Category Archives: The Culture of Tools

Knock knock! – an interpretation of ‘body syntonic’

I recently worked with colleagues to offer similar workshops at two conferences – SCoTENS 2017 in Dundalk (with Pamela Cowan from Queens University Belfast and Elizabeth Oldham from Trinity College Dublin), Ireland and ATEE 2017 in Dubrovnik, Croatia (with Nina Bresnihan, Glenn Strong and Elizabeth Oldham, all from Trinity College Dublin).

The workshops introduced our ideas about using a version of paired programming to give confidence to novices in programming. We had developed these ideas, together with colleagues Mags Amond and Lisa Hegarty, also from Trinity College Dublin, through the CTwins project funded by Google’s CS4HS – Computer Science for High School.

The workshop slides for ATEE 2017 also included ‘Art’ in the title, since it was my notion that developing an art project would be personally fulfilling.

You can see how I have been a little pre-occupied with the relationship between art, craft and programming through my recent blogs:

In a happy co-incidence, I today found myself in a useful conversation about the design of the programming tool, Scratch, that we used in the project and the workshop. In the conversation, we rightly focussed on the design of Scratch, which has become so wildly popular that a heavy weight of responsibility lies on the development team to get it right. I tried to explain why Scratch is important in this blog post:

Nevertheless, I feel that as well as considering the tool design, we must also shift attention to the activity and mental models that I believe learners symbiotically develop alongside their use of the Scratch tool. The Logo programming language developed in 1967 and its turtle geometry microworld is one of the most potent developments to recognise such activity and mental modelling – although I believe not the earliest (I believe sentence generation using lists preceded it?).

A microworld is a slippery concept, but Richard Noss and Celia Hoyles neatly sum up its importance in their book ‘Windows on Mathematical Meanings: Learning Cultures and Computers‘:

“In a microworld, the central technical actors are computational objects. The choice of such objects and the ways in which relationships between them are represented within the medium, are critical. Each object is a conceptual building block instantiated on the screen, which students may construct and reconstruct […]. To be effective, they must evoke something worthwhile in the learner, some rationale for wanting to explore with them, play with them, learn with them. they should evoke intuitions, current understandings and personal images – even preferences and pleasures. The primary difficulty facing learners in engaging directly with static formal systems concerns the gap between interaction within such systems and their existing experience: it is simply too great. That is why computational objects are an important intermediary in microworlds, precisely because the interaction with them stands a chance of connecting with existing knowledge and simultaneously points beyond it.”

In the turtle geometry microworld, the computational object is a robot turtle on a stage, equipped with a pen to trace out lines as it moves according to program steps.

Scratch starts with a different microworld sporting a cat rather than a turtle and is a particular kind of computer game with interacting sprites. It leaves in the jigsaw blocks for a turtle geometry microworld but they are somewhat spoiled by the sideways view of a stage rather than the top down view of the space that the turtle inhabits.

In the conference workshops we asked completely novice learners (adults using Scratch and ScratchJr) to program knock-knock jokes, with two sprites and message passing to synchronise the joke-telling activity.

Firstly, together with colleagues, we performed this joke (thanks to Pamela Cowan for such an excellent idea, performance and preparation):

Ghost: Knock knock!
Cat: Who’s there?
Ghost: Boo!
Cat: Boo who?
Ghost: No need to cry!

Secondly, we asked the adults to humanly perform their own jokes working in pairs, so that one adult would be the first actor in the joke and the other the second. I was building on the concept of ‘body syntonic’ which is so powerful in the turtle geometry microworld, but in this case, it is the act of interactive joke telling that forms the mental model of the problem, to be then expressed formally in programming and debugged.

In the Scratch  turtle geometry microworld, the pen jigsaw blocks are the foundations of formally expressing the acts of an imagined turtle with its pen. Children (and adults) can ‘be’ the turtle and act out the actions either bodily or in their heads, exercising their mental model of the turtle, which may then help them debug their formal expressions in code (jigsaw blocks).

In the case of our knock-knock microworld, we presented on the projector screen a subset of jigsaw blocks to start with:

In one instance of the workshop, to my delight, one learner added other blocks, using repetition to tell a more complex joke.

