1 All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) * I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten Mitchel Resnick MIT Media Lab Cambridge, MA 02139 USA +1 617 253 9783 [email protected] What do I mean by the kindergarten approach to learning? ABSTRACT In traditional kindergartens, children are constantly This paper argues that the “kindergarten approach to designing, creating, experimenting, and exploring. Two spiraling cycle of Imagine, learning” – characterized by a children might start playing with wooden blocks; over and back to Imagine – is Create, Play, Share, Reflect, towers. A classmate sees the time, they build a collection of st century, helping ideally suited to the needs of the 21 towers and starts pushing his toy car between them. But the learners develop the creative-thinking skills that are critical towers are too close together, so the children start moving to success and satisfaction in today’s society. The paper the towers further apart to ma ke room for the cars. In the discusses strategies for designing new technologies that process, one of the towers falls down. After a brief encourage and support kindergarten-style learning, argument over who was at fault, they start talking about building on the success of traditional kindergarten how to build a taller and str onger tower. The teacher shows materials and activities, but extending to learners of all skyscrapers, and they notice them pictures of real-world ages, helping them continue to develop as creative thinkers. that the bottoms of the buildings are wider than the tops. So they decide to rebuild their block tower with a wider base INTRODUCTION than before. Kindergarten is undergoing a dramatic change. For nearly 200 years, since the first kindergarten opened in 1837, This type of process is repeated over and over in kindergarten has been a time for telling stories, building kindergarten. The materials vary (finger paint, crayons, castles, drawing pictures, and l earning to share. But that is bells) and the creations vary (pictures, stories, songs), but starting to change. Today, more and more kindergarten the core process is the same. I think of it as a spiraling children are spending time filling out phonics worksheets what they want to do, imagine process in which children and memorizing math flashcards . In short, kindergarten play with their a project based on their ideas, create is becoming more like the rest of school. creations, share their ideas and creations with others, on their experiences – all of which leads them to reflect In my mind, exactly the opposite is needed: Instead of imagine new ideas and new projects (see Figure 1). making kindergarten like the rest of school, we need to make the rest of school (indeed, the rest of life) more like In going through this process, kindergarten students kindergarten. develop and refine their abilities as creative thinkers. They learn to develop their own ideas, try them out, test the As I see it, the traditional kindergarten approach to learning st boundaries, experiment with alternatives, get input from century. In a society is ideally suited to the needs of the 21 others – and, perhaps most significantly, generate new characterized by uncertainty and rapid change, the ability ideas based on their experiences. In reality, the steps in the to think creatively is beco ming the key to success and process are not as distinct or sequential as indicated in the satisfaction, both professionally and personally . For diagram. Imagining, creating, playing, sharing, and today’s children, nothing is more important than learning to reflecting are mixed together in many different ways. But think creatively – learning to come up with innovative the key elements are always ther e, in one form or another. solutions to the unexpected situations that will continually arise in their lives . Unfortunately, most schools are out-of-step with today’s * Apologies to Robert Fulghum (1986). Fulghum’s best- needs: they were not designed to help students develop as selling book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in creative thinkers. Kindergartens (at least those that remain focused on children learn in Kindergarten what ition) are an exception. The true to the kindergarten trad kindergarten, and why those lessons remain important for traditional kindergarten approach to learning is well- the rest of their lives. This paper focuses on how children matched to the needs of the current society, and should be learn in kindergarten, and why kindergarten-style extended to learners of all ages. learning serves as a useful m odel for learners of all ages.
