can incorporate computers into the daily task of learning.
The keynote of Project Headlight, says Dr. Papert, who is best known for developing the computer language Logo, is its integration of computers and normal classroom work. The tendency in many schools, he notes, has been to isolate the machines into little in-house "computerlands," with special teachers. "That," he says, "is fundamentally opposed to our approach here."
On a typical day at Hennigan, Joanne Ronkin's fourth-grade class is brainstorming about how to develop computer games that will teach players something about the solar system. Yasmin Kafai, a postdoctoral fellow at the Media Lab and the current director of Project Headlight, is helping to steer the discussion. Ms. Kafai, who has written a thesis on children as designers of computer games, says the process of design and creation will take months. "The process is the main thing," she says. "That's where the learning takes place."
Games, Kafai notes, present some basic dilemmas for the young programmers, such as how to control the movements of two or more figures - space explorers, perhaps, or aliens - on the screen. The kids will have to produce Logo instructions 10 or 11 pages long. They will also have to develop promotional materials for their games, test them on third graders, and consult with fifth graders who have already experienced the design process.
After a quarter of an hour of discussion, Mrs. Ronkin's class empties into the central area of the Project Headlight wing, where dozens of computer terminals are arranged in two large circles at each end of the open expanse. The children, many of whom have already spent two or three school years using the machines daily, quickly log on and begin their preliminary programming. Forty-five minutes later they are back in the classroom entering findings in their project notebooks.
At the other end of the computer area, some fifth graders are absorbed in their projects. …