So perhaps the set of immediately available jigsaw blocks should reflect the microworld the learner’s imagination and mental models are anticipated to inhabit? I would go further and propose microworld-appropriate stages (and stage views, as we have in Turtlestitch and Beetleblocks), sprites and costumes. In Turtlestitch I would propose a spider sprite/costume and indeed rename it Spiderart or some-such. Perhaps there should be a choice of microworld, “I’m doing turtle geometry today” which leads one to the set of jigsaw blocks most appropriate to that microworld? I emphatically do not mean that this means restricting access to the wider set of jigsaw blocks, simply that it provides the best recommendations from the menu for the kind of restaurant you want / are ready to eat in.

To extend an already overworked metaphor, after the learner has been eating at diverse restaurants, each founded in the same underlying elements of heat, ingredients and combination, perhaps they would begin to strengthen their knowledge of the invariates which inform the mental models that underly their understanding of notional machine and programming language?

Turtlestitching – programming embroidery

Automated Landscape as an embroidery

Automated Landscape as an embroidery

 

 

 

 

 

My first introduction to programming an embroidery machine came at the Scratch 2015 conference in Amsterdam, when Andrea Mayr-Stalder from Vienna presented the Turtlestitch programming environment based on Snap. I didn’t take that much notice, however lovely the designs and the possibilities were.

Then I went to Seymour Papert’s commemoration in Boston in January 2016 and met Susan Ettenheim from New York. Susan had joined forces with Andrea to explore Turtlestitch and was on a learning journey with Susan’s student Jennifer Lin. Jennifer was struggling with a problem – how to fill in space with an embroidery machine using Turtlestitch. The task she was attempting was to fill in a petal shape. Artemis Papert had made a good solution, which tackled the problem using variables and trigonometry. In this program, the petals have become leafs:

Artemis Papert's petal

Artemis Papert’s petal

Susan told me that Jennifer struggled at first to understand such sophisticated mathematics. Never one to ignore a challenge, I designed an alternate solution which stuck to ‘body syntonic’ principles – essentially, exploiting a learner’s prior knowledge of moving their own body to make and debug a computer program. My solution involved three ‘sprites’ – one to run around one side of the petal, one to run round the other and finally another to run between them, filling in the space. One can imagine children actually acting this out for real, collaboratively, as a precursor to programming a solution in code, in the same way that turtle geometry allows them to solve geometric problems by imagining they themselves are moving and turning. It is salutary to note that my solution involves synchronising concurrent processes – a topic I would have considered above my pay grade, let alone appropriate for learners as young as 5! (Later I found out that ScratchJr, designed for younger learners, also included this kind of notional machine!).

After this, I was hooked, and at Scratch 2017 in Bordeaux I met Andrea, Susan and Jennifer together with Michael Aschaeur, who had programmed Turtlestitch, and had the opportunity to talk about my ideas and learn how they planned to go forward. As a result, I resolved to buy an embroidery machine!

I purchased a Brother Innov-is F440E embroidery machine in September 2017 from SOSBrother in Bray, I resolved to create an opportunity to play with colleagues and friends using Turtlestich to explore programming and embroidery, and thus was born the Turtlestitching workshop held today, Thursday 19th October as part of EU Code Week.

The introduction that Susan from SOSBrother gave me in to the machine’s operation was invaluable and I tried to pass on all I could remember to my collaborators.

Mags created designs seeded by our date of birth:

Mary Jo followed the brilliant Turtlestitch cards to create some lovely interlocking circles:

Mary Jo's simple but effective design

Mary Jo’s simple but effective design

Jake was like a duck to water, his work here modelled by Mags:

Jake's pattern

Jake’s pattern modelled by Mags

John’s design started black and white, but became really beautiful when using the multi-coloured thread:

John's design

John’s design

Glenn inspected, analysed and modified an existing pattern to fit the Brother’s 18 by 13 cm space:

Glenn's pattern

Glenn’s pattern

And after they all went away, I made my own Automated Landscape (the illustration at the start of this blog) into an embroidery, using the wonderful multi-coloured thread.

