Constructionism in Practice: Designing, Thinking, and Learning in a Digital World

By Yasmin Kafai; Mitchel Resnick | Go to book overview

years, even scientists assumed that bird flocks must have leaders. It is only recently that scientists have revised their theories, asserting that bird flocks are leaderless and self-organized. A similar bias toward centralized theories can be seen throughout the history of science, with scientists remaining committed to centralized explanations, even in the face of discrediting evidence.

The history of research on slime mold cells, as told by Evelyn Fox Keller ( 1985), provides a striking example of centralized thinking. At certain stages of their life cycle, slime mold cells gather together into clusters. For many years, scientists believed that the aggregation process was coordinated by specialized slime mold cells, known as "founder" or "pacemaker" cells. According to this theory, each pacemaker cell sends out a chemical signal, telling other slime mold cells to gather around it, resulting in a cluster.

In 1970, Keller and a colleague proposed an alternative model ( Keller & Segel, 1970), showing how slime mold clusters can form if every individual cell follows the same set of simple rules, involving the emission and sensing of chemicals. Nevertheless, for the following decade, other researchers continued to assume that special pacemaker cells were required to initiate the aggregation process. As Keller and Segel ( 1970) wrote, with an air of disbelief: "The pacemaker view was embraced with a degree of enthusiasm that suggests that this question was in some sense foreclosed" (pp. 152-153). By the early 1980s, researchers had begun to accept the idea of aggregation among homogeneous cells, without any pacemaker, but the decade-long resistance serves as some indication of the strength of the centralized mindset.

For many years, there has been a self-reinforcing spiral. People saw the world in centralized ways, so they constructed centralized tools and models, which further encouraged a centralized view of the world. Until recently, there was little pressure against this centralization spiral. Even if someone wanted to experiment with decentralized approaches, there were few tools or opportunities to do so.

The centralization spiral is now starting to unwind. New computational tools based on the paradigm of massive parallelism are supporting and encouraging new ways of thinking. In some cases (as seen in the turtles-in-a-circle and rugby examples), these new tools can encourage new approaches to mathematical problems and new ways of conceptualizing mathematical ideas. In other cases (such as the traffic example), the tools can support explorations into the workings of real-world systems. Overall, these new tools provide an opportunity for students (and others) to move beyond the centralized mindset, suggesting an expanded set of models and metaphors for making sense of the world.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This chapter was originally prepared for the NATO Advanced Workshop on "The Design of Computational Media to Support Exploratory Learning" ( diSessa,

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Constructionism in Practice: Designing, Thinking, and Learning in a Digital World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Contributors xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Acknowledgments 8
  • Part I - Perspectives in Constructionism 8a
  • 1 - A Word for Learning 9
  • References 24
  • 2 - Perspective-Taking and Object Construction 25
  • Conclusion 32
  • Acknowledgments 34
  • References 34
  • 3 - Elementary School Children's Images of Science 37
  • Introduction 37
  • Conclusions 62
  • Acknowledgments 64
  • Acknowledgments 65
  • Appendix B - Image of Science Interview Guideline 65
  • Part II - Learning Through Design 70a
  • 4 - Learning Design by Making Games Children's Development of Design Strategies in the Creation of a Complex Computational Artifact 71
  • Conclusion 93
  • Acknowledgments 94
  • References 94
  • 5 - Electronic Play Worlds 97
  • Conclusions 119
  • Acknowledgments 121
  • References 121
  • 6 - The Art of Design 125
  • Foreword 125
  • References 158
  • 7 - Building and Learning with Programmable Bricks 161
  • Introduction 161
  • References 172
  • Part III - Learning in Communities *
  • 8 - Social Constructionism and the Inner City Designing Environments for Social Development and Urban Renewal 175
  • Introduction 175
  • Acknowledgments 204
  • Appendix - Statistical Data About the Four Corners Neighborhood 204
  • References 205
  • 9 - The MediaMOO Project Constructionism and Professional Community 207
  • Conclusion - Constructionism and Virtual Reality 220
  • Acknowledgments 221
  • References 221
  • 10 - A Community of Designers Learning Through Exchanging Questions and Answers 223
  • Introduction 223
  • References 239
  • 11 - They Have Their Own Thoughts 241
  • Introduction 241
  • Conclusion 251
  • Acknowledgments 252
  • References 253
  • Part IV - Learning About Systems 254a
  • 12 - New Paradigms for Computing, New Paradigms for Thinking 255
  • Introduction 255
  • Acknowledgments 266
  • References 267
  • 13 - Making Sense of Probability Through Paradox and Programming A Case Study in a Connected Mathematics Framework 269
  • Introduction 269
  • Concluding Remarks 290
  • Acknowledgments 292
  • References 293
  • 14 - Ideal and Real Systems 297
  • Introduction 297
  • Analysis and Conclusions 318
  • Acknowledgments 322
  • References 322
  • Author Index 323
  • Subject Index 329
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