THESE ARE MY NOTES FROM ALAN KAY’S KEYNOTE ON 19 JUNE 2007 AT EDUCOMM. ALAN GAVE ME PERMISSION TO RECORD THIS AS AN AUDIO PODCAST, WHICH I WILL PUBLISH HERE LATER TONIGHT. MY THOUGHTS ARE IN ALL CAPS.

Alan Kay has an amazing bio: Amazing lifetime achievements. An amazing thinker, creator, and inventor.

“the best way to predict the future is to invent it” is a famous quotation from Alan

From that intro, you can see that I have worn out my welcome at a lot of places for being very opinionated!
– there is a group of about 25 of us that did all that stuff
– we had great funders, that funded us and enabled us to think very large thoughts that were outside “normal” for that time

Biggest problem with that quotation
– actually the best way to predict the future is PREVENT IT (that is what most people do)
McLuhan: human beings are setup to deal with the present only through the past
— also pointed out that artists some of the time can actually see the present directly, as a construction
— of course science is an art, scientists have spent the last 400 years trying to see the world we live in better than we ever have in the previous 2000 or 3000 years

in many ways modern science started in 1600 when ___ was burned at the stake for having an opinion about whether the sun or the earth moved…
– opinions can be somewhat dangerous

generally in a talk a spend time building some context and sharing some philosophy
– but I’m doing an inverse sandwich today, and start with an extended example
– later we’ll have context, and maybe another example

graph: Different ways to look at education (gov’t NCLB view)
– y axis: ability going up
– x axis: time
– shows graphs

what is this data relative to?

we are basically an AIR GUITAR nation
– gov’t says progress
– scientists see no progress (REAL GUITAR)

music is something inside ourselves, is about expressing emotions through a different set of channels / means
– music appreciation is not the best course to take first in school
– you are better off DOING music first
– math and science are the very same kind of thing
– best of the science courses I’ve seen in the past few years are like “science appreciation”
– but in fact, most kids don’t understand things like what Newton did, because kids are not in the same conversation
– scientists worry about this

Reminder of a dinner party conversation in England 25 years ago
– British lady said “you Americans have the best high schools in the world. What a pity you have to go to college to get it.”
– the college education now is falling behind where high school education was not too many years ago

Setting this up: we have very interesting dynamics happening now
– you have a much better chance learning music and art in K-12 education because there are real musicians and artists to teach there, but not math and science because REAL mathematicians and scientists rarely go into schools to bring their REAL contexts

MY THOUGHT: THIS IS WHY WE NEED TO BRING THOSE REAL SCIENTISTS, ENG

problem is not that kids don’t know STUFF, it is that they don’t have the outlook they need

(Alan is presenting his slides in Squeak)

Very important and interesting research: What can children do?
– funding in the US is much less about trying to find out what great teachers and their students can do
– more about how do average teachers achieve with children who are given to them

great example: a teacher whose hobby was mathematics (more on this lesson is available, thanks to Ted Kaehler, see his comment below for more details too)
– like a talented musical friend who hadn’t had much formal training
– hadn’t taken calculus formally
– very interesting things
– Julia Nishijima
– kids bussed in from all over LA
– example of 6 year olds doing GREAT math
– all the kids had filled out the same table showing growth
– I was in the room with tears streaming down my face

The teacher just got the kids to derive the first and second order equations…

the teacher realized the kids could REALLY do arithmetic that involves addition (not getting yet to multiplication, which is trickier and repeated addition)

graph of the plot of progressions
– what this means you should be able to teach children the real relationships of physics and REALLY do it
– what you are focusing on is basic incrementals
– this is how computing got started!
– Charles Babbage used this same scheme!
– generated tables, because a great deal of relationships can be computed using this table

So that means we can create a children’s authoring system that is both powerful and simple
– boys and girls both love the idea of driving a car like their parents
– 9 year olds (and 7 year olds) using a paint program to think about what a car might look like from the top
– then they have an object that they call a car
– popup menu appears with different commands including variables for the car’s movement
– can make a script for this by tearing off the commands from the menu

kids play around with this environment, and get the idea that as long as we keep

I LOVE THIS MESSAGE THAT LEARNERS NEED TO DO MATH, SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING, AND NOT JUST HAVE “APPRECIATION CLASSES” IN THESE CONTENT AREAS

PROGRAM IS AMAZING BECAUSE IT LETS KIDS DRAW THEIR OWN VERSIONS

kids can draw their own steering wheel
– kids can then discover steering
– then kids can divide the heading number by 3, and they have just added a gear

This has now been done with hundreds of thousands of children around the world
– from this exercise, with 1 repetition, all kids learn the concept of VARIABLE
– reasons for this learning: it is situated into the kids needs, context and goals

idea of division as scaling is discovered for first time for many

you don’t need a division to divide up a pizza or M&Ms
– you don’t need division much for a child in the outside world, but it is really useful here

Differential models
Feedback
Probability

later if we have time we’ll look at this idea of feedback

suppose you’d like to get your car to follow a road, but the road has an arbitrary road
– Papert showed us: get kids to go outside the school and while blindfolded, follow the wall of the school

most biological systems have these feedback systems built into them in dozens of ways
– how do you make progress if you don’t have complete information: key idea

other idea: what if you don’t know anything
– you are blind
– can you still make progress?
– you can randomly jump around and remember things you find

if you really want to teach children about evolution, showing them how this feedback idea that is based on randomness but still makes progress is a key idea

Reflecting on Fun
– “speed” is a change fo distance in a stretch of time
– “acceleration” is a change in speed in a stretch of time
– try a test, then hit the exclamation point in the reset script to try another one

activity: kids learn if you set the speed in advance you can predict the winner of any race
– races are much more interesting if there is a level of randomness
– kids doing this are just like adults at Las Vegas
– creates a lot of pondering for children
– we want kids to understanding there is an average speed that is related to the average number generator, but on any specific trial it is difficult to predict with accuracy

SO MAYBE I NEED TO GO BACK TO TEACHING 4TH GRADE AND USE TOOLS LIKE THIS TO HELP STUDENTS (AND MYSELF) BETTER UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPTS OF SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS BY DOING….

A synthesizer is just an animation
– revelation there: the synthsizer they’ve bought is just 2 lines of script that use sampling

Another activity that starts the investigation of whether the world is composed of particles or whether it is continuous
– can see Coriolis effect in the difficusion
– inspired by Mitchell Resnick’s StarLogo work

works for smells diffusing across a room, but for presentations the air conditioning often interferes

science absolutely requires measuring things in the real world
– the big change 400 years ago, that Giordano Bruno was willing to be burned for, was the statement that our speculations can only go so far until we submit them to trial and error in the real world
– if you don’t do this with kids you are not teaching them science, you are just teaching them a new form of religion

How accurately can you measure?
– the adult world is full of claims of every kind
– the children are generally not applauded in schools for questioning and challenging adult claims
– that makes it very difficult to teach science correctly, because as Feinman said science is all about questioning the experts
– this undermines authority of teachers and even parents

So this lead to experiments about falling objects
– of course children thought heavier objects fall faster
– dropping spongeball and shotput from the roof of a school

in every classroom we’ve done this in, there is 1 “Galeleo kid” – someone who says “hey wait a minute, we can drop a heavier and lighter one
– Aristotle never thought to do this, and neither did St Thomas Aquinas
– they never asked the child
– what is the probability that
– this is just simple thinking outside of adult authority
– so when Galelieo thought of this 400 years ago, might have been the first time
– have could we have been fooling ourselves so badly for thousands of yeras

science is more about trying to deal with what is wrong with human brains
– a set of heuristics, approaches and processes and some knowledge bout how to debug our thinking processes in all areas
– this is why it is so unfortunate that science is essentially not being taught in America

even more fun to go from the qualitative to the quantitative
– take a movie, and remove every 5th frame and think about the progress of the ball
– 3 months after kids did initial work, now they see the acceleration graph and can identify it
– kids measure it in the squeak environment with heights of rectangles
— differences are the acceleration: constant acceleration

I AM AGAIN STRUCK BY HOW EASY IT IS TO TEACH POORLY. TEACHING IN THE WAY ALAN IS DEMONSTRATING IS HARD! BUT IT IS EXACTLY WHAT WE NEED TO DO FOR OUR CHILDREN, OUR STUDENTS. WE NEED TO ENGAGE THEM IN REAL WORK FOR REAL LEARNING, NOT FAKE WORK FOR FAKE LEARNING. FAKE WORK FOR FAKE LEARNING

Lilly McDermmot at Univ of Washington’s research and surveys
– fully 70% of all college students (including science majors) learning about Galelian gravity fail to understand it at the end
– what we have shown is situated in the child’s world, and more importantly
– uses incremental mathematics, which children can actually do
– kids are actually doing calculus

More than 90% of 10 and 11 year olds who do this understand it and do it
– this is profound
– if we ever want to do real science teaching: we have to find ways of doing it with mathematics the children can understand
– payoff for kids: now that we have a model for gravity, we can apply it to crash things
– gravity is a velocity eater, thrust on a rocket is velocity producer
– example of a simulation that kids can do, that people used to

Now demonstration of Gas Particles supporting a piston
– references to KedamajWorld script
– demo of Boyle’s Law
– dynamic feeling for the behavior through a simple script

Quiz:
– What is the differential calculus of vectors
– all of the above: (I WISH I HAD CAPTURED THIS)

We scientists are not smart enough to do anything with the math that is taught in schools
– 19th century real revolution in science: when Carl Gauss and others
– this is eminently learnable by children, it does not have an algebraic foundation

Pathagroas’ proof instead of Euclid’
– no one should be forced to see a more complicated proof of this their first time through

Disney is a street-smart culture
– imagine you were born with a huge ability to think, but it was in 10,000 BC
– how far could you get?
– how far did Leonardo get?
— he was unable to invent a single motor for any of these amazing vehciles he designed
— he was born in the wrong time

knowledge completely dominates IQ
– that is why schools and writing systems are so important

Outlook is key too
– the way we look at the world heuristically
– one of the most basic ways: “if I don’t know, I will pray to the spirits”
– many people who still think that way when they get sick

many, many things can be done with this alternative gear-like way of looking at the world
– problem is, that just works with a system with about a 1000 parts

A “system” with tens or hundreds of thousands of parts can’t be fixed, you have to negotiate with it
– at a recent global warming conference, most business people were focused on reversing global warmning
– systems have memory, like death
– there is no memory like death
– systems consciousness is one of the most important things we need to teach, goes beyond physics

goes into biologies and ecologies

difficulties people have with technologies, they try to extrapolate from normal

in the 17th century, human thought changed qualitatively
– we changed the way we were thinking, this came primarily from the printing press
– what you think the computer is doing today is NOTHING, it is just imitating old media
– that knowledge can

forget all the imitation of paper, images, etc
– just like what Gutenberg could do
– that is nothing like what computers can do

that is like putting rabbits into Australia
– doing with an ecology, and you introduce new organisms, you get…

our minds our ecologies, our societies are,

From computing to powerful ideas

1968: I discovered Papert
– he had already come to these conclusions
– he was a genius, and a mathematician

TurtleLogo was using the child’s egocentric context, not a cartesian plane
– that really got me thinking about a children’s computer
– lots of what drove us to do what we did at Xerox Parc was focused on

If you’re waiting for someone else to do this stuff, you shouldn’t and can’t

Here is the $100 laptop

[ALAN ACTUALLY HAS A PROTOTYPE AND HELD IT UP]

Problem with OLPC is that they will be used for trivial things that fall below the threshold line, so people can look at the kids and say “wow, look at the kids using the computers” instead

schools was not set up for trivial knowledge, it was setup for the difficult knowledge that is hard to figure out on your own

the computer allows a new set of representations that are open to children

this will be a revolution like the printing revolution, but I sure hope we won’t have to wait 150 years for it to happen….

Alan Kay is now going to do a Q&A session….

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On this day..

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  • http://www.downes.ca Stephen Downes

    “in many ways modern science started in 1600 when ___ was burned at the stake for having an opinion about whether the sun or the earth moved…”

    The missing name is ‘Giordano Bruno’. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno

  • Ted Kaehler

    The first grade teacher mentioned above who brought tears to Alan’s eyes is Julia Nishijima.
    The lesson that Alan is talking about is described on page 12 and 13 of this paper: http://www.vpri.org/pdf/OLPCCountries_RN-2007-006-a.pdf
    Kids had a paper with columns on it. In the first column they arranged paper squares into larger squares of side 1, 2, 3, 4, …
    In the next column they wrote the number of squares: 1, 4, 9, 16, 25 …
    In the next column, they wrote the differences: 1, 3, 5, 7, …
    In the next column they wrote the differences of those: 2, 2, 2, 2, …
    Some kids had squares, some had triangles (and made larger triangles), some had trapazoids. The amazing thing is that the last column always comes out 2, 2, 2, 2, … This is a general scaling law that the kids “discovered”.

  • http://blog.genyes.com sylvia martinez

    This is my report of sitting next to Wes in Alan Kay’s kenote this morning:

    Really really fast typing
    Excited gasps
    Can almost see the lightbulb over his head and fireworks coming out of his ears.
    Look, it’s a real OLPC laptop! Just like seeing a celebrity in person, it looks smaller than you expected, but more beautiful.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Thanks Ted and Stephen for the corrections and additions, I made those changes in the original notes. :-)

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