Thursday, February 10, 2005


Viewpoints Research Institute is focused on developing a new computing environment that can be used to help teach kids math and science in a fun, interactive way. They're trying to capture the Montesorri idea of learning through exploration and play in a computer. They will provide the tools for anyone to use as well as provide curriculum content. An ambitious but interesting goal.

Their platform is called Squeak. You can learn more about it at Squeakland. There is also a simple HTML example of a Squeak project -- making and steering a car. I was struck by how they led kids to connect the words "steer's heading" in the steering wheel script to the number they used earlier to characterize a turn as left or right along with the rate of the turn. That connection is described as a visceral flash -- that some text (a variable) represents a number. Although they're targeting K-12, I know several students in my first year chemistry class that haven't had that visceral flash yet!

By including more complicated objects (e.g. beakers, flasks, burets, bunsen burners, etc.) and behaviors, I could imagine constructing a virtual lab environment where you could explore chemical reactions or perform experiments. It could make for an interesting pre-lab preparation exercise. Students often have trouble seeing how the measurements they make relate to a concept or equation that is used to derive a result or make a conclusion.

Kudos to the Squeak folks. I hope their early attempts to stimulate thinking pay off for science and math education.

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