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Sailing Ships and Building Pyramids

Seymour Papert has been on my mind (again) for some time now and a talk he gave in Australia, kindly curated by Gary Stager continues to stun me.

Not unusual for Papert, his forcefulness around topics of education, computers and mathematics flow through the talk and one is left looking at machines anew (again). But that is not what resonated for me this time.  Rather it was two statements at vastly different parts of the talk that I would like to briefly explore.

1. At minute 8.41, Papert speaks of educational change as “a very complicated social movement….[that]should be thought of as a complex system”….and goes on to propose the need for and a definition of a revolutionary in education:

(9.40) I don’t think of a revolutionary as someone who wants to force change, but one who looks far enough ahead to see that there is going to be change, fundamental change …

Fundamental change he argues, is out beyond the horizon of transformation. A Decade after Papert posits this are you looking ahead “far enough” do you see fundamental change? Is it upon us? Are you reading, networking and thinking daily about education as a complicated social movement– a complex system?

2. As Papert argues the salience of machines for teaching in this talk and for active learning, at one point he seems to open a dialectic and then veers away. He states, while addressing the active learning which mathematics was taught through in centuries past–

we cannot let kids sail seas and build pyramids anymore….

My mind raced, and heart pounded–yes we can, and I argue we should! Perhaps its the “2004” that Papert was within, perhaps he meant to inspire, perhaps it was a slipped metaphor, but no matter.  Today, we are in a time of insatiable opportunity.  A time where machines can be built by kids, and kids can write their own operating systems (as Papert states in the talk is a true test of computer use). Further, there are Labs like the Future Cities Lab , Superflux and Near Futures Laboratory along with so many other university, city, region and countrywide initiatives in research and design that are presenting incredible growth in society, media, computing and culture.

But importantly, kids can and should sail the seas and build the next pyramids to learn. This may be by computer inside a school–but more, I believe it will be a blend of spaces outside and in. Designing, prototyping and building–indeed our kids are doing this daily already through games, at home and in certain schools but we should be ready for more, much more. Keep working on what the new learning ecologies will look like for students young and old, keep designing, looking ahead, opening our minds to active, deep and experiential learning in 2015.

And there is no need to force change. In an incredibly honest and needed blogpostPeter Gow argues so adroitly about why we need not belittle what has been or is in education as new ecologies of learning emerge.  As another colleague Grant Lichtman argues in his book #Edjourney , educational mutation will be a vision and manifestation of the great middle grounds of education and experience in the 21st century.  Keep sailing–keep building.