(Fwd) MIT Develops New Generation of Learning Tools for Kids

From: Yakov Horenstein (yakov@planet.it)
Date: Mon Nov 24 1997 - 01:02:20 EET

> MIT Develops New Generation of Learning Tools for Kids
> (PR Newswire; 11/20/97)
> New 'Tools To Thing With', Developed at the MIT Media Lab,
> Are Engaging Children as Designers and Inventors as They Play.
> CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Nov. 20 /PRNewswire/ By embedding computer chips in
>children's construction toys, researchers at the Media Laboratory of the
>Massachusetts Institute of Technology are revolutionizing what it means "to
> Professors Nicholas Negroponte, Seymour Papert and Mitchel Resnick report
>they have created a new generation of toys that enable children to explore
>understand concepts that were previously reserved for the university
> The MIT team has added computational capabilities to traditional
>toys such as beads and LEGO(R) bricks. The goal is to empower children as
>designers and inventors, enabling them to learn about the world through their
>own explorations and experiments. In initial pilot studies, children have
>the new MIT technologies to create their own robotic creatures and even their
>own scientific instruments.
> Learning through building
> "These new tools greatly expand the range of things kids can build -- and
>the range of things they learn while doing so," says Fukutake Associate
>Professor of Research in Education Mitchel Resnick. "Young children have
>always learned about the world through direct manipulation and exploration.
>With our new tools, kids as they grow can continue to learn and learn more
>complex ideas with this same approach."
> The tools developed at MIT are currently featured at Chicago's Museum of
>Science and Industry, which on November 7 opened a learning center called
>Presents LEGO MINDSTORMS." At the learning center, children can create
>LEGO athletes and program them to compete on a 9-by-6-foot playing field.
>can also maneuver a robotic rover via small cameras and computers on a model
>"Mars terrain", using software similar to that used for the actual Pathfinder
>mission. By programming their creations to have behaviors, children learn
>advanced concepts of feedback and control.
> The MIT approach is in sharp contrast to traditional uses of computers in
>education, where the emphasis is on desktop machines that "deliver"
>to children. "Traditional approaches aim for incremental change. Our goal is
>fundamental change in the ways people think about learning and education,"
>Seymour Papert, LEGO Professor (emeritus) for Learning Research at MIT and
>of the world's leading experts on technology and learning. "If you provide
>children with the right tools and materials to play with, they can learn
>that were reserved for the university classroom in the paper-and-pencil era."
> A learning revolution
> The MIT researchers argue that new tools combining the physical and
>worlds can lead to a learning revolution but only if used in appropriate
>ways. "Many of the software products that are being developed for children
>today serve to narrow, rather than broaden, children's intellectual
>says Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder and director of the Media Laboratory
>and a
>world-renowned expert in human-computer interaction. "To create a learning
>revolution, both at home and in the classroom, we need to use technologies
>support a new vision of learning."
> The MIT team began linking computers to children's toys in 1984, in
>cooperation with The LEGO Group, which funded the research. Early versions
>used wires to connect LEGO building materials to desktop computers. Now,
>taking advantage of the declining size and costs of electronics, the MIT
>researchers have embedded tiny computers directly inside LEGO bricks and
>children's toys, and they have added communications capabilities so that the
>toys can all "talk" with one another.
> Programming a dinosaur
> In one pilot study, a group of fifth-grade students used the MIT
>"programmable bricks" to build and program a dinosaur like one they had
>seen in
>"Jurassic Park".
> Younger children are trying out MIT's "digital beads". Each bead has a
>tiny light, and each can communicate with neighboring beads along a necklace.
>By stringing the beads together in different ways, children create different
>dynamic patterns of light and learn an important specific lesson on how
>patterns can "emerge" from simple, local interactions.
> At another site, a 10-year-old girl used the MIT programmable bricks to
>build an automated bird feeder. Whenever a bird lands, it triggers a sensor,
>activating a LEGO mechanism that pushes the shutter of a camera, taking a
>picture of the bird. Now, she can keep track of what types of birds come to
>her feeder, even when she's away at school. "By building and programming
>own scientific instruments," says Professor Resnick, "children not only
>more motivated in science, they gain a deeper understanding of the scientific
>concepts underlying their investigations."
> The new MIT tools are intended to counter the trend towards "black box"
>technologies. "The opacity of contemporary technology undermines the child's
>habit of asking how does that work?" says Professor Papert. "How do
>controls know what to do? How does an airplane's autopilot "know" where to
>To say that these machines are 'programmed' invests the idea of programming
>with mystery. Giving the child the opportunity to build, program and play
>models that will perform similar functions takes away the mystery."
>SOURCE Massachusetts Institute of Technology

>For additional press information please access
>http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/nr or
> /CONTACT: Alexandra Kahn of MIT Media Lab, 617 253-0365, or
>pressmedia.mit.edu; or Karen Froyland of Geelmuyden-Kiese, 47-22-13-03-32,
>or krfgeelmuyden.kiese.no; or Klaus Fog of GK.Sigma, 47-31-54-76-76, or
> /Web Site: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/www

Yakov Horenstein
Milano, Italy

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