The workshop taught us several things:

  • “move 10 steps” produced a 2mm stitch, which was a ‘good’ size stitch;
  • going over patterns twice or even three times could make stronger designs;
  • multicoloured thread could make spectacular embroideries;
  • more time was spent discussing computational issues than embroidery issues;
  • it was hard fun!

I am absolutely delighted to announce that Trinity College Dublin’s Visual Arts and Performance scheme have agreed to fund a course and exhibition based on this, following a successful Wearable Electronics Workshop last year – look out for the advert in the New Year!

Old lobster almost boiled

Learning on the Beach 2011

The second annual Learning on the Beach unconference #lob11 has just scattered – I am blown away, boiled, invigorated and inundated – and that was just the weather. We were a self-select group of ‘old lobsters’ like me @richardmillwood and some fresh faces like @squiggle7 – the value of this mix in challenging the norms of indoor education was enormous.

Activities included:

  • a scene setter on flat-lining and free-learning from John Davitt
  • collaborative presentations by teams of participants on themes (and genre) as diverse as Irish History (sing-song), The Salt Marsh (tragedy) and Tides (rap)
  • a tour of the beach with Seán and Matthew to understand the nurturing approach to the ‘machair’ or sand dunes found on the west coast of Ireland and particularly in Mulranny, where we were staying
  • the Explainer Olympics – a chance to hone with a sharp stick in the sand our skills in capturing a concept
  • a Ceilidh to let it rip -thanks to Jim and Ann, @angedav @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @magsamond @johndavitt
  • Postcards from the Edge, scribed on the beach – to let us shout about our findings
  • thoughts to challenge suppliers – what do we need to support learning outdoors in the design of equipment and infrastructure? Peter at @westnet_ie made it possible for us to connect from the beaches around Mulranny so that we could benefit from our vast array of gadgetry to support our inquiry including TouchaTag an RFID technology, but there were many issues addressed regarding weatherproofing, robustness, daylight viewing and power supply that would enhance outdoor activity anywhere
  • hot tub, sauna, steam room, cold plunge and swimming pool – four facilities that were welcome 😉
  • the sharing of Guinness, Google, kindness, camera-derie, Twitter, time, humour and happiness ( to say nothing of black and white pudding, fresh air and fine rain)

There are not enough wild sea-horses to hold me back from attending #lob12  – I already miss the lobsters: @squiggle7 @magsamond @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @andyjb @dughall @VickiMcC @johnmayo @johndavitt @angedav @katherinedavitt @timrylands @sarahneild @susanbanister

Can we reverse the decline in schools’ computing, especially with girls?

You are invited you to participate in the fifth in a series of annual lectures to address the issues surrounding manufacturing, technology and education.

  • Can computing be viewed as a form of manufacturing in the knowledge economy?
  • Why is it in such decline in schools, especially amongst girls?

In 2005 there were 7242 students sitting A Level computing exams, 815 of these were female. By 2014 that is predicted to drop to around 1500 and all of them will be male, based on figures released by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).

Dr Stan Owers’ thesis claimed that the human species evolved in symbiosis with technology since the stone age.
What part has computing in such evolution?

The evening will begin with a focused presentation by our guest speaker, Kate Sim, followed by a brief response from Professor Stephen Heppell, leaving ample time for discussion.

For further background information, please visit:

http://www.core-ed.org.uk/tools/lecture-2009.html and?

http://www.core-ed.org.uk/tools/questions.html

If you are unable to attend, please feel free to nominate colleagues.

Guilt upon accusation

New Zealand's new Copyright Law presumes 'Guilt Upon Accusation' and will Cut Off Internet Connections without a trial. Join the black out protest against it!
There are some major proposed changes in NZ law that will have an impact on education.
The proposed Section 92 of the NZ Copyright Amendment Act assumes Guilt Upon Accusation and forces the termination of internet connections and websites without evidence, without a fair trial, and without punishment for any false accusations of copyright infringement. An organisation called the Creative Freedom Foundation has been set up to specifically represent artists voices on these issues.
Check out their website: http://www.creativefreedom.org.nz , sign up and help NZ MPs make an informed decision about S92!