2 th Some of the most creative artists and inventors of the 20 that encourage and support kindergarten-style learning, century credit their kindergar ten experiences with laying building on the success of traditional kindergarten the foundation for their later success . materials and activities, but extending to older learners, in hopes of helping them continue to develop as creative If this learning approach has been so successful in thinkers. kindergarten, why hasn’t it been applied in other parts of the educational system? One reason, I believe, is a lack of IMAGINE appreciation for the importance of helping young people Consider the most popular kindergarten materials: blocks develop as creative thinkers. Another reason has to do with for building, crayons for drawing, dolls for role-playing, te media and technologies. the availability of appropria tiles for making geometric patterns. All of these materials Wooden blocks and finger paint are great for students child’s imagination. The are designed to encourage a working on kindergarten projects and learning kindergarten materials do not over-constrain or over-determine. Children concepts (like number, shape, size, and color). But as with different interests and different learning styles can all students get older, they want and need to work on more use the same materials, but each in his or her own personal advanced projects and learn more advanced concepts. way. Wooden blocks and finger paint won’t suffice. If older In developing technologies for older learners, we try to students are going to learn through the kindergarten r guiding principle is “many achieve a similar effect. Ou approach, they need different types of tools, media, and paths, many styles” – that is, to develop technologies that materials . can be used along many different paths, by children with many different styles. Too often, educational technologies are overly constrained, such as tutoring software for tion software for modeling teaching algebra, or simula planetary motion in the solar system. Our goal is to provide tools that can be used in multiple ways, leaving more room for children’s imaginations. When my research group developed Cricket technology, for example, we explicitly tried to broaden the range of projects that children could cr eate . Crickets are small programmable devices, small enough to fit in the palm of a child’s hand. Children can plug motors, lights, sensors, and other electronic blocks into a Cricket, then program their creations to spin, light up, and play music. Children have used Crickets to make a wide range of imaginative creations. For example, a group of girls at an after-school center in Boston used Crickets and craft materials to create flowers that danced and an interactive garden, with changed colors when you clapped your hands. At a Figure 1: The kindergarten approach to learning workshop in Hong Kong, a 12-year-old boy created a wearable jukebox that played different songs when you inserted different coins, and an 11-year-old girl added This is where, in my opinion, digital technologies can play lights to her boots and programmed them to turn different a transformational role in education. I believe that digital colors based on the pace of her walk, as measured by technologies, if properly designed and supported, can sensors that she attached to her boots (see Figure 2). extend the kindergarten approach, so that learners of all ages can continue to learn in the kindergarten style – and, Cricket kits are similar, in many ways, to the Mindstorms in the process, continue to develop as creative thinkers. robotics kits developed by the LEGO toy company, in collaboration with my research group. But there are My focus here is on what researchers have called “little c” important differences. While Mindstorms kits are designed creativity – that is, creativity within one’s personal life – especially for making robots, Cricket kits are designed to not “big C” Creativity that transforms the boundaries of an support a diverse range of projects combining art and entire discipline or domain. The goal is not to nurture the technology. Cricket kits include not only LEGO bricks and next Mozart or Einstein, but to help everyone become more motors but also a collection of arts-and-craft materials, creative in the ways they deal with everyday problems. colored lights, and a sound-box for playing sound effects The rest of this paper is organized around the different and music. By providing a broader range of materials, we aspects of the kindergarten learning approach: Imagine, hoped to encourage a broader range of projects – and spark Create, Play, Share, Reflect, and back to Imagine. Each the imaginations of a broader range of children. In section discusses strategies for designing new technologies particular, we aimed to encourage broader participation
