New Paradigms for Computing, New Paradigms for Thinking
Educators are increasingly interested in providing students with computational tools that support exploration and experimentation. But designing such tools (and designing contexts for using such tools) is easier said than done. Doing it well requires intertwining many different threads of thought.
One thread involves an understanding of the learner: What are the learner's preconceptions and expectations? How will the learner integrate new experiences into existing frameworks? In what ways can learners construct new concepts and new meanings--and in what ways can new computational media provide scaffolding to support this process?
A second thread in the design fabric involves an understanding of domain knowledge. If a new computational tool or activity is intended to help students learn about a particular area of mathematics or science, the designer had better know something about that area of mathematics or science. Yet there is a deeper point. The best computational tools do not simply offer the same content in new clothing; rather, they aim to recast areas of knowledge, suggesting fundamentally new ways of thinking about the concepts in that domain, allowing learners to explore concepts that were previously inaccessible. A classic example is Logo's turtle geometry, which opens up new ways of thinking about geometry and makes possible new types of geometry explorations ( Abelson & diSessa 1980; Papert 1980). The design of such tools requires a deep understanding of a particular domain.
A third thread involves an understanding of computational ideas and paradigms. Just as sculptors need to understand the qualities of clay (or whatever