Engineering Diplomas get boost

Jamie Tuplin, Stan Owers, Mick Waters and Pete Williamson

Jamie Tuplin, Stan Owers, Mick Waters and Pete Williamson – presenters at the Owers Lecture 2008

The Guardian reports “Oxbridge to accept engineering diploma” – welcome news to learners and their teachers pioneering the Engineering Diploma in Barking & Dagenham schools. This timely announcement comes a week after another stimulating and informative Owers Lecture presented by Jamie Tuplin and Pete Williamson, and an excellent commentary in response from Mick Waters, Director of Curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. This fourth Owers lecture, organised by Core Education UK, was once again held at Oracle UK‘s offices in Moorgate, London on November 12th, thanks to Oracle’s ever-supportive Chris Binns who is champion for Oracle’s altruistic ventures Think.Com and ThinkQuest in the UK.

Jamie Tuplin, who leads the diploma developments Barking & Dagenham Local Authority and Pete Williamson, Head of Design Technology at the Warren School (and Learning Line Lead for Engineering for the authority), reported their experiences & issues of Engineering Diploma implementation in the first three months.

The question put to the audience was ‘Can Diplomas Cure the ‘English Disease’?’ and Mick Waters’ response, designed to provoke further debate, was to outline several diseases, all of which needed attention! In the end we had to stop, but discussion was strong and all participants were hungry for more.

New Learning ’08 – Connecting the Future to the Past

New Learning '08

This conference is taking place on Wednesday with about 50 folk – I know many others would have liked to come, but this is only a start and there’ll be more. For those unable to be there, there will be plenty of reporting to come, and you can download the conference pack and archive leaflet right here.

More importantly, if you have a story to contribute about your experiences with educational computing over the last four decades, contribute it in the stories section of the National Archive of Educational Computing website and if you want to do more, fill in the form in the support section.

The Owers Lecture 2007


Participants at the Owers Lecture 2007

When Stan Owers became Dr Stan Owers, this lecture was initiated.

It was to be held annually to address the issues surrounding manufacturing industry and education. This third in the series was a really challenging event with Jeff Roche, a 2nd year undergraduate giving us a frank review of his learning trajectory so far. Raj Rajagopal, IET trustee and long experienced in the world of manufacturing added his global perspective, pointing out that where the design and manufacture goes, the research and development follow.

A vibrant discussion ensued and a real sense of action required to improve the awareness amongst school students of how industry works.

See also

The Importance of Computing as a Specialist Subject in Schools

Naace All-Members Autumn Conference 2007

Shared a platform with Gillian Lovegrove on this topic at the Naace All-Members Conference at Cisco in Feltham. I enjoyed the relatively easy task of listing some of the arguments for computing’s contribution to the wealth of human knowledge:

  1. computing > arithmetic – it is also the engine room of the social network / Web 2.0
  2. ubiquity of knowledge management – all disciplines’ approach to knowledge is infected with computing
  3. creativity and problem solving – it provides extraordinary potential for creative and problem solving activity by making the abstract concrete
  4. concept of the human mind – ideas of the mind have interchanged with concepts of the computer throughout history
  5. historical contribution – the interrelationship with war, economy, culture and democracy
  6. tool culture drives evolution (genetic and social) – tools have been symbiotic with humanity’s evolution since the stone age and the computer is the most sophisticated and diverse tool invented

After Gillian’s points about the problems facing the subject of computing, it was most challenging to hear one member of the audience ask the question: “Could it be our fault?”. It will be interesting to see how this discussion develops in the future.

Royal College of Art Show

RCA show - design products

Platform 8:

“The Chinese Government has recently commissioned the building of more than 1600 new design colleges, with a view to ending the division between the design of an object and its production.”

This was a very small part of an astonishing show in a large tent in Hyde Park, over the road from the Royal College of Art. The students on the MA Product Design had been organised into six ‘platforms’, focii led by their tutors. The words quoted above, from the Platform 8 poster they were giving away, are fascinating in the context of Stan Ower’s work around the culture of tools and gives me food for thought as I prepare for the next Owers Lecture.