David's Reviews > Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas

Mindstorms by Seymour Papert
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Nov 26, 2012

really liked it
Read in November, 2012

I am in agreement with Papert's theories of child learning. In particular, while reading Chapter Two ("Mathophobia: The Fear of Learning"), I had to suppress the urge to open the windows and shout, "Yes, dammit! This!" to anyone who would listen.

You see, I was one of those kids who thought math just wasn't for them. I did fine when we were learning whole new subjects like geometry or algebra for the first time. But when things devolved into endless repetition and (seemingly) mindless rote work, I loathed it - could only just barely force myself to do the bare minimum to get by. I always kind of felt bad about it because somewhere deep in the back of my mind I believed that I did have the aptitude. But if this was what math was all about, I wanted nothing to do with it.

Later in life, after teaching myself so many different things that my confidence in my ability to learn is very high, I've come to understand how very right I was about math (it's real-world purpose and applications) and how utterly wrong my teachers were. I guess I could feel vindicated. But mostly the whole thing is just sad. All of those classroom hours, completely wasted...

Anyway, Papert believes that children learn most effectively when they’re trying to solve a problem - and when they’re genuinely interested in the outcome of the problem. I believe that too. I know that’s true for me as a learner. He also believes that computers allow us to examine and learn subjects such as mathematics and physics in intuitive ways which simply are not possible with pencil and paper. Computers encourage experimentation, problem-solving, and iterative attempts at a problem until the desired outcome is finally achieved. Again, I know my programming and writing on computers are what have gotten me where I am now. I believe it would work for others as well.

I do have a bit of a bone to pick with Mindstorms. The cover claims that it’s about, “Logo - How it was invented and how it works.” But that really isn’t the case. Logo (the computer language Papert developed for child learning) is certainly featured in this book. But it’s not at all the central subject. And unless I accidentally skipped a paragraph or something, the “how it was invented” part doesn’t even exist except for some brief mentions in the Afterward and Acknowledgments at the very end of the book. That’s strange - and unfortunate since I would have been very interested, indeed, to read about the development of the Logo language and was looking forward to that part.

While it’s not horrendous, I found Mindstorms to be redundant towards the end. The last couple chapters seemed to contain an awful lot of the same arguments made in the beginning and middle parts of the book. I would have been much happier if the text had been pruned and more concrete examples of Logo being used to teach various subjects had been added.

Something else to note: for a book that was first published in 1980, the content has hardly aged a day. In fact, many of Papert’s prognostications are so dead-on correct that it’s really quite amazing. I feel that his uncanny ability to have forseen the future of technology so accurately lends a lot of credibility to his ideas and abilities as a thinker in general.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the subject. Just be warned that it’s much more concerned with the theories of child learning than it is about the Logo language.

I also wish I could force educators to read this, understand it, and act upon it.
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07/06/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Brandon (new)

Brandon I'll have to keep this in mind and suggest it to some of the educators I know. :)

I also found this for anyone wanting tools for teaching their kids programming, logic, etc.
http://www.happynerds.net/view/mac


David Brandon wrote: "I'll have to keep this in mind and suggest it to some of the educators I know. :)

I also found this for anyone wanting tools for teaching their kids programming, logic, etc.
http://www.happynerd..."


Yeah, even the original Logo is very much available (such as the UCBerkley package).


message 3: by seeseesee (new)

seeseesee 'In particular, while reading Chapter Two ("Mathophobia: The Fear of Learning"), I had to suppress the urge to open the windows and shout, "Yes, dammit! This!" to anyone who would listen.'

David, I had the exact same thought, haha :)


David shrsv wrote: "David, I had the exact same thought, haha :)"

Thanks for saying so! It's always comforting to know I'm not alone in my convictions.


message 5: by Fergus (new) - added it

Fergus Murray Excellent review. I'm curious whether you're familiar with the work of Mitch Resnick and the 'Lifelong Kindergarten' group at MIT, and others who have been building on Papert's legacy...


David Fergus wrote: "Excellent review. I'm curious whether you're familiar with the work of Mitch Resnick and the 'Lifelong Kindergarten' group at MIT, and others who have been building on Papert's legacy..."

Thanks!

I guess I am familiar with Resnick's work in a very indirect way...I bought myself a LEGO Mindstorms set when they first came out and I'm pretty sure I've played with Scratch (well, I've certainly heard of it at any rate).

I love the idea of teaching everyone (as well as kids) how to program a computer and I am fascinated by the general problem of making programming concepts understandable by whittling them down to the bare essentials.

Ha ha, I guess I also backed MaKey-MaKey on Kickstarter, so there's another indirect connection. :-)

Thanks for mentioning the Lifelong Kindergarten group to me. In a way, I've always been aware of that work coming out of MIT, but I've never known it was all by the same group.


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