3 among girls. Even with strong efforts to increase female I view Mindstorms and Crickets as Froebel’s Gifts for the st century, using new technologies to extend the participation, only 30% of the participants in LEGO 21 kindergarten approach to learners of all ages. robotics competitions are girls . In Cricket activities at Unfortunately, they are the exception rather than the rule in museums and after-school centers, participation has been onic toys are not in the spirit today’s toy stores. Most electr much more balanced among boys and girls . of Froebel’s Gifts, since they do not provide children with As we develop new technologies for children, our hope is Most of today’s electronic opportunities to design or create. that children will continually surprise themselves (and toys are pre-programmed by the toy company. Children xplore the space of possibilities. surprise us too) as they e cannot design or create with these toys, they can only didn’t imagine that children When we created Crickets, we interact with them; for example: hold the doll’s hand and would use them to measure their speed on rollerblades, or its mouth turns to a smile, sing to the doll and it starts to create a machine for polishing and buffing their dancing. I am sure that designers and engineers at the toy fingernails. To support and encourage this diversity, we companies learn a great deal wh ile creating these toys, but I explicitly include elements and features that can be used in doubt that children learn very much while interacting with many different ways. The design challenge is to develop the toys. features specific enough so that children can quickly learn how to use them, but general enough so that children can PLAY continue to imagine new ways to use them . Piaget famously proclaimed that “Play is the work of children.” Certainly, play has b een an integral part of the traditional kindergarten approach to learning, and most adults recognize the importance of providing young children with opportunity to play. But as children grow older, educators and parents often talk about play dismissively, referring to activities as “just play,” as if play is separate and even in opposition to learning. In my mind, play and learning can and should be intimately Figure 2: Projects from a Cricket workshop linked. Each, at its best, involves a process of experimentation, explorati on, and testing the boundaries t attempts to link play and . Unfortunately, many recen CREATE learning are at odds with the kindergarten approach to play is at the root of . If we want Create creative thinking and learning. Consider the recent focus on “edutainment” thinkers, we need to provide children to develop as creative products. Creators of edutainment products tend to view them with more opportunities to create. education as a bitter medicine that needs the sugar-coating Friedrich Froebel understood this idea when he opened the of entertainment to become palatable. They provide in 1837. Froebel filled his world’s first kindergarten entertainment as a reward if you are willing to suffer kindergarten with physical objects (such as blocks, beads, ey boast that you will have through a little education. Or th and tiles) that children could use for building, designing, so much fun using their products that you won’t even and creating. These objects became known as Froebel’s as if learning were the most realize that you are learning – Gifts. Froebel carefully designed his Gifts so that children, unpleasant experience in the world. as they played and constructed with the Gifts, would learn I also have a problem with the word “edutainment” itself. about common patterns and forms in nature. When people think about “education” and “entertainment,” In effect, Froebel was designing for designers – he they tend to think of them as services that someone else designed objects that enabled children in his kindergarten provides for you. Studios, directors, and actors provide you to do their own designing. Froebel’s work can be viewed as nd teachers provide you with with entertainment; schools a an early example of Seymour Papert’s constructionist education. Now, edutainment companies try to provide you approach to education , which aims to engage learners with both. In all of these cases, you are viewed as a passive in personally-meaningful design experiences. recipient. If we are trying to help children develop as In creating his Gifts, Froebel was limited by the materials creative thinkers, it is more productive to focus on “play” th century. With today’s electronic available in the early 19 and “learning” (things you do) rather than “entertainment” and digital materials, we can create new types of and “education” (things that others provide for you). construction kits, expanding Froebel’s kindergarten Spurred by the extraordinary popularity of video games in approach to older students working on more advanced youth culture, a growing number of researchers have begun projects and learning more advanced ideas. With examining how and what children learn as they play video Mindstorms and Crickets, for example, children can create games . There is no doubt that children learn many dynamic, interactive constructions – and, in the process, things when they play video games, and children exhibit a learn concepts related to sensing, feedback, and control. deep sense of engagement that is all too rare in school
