Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas

author: Seymour Papert

related books: Ultralearning, Mathematics for Human Flourishing

The main takeaway

Computers can be a phenomenal tool to improve learning in the classroom! Though written in the eighties, Mindstorms by Seymour Papert feels contemporary. Papert, an AI and education researcher at MIT, believes in using computers to create "microworlds" for teaching. These are tiny self-contained universes where children and students can explore a given concept, say geometry. Most of his case studies relate to experiences using the Logo programming language, which allows people to use simple, human-readable instructions to draw simple graphics, the original turtle graphics. Children are free to experiment, create, fail, and debug. The limited complexity serves as a safe haven for children to build confidence in their skills. I particularly liked one anecdote of a girl who initially had a lot of trouble writing programs. The instructor simplified her setup to boost her confidence, enabling her only to draw lines with fixed angles. After a couple of weeks of playing with the possibilities, she found herself suggesting more elegant ways to draw something than her instructor saw. The student became the master.

Interestingly, Papert did not advocate learning children to work with computers because it helps solve practical problems. Instead, he valued programming because it improves how children think about problems. It motivates creativity, shows multiple ways to tackle a problem and forces students to identify and fix errors.

Who is this for?

Mindstorms is a great inspiring book for teachers, not only for introducing children to programming but as a general case study in discovery-based learning. I even believe there is quite some wisdom for computational researchers as well.