I just read an inspiring paper by Mark Eisenber entitled Mindstuff: Educational Technology Beyond the Computer. The paper is based on Papert's Mindsotrms and aims at reestablishing Papert's ideas in our world today. The first argument that caught my attention was the one on transitional objects. Eisenberg says transitional objects are emotional and cognitive artifacts. But I wonder if these are affected by gender roles. Does the way that girls are raised to play with certain toys and boys with others influence whether a child will ever come into contact with a transitional object? Considering the toys that are traditionally made available to young girls, I think it is unlikely they would come into contact with transitional objects, particularly those that primarily develop the mind mathematically. It seems that the gender divide in science and mathematics might be exacerbated by the fact that girls are conditioned to like toys that are usually not very enriching in the mathematical sense. There are some transitional objects available in the marketplace today such as the PicoCricket Kit, as well as some research projects by MIT Media Lab that involve making programmable clothing and crafts. However, most transitional objects such as these are not widely available.
As a scholar and a mother, the idea of creating a “Mathland” in a child’s room fascinates me. What could be better than a child’s safe haven as a place to engage them in a lifelong mathematical voyage? It would be very interesting to investigate the impact of programmable rooms and toys in a child’s mathematical development. And what if we took that idea further and had every classroom also become a Mathland in which children could program the room’s walls and desks—and have technology change everything about education as we know it? I think that the creation of such knowledge lands might be the path to take in order to revolutionize education. Any thoughts on how you see education in the future?
On another note, Eisenberg says that “microworlds” relate to self-containment, purity, simplicity, and seclusion. Nonetheless, my view of microworlds is a different one. I see them as liberating environments. They liberate the learner from menial issues and details so that he can effectively and deeply explore a cognitive concept. And as a learner develops a concept, it becomes a scaffold on which he explores related ones…so how can this environment be constraining? It seems to me to be the opposite of a limiting environment.