4 classrooms. But, with a few not able exceptions, such as the Business leaders and policy makers, noting that • Sim series games and Shaffer’s “epistemic games” , teamwork is more important in today’s workplace currently-available video games do not support than ever before, have encouraged schools to put kindergarten-style learning. Even games that engage more emphasis on collaboration to help prepare children in strategic thinking and problem solving provide students for their future jobs few opportunities for children to design and create, a key Educational researchers, building on foundational • ingredient in the kindergarten approach to learning. work of Vygotsky, have focused more attention on the social nature of learning and strategies for How can we use new technologies to integrate play, design, supporting communities of learners  and learning? One way is to provide children with the The proliferation of interactive technologies and • opportunity to design their own games. In her book Minds widespread access to the Internet has led to a in Play , Yasmin Kafai  documents how elementary- flourishing of what Henry Jenkins  calls a school students become more creative thinkers as they “participatory culture” – in which people actively design their own games. More recently, my research group create and share ideas and media with one another teamed up with Kafai to develop a new programming on blogs and collaborative websites like Flickr language, called Scratch (http://scratch.mit.edu), that (for photographs) and YouTube (for videos). enables children to create not only games but also interactive stories, animations, music, and art . In Our Scratch programming language aims to build on these designing Scratch, one of our key goals was “tinkerability” trends, making sharing an integral part of the programming – that is, we wanted to make it easy for children to process. Even in today’s participatory culture, very few playfully put together fragments of computer programs, try programmable people are creating and sharing media (such them out, take them apart, and recombine them. To create interactive characters and interactive games). While online programs in Scratch, you simply snap together graphical worlds like Second Life make it relatively easy to create blocks, much like LEGO bricks or puzzle pieces (see and share graphical objects, making those objects dynamic Figure 3). You don’t need to worry about where to put and interactive requires some form of programming, and semi-colons or square brackets: the blocks are designed to traditional programming languages have had a steep make sense, so there are no fit together only in ways that learning curve. The difficulty in sharing programmable “syntax errors” as in traditional programming languages. media has been one of the critical limiting factors in You can even add new blocks as the program is running, so previous efforts to engage children in programming. In a it is easy to “play with your code,” testing out new ideas critique of the Logo programming language, for example, incrementally and iteratively. Marvin Minsky  noted that Logo has a great grammar but not much literature. Whereas young writers are often inspired by the great works of literature that they read, there is no analogous library of great Logo projects to inspire young programmers – and no outlets where young programmers can share their Logo projects with others. To overcome these limitations, the Scratch programming Figure 3: Scratch programming blocks language is interwoven into a website that provides both inspiration and audience. Children can try out projects created by others, re-use and modify code from those SHARE projects, and post their own projects for others to try. The At an educational-technology workshop a few years ago, goal is a collaborative community in which children are participants were asked which of the following learning constantly building on and extending one another’s work experiences had been most difficult for them: with programmable media. We have found that Learning to ride a bicycle o construction and community go hand-in-hand in the Learning to write a computer program o ecome more engaged in the creative process: children b o Learning to share construction process when they are able to share their An overwhelming majority sel ected “learning to share.” constructions with others in a community, and children become more engaged with communities when they are Sharing has always been an im portant part of the creative able to share constructions (not just chat) with others process in kindergarten, but the ability to share and within those communities. collaborate has generally received less emphasis in later years of schooling. That has st arted to change recently, as a REFLECT result of several independent but converging trends, all of The kindergartens in Reggio Emilia, Italy, are a mecca for which are pushing schools to pay more attention to sharing researchers and educators in terested in kindergarten. and collaboration: People making the pilgrimage to the Reggio schools
