I have 51 pages to go in Papert and I am going to read it before tomorrow, but I want to stop and blog before another day passes without writing. I had good intentions today (yes, I do know where that road leads), but got sidetracked by so many conversations. One of the most interesting and important to us was the rise of tuition in Kentucky’s public universities. The cost is exploding and we were wondering whether learning online would be a solution to that problem. With the cost of fuel and transportation, it looks like something could be worked out with online education to offer some relief for this problem. I’m not sure how it would work, though, because online classes currently cost a little more than those taught in a traditional classroom. If students had their own computers to use at home or a central location where computers could be used in a public setting, I can see this as maybe a viable option. Does anyone have any ideas on this matter? Suggestions? It looks like it is time to start a brand new way of thinking and learning.
Moving on to Papert now. I am just going to start here in the middle and say that his ideas on concrete thinking make sense to me – that is, if I truly have a grasp on the concept. I trust that my classmates and perhaps Dr. Lowell will set me aright if I am getting off the path. In the chapter Instructionism versus Constructionism, Papert writes about concrete and abstract thinking, and the idea that we should not separate the two by very many degrees because the concrete is absolutely necessary for increasing understanding. I know from personal experience that when I am trying to learn something new, often I have to relate the concepts’ various parts back to something that I previously learned and build an understanding from there.
In our teacher-education programs, we are taught to lead the students to higher order thinking and it is a good goal, but as Papert writes, we need to be careful when we employ this practice. Papert writes:
The supervaluation of the abstract blocks progress in education in mutually reinforcing ways in practice and in theory. In the practice of education the emphasis on abstract-formal knowledge is a direct impediment to learning-and since some children, for reasons related to personality, culture, gender, and politics, are harmed more than others, it is also a source of discrimination if not downright oppression.
These are strong words, but I think that he is saying something like we need to try to touch upon each student’s strengths and weaknesses and not focus as quickly on a system of learning that requires students to learn in an environment that does not involve physical senses other than deep thinking. Some students may not be ready for purely abstract thinking at the same time as others or what they are doing has not reached the point that abstract thinking is part of the learning experience. Also, how does one define abstract? In my Spanish-learning classroom, abstract for one student may be the completion of a paragraph written entirely in a foreign language. The knowledge required for that type of activity involved thinking about two different languages and how to express thoughts in a non-native language. For others, the ability to hold a debate in the target language may be an abstract experience. Deep thinking is still going on, but for the most part they are also concrete experiences because a concrete product is created in the form of speech or a written paragraph.