From MIT Media Lab’s Mitchel Resnick: Seymour Papert’s ideas about children, computers, and learning inspired so many people, in so many different ways. How can we keep Seymour’s ideas alive, even though he is no longer with us? What we can do to support the spread of his ideas, so that they continue to inspire children, parents, teachers, and researchers around the world?
As I thought about these questions, the first phrase that came to mind was Putting Papert into Practice. But as I gave it more consideration, the phrase didn’t feel right. Seymour wouldn’t have liked it. It’s too simplistic to think that you can just take someone’s ideas and put them into practice.
Seymour had a more organic view of teaching and learning—and a more organic view on how ideas spread. The process is not like an engineer building a structure according to specifications; it’s more like a farmer or gardener tending to plants, creating an environment in which the plants will flourish.
The right conditions for growth
As I thought about it more, a new phrase came to mind: The Seeds that Seymour Sowed. That felt better, more in Seymour’s spirit. He was constantly planting new seeds, new ideas—some mathematical, some pedagogical, some technological, some epistemological. Some of Seymour’s seeds spread like wildflowers around the world; some took root in a few places, but not in others; and some of his seeds still lie dormant in the ground, waiting for others to provide the proper nurturing, the right conditions for growth.
Let me share a story about how some of Seymour’s seeds began to take root. The story involves a 10-year-old boy named Nicky, who was participating in a workshop at the Media Lab in 1985. It was one of our first LEGO/Logo workshops, in which children were using Seymour’s Logo programming language to control their own LEGO constructions. Nicky started his project by building a car out of LEGO bricks, adding a motor, and connecting it to the computer. When he programmed the motor to turn on, the car moved forward a bit, but then the motor fell off the car and began vibrating across the table.
Nicky became intrigued with the vibration of the motor, and he began to wonder whether he might be able to use those vibrations to power a vehicle. Nicky mounted the motor on a platform atop four LEGO “legs.” After some experimentation, he realized that he needed to amplify the motor vibrations. To do that, he drew upon some personal experiences. Nicky enjoyed skateboarding, and he remembered that swinging his arms gave him an extra “push” on the skateboard. So, he added a LEGO “arm” to his machine. As the motor turned, the arm whipped around and amplified the motor vibrations, and the machine vibrated its way across the table.