5 invariably come away impressed with the organization of We try to apply these ideas to ourselves, in my research of diverse materials for the space, the availability group, as we develop new technologies like Crickets and experimentation and creative expression, the support of Scratch. We never expect to get things right on the first try. collaborative activities. But for me, the most impressive We are constantly critiquing, adjusting, modifying, part of the Reggio kindergartens is the way they encourage revising. The ability to develop rapid prototypes is children to reflect on what they are doing. Children in critically important in this process. We find that Reggio are constantly producing drawings and diagrams as storyboards are not enough; we want functioning ers use these artifacts to they work on projects. Teach don’t need to work perfectly, prototypes. Initial prototypes engage the children in discussing and reflecting on their just well enough for us (and our users) to play with, to design process and thinking process. The classroom walls experiment with, to talk about. We’ll build a prototype, drawings, with teachers’ are filled with children’s play with it ourselves, watch some children play with it, annotations, providing children a way to look back at talk with them about it, talk among ourselves about it – and earlier stages of their work. then quickly build a new prototype. Such reflection is a critical part of the creative process, but When children use our technologies, we encourage them to all too often overlooked in the classroom. In recent years, go through the same process. It doesn’t matter whether they schools have adopted more “h ands-on” design activities, y or building an interactive are creating an animated stor but the focus is usually on the creation of an artifact rather sculpture. In all cases, our message is the same: iterate, ideas that guided the design, than critical reflection on the iterate, and iterate again. Time, of course, is essential in or strategies for refining and improving the design, or this process. If children have enough time to go through the connections to underlying scientific concepts and related cycle only once, they’ll miss out on the most important part real-world phenomena. of the creative process. As we introduce new technological tools like Crickets and eative thinker is itself an The process of becoming a cr ffort to engage children in Scratch, we make a special e iterative process. Historically, kindergarten has provided a reflecting on the process of desi gn. We explicitly talk about good foundation for creative thinking. Think of ine-create-play-share the spiral of imag -reflect-imagine, and kindergarten as the first time through the creative-thinking look for ways for children to use and communicate these cycle. Unfortunately, after l eaving kindergarten, children ideas. At the end of a two-day workshop using our Cricket have not had the opportunity to iterate on what they learned technology, for example, my colleague Bakhtiar Mikhak in kindergarten, to continue to develop as creative thinkers. asked the 12-year-old participants to write down “tips” for By extending the kindergarten approach, we hope to children who would be starting a similar workshop the next provide opportunities for learners of all ages to build on day. The children provided the following tips: their kindergarten experiences, iteratively refining their rs throughout their lives. abilities as creative thinke Start simple Work on things that you like ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank members of the Lifelong If you have no clue what to do, fiddle around Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab for Don't be afraid to experiment collaborating on the technologies and ideas discussed in Find a friend to work with, share ideas! this paper. This research has received financial support It’s OK to copy stuff (to give you an idea) from the LEGO Company, the Intel Foundation, the Keep your ideas in a sketch book National Science Foundation (ITR-0325828), and the MIT Media Laboratory’s research consortia. Build, take apart, rebuild Lots of things can go wrong, stick with it REFERENCES the core elements of the These tips capture some of . Harry Inventing Kindergarten 1. Brosterman, N. (1997). kindergarten approach to learning. We see it as an N. Adams Inc. important indicator of success when participants in our The Rise of the Creative Class Florida, R. (2002). 2. . Basic workshops not only practice a kindergarten approach to Books. learning but also understand and articulate the core ideas 3. Fulghum, R. (1986). All I Really Need to Know I underlying the approach. . Ivy Books. Learned in Kindergarten IMAGINE 4. Gee, J.P. (2003). What Video Games Have to Teach Us Iteration is at the heart of th e creative process. The process cy. Palgrave Macmillan. About Learning and Litera are, and Reflect inevitably of Imagine, Create, Play, Sh Hirsh-Pasek, K., and Golinkoff, R. (2003). Einstein 5. ng back to Imagine and the leads to new ideas – leadi . Rodale. Never Used Flash Cards beginning of a new cycle..
6 6. Convergence Culture: Where Old Jenkins, H. (2006). Fluency at After-School Centers in Economically- and New Media Collide . New York University Press. Disadvantaged Communities. Proposal to the National Science Foundation (project funded 2003-2007). Kafai, Y. (1995). Minds in Play: Computer Game 7. . Lawrence Design As A Context for Children's Learning 14. Resnick, M., and Silverman, B. (2005). Some Erlbaum Associates. Reflections on Designing Construction Kits for Kids. ction Design and Children Proceedings of Intera 8. Lave, J., and Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: . Boulder, CO. conference . Cambridge Legitimate Peripheral Participation University Press. Resnick, M. (2006). Computer as Paintbrush: 15. Technology, Play, and the Creative Society. In Singer, Melchior, A., Cutter, T., & Cohen, F. (2004). 9. D., Golikoