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Soniastic

The Seymour Papert Effect

A visionary mathematician, scientist and educator - Seymour Papert has made remarkable contributions to two important areas of research: Technology education for children and Artificial Intelligence. He co-invented LOGO programming language for children, which I fondly remember obsessing over as a child. Like me, there were several kids across the globe who had enjoyed creating patterns with the tiny turtle in Logo by using simple commands. For us, it was a fun game, probably without the realization of how it was helping us lay a strong foundation for learning programming and technology.
The concept of 'learning by doing' was academically stated in Papert's educational theory of 'Constructionism', which said that 'individual learners construct mental models in order to understand the world around them'. One of the most popular adaptation of this theory are Lego blocks, that have been a global favorite for building towers, vehicles, creatures and random structures! The LEGO company even named their robotics kit "Mindstorms", based on Papert's seminal book 'Mindstorms : Children, Computers and Powerful ideas'Logo programming language came out in 1967. Since then the effect of Papert's research and inventions have snowballed into several other programming languages for children like GameStart Mechanic, Alice, Scratch or even StarLogo TNG - which is an advanced version of the Logo I once loved as a kid. The evolution in essence has not only been in terms of the educational content, but also how it is presented, how kids are allowed to 'experience' their learning. Logo from the 60s needed a lot of typing-in of commands that showed a corresponding visual. The modern programming languages aimed at kids offer a more intuitive way to learn, like drag-drop commands or using visuals to easily correspond to a large set of commands.

Roominate, Dash & Dot, Ozobot and Osmo,  for instance, are a more playful, advanced versions of constructionist toys, where we can even connect the toys to an app, and customize our interactions. The User Experience Design for their corresponding app has been very friendly for children to operate. 
The construction methods have diversified too, kids can build using magnets, gears, tubes, or even go to a much advanced level of 'making' by using kits such as Meccano, Tinker Crate, Snap Circuits, Tesla Kit or Makey Makey. So although in essence each of these toys and games help learn STEM concepts while building something, the difference is in the user experience - varying in how easy, fun, and open-ended the learning is for children to explore and learn on their own!
The experience of learning through making, can now even be customized to the highest levels, when kids are allowed to design and prototype their ideas using Digital Fabrication technologies like 3d printing and laser-cutting. Techshop offers classes for 8-12 year old kids where they can learn how to use 3d printers and laser-cutters for educational projects. I personally think that Papert's work, although amazing and visionary, is still only a starting point for innovating, developing and evaluating many more 'constructionist' ways of learning! 
Thingsverse even offers free downloadable 3d printable educational models, such as this kinetic structure that shows how wind energy can be stored in Gravity!
For my 30th birthday, I'm writing this tribute article for my favorite scientist, Seymour Papert, and playing around with LOGO to remember where my journey in technology design started. During the tough times as a child when we used cardboard boxes as clothing shelves - my dad saved up for a black and white CRT monitor-ed PC. In my story, using Logo as a child gave me a lifelong love for technology, and the general love for tech education in the family lead us from rags to riches over the years! Today, my 3oth birthday present is a Snap-Circuits Green Energy kit, and a Foundations Robotics class where I will be sitting across a bunch of 8-12 year olds, making a simple robot using Digital Fabrication and Arduino. 
Papert's theory has snowballed into a much mainstream idea of learning by doing, and although we may not recognize the evolved form compared to the initial attempts with LOGO programming - Papert's influence was a great first step that has lead us here! I truly believe that Constructionist learning will only get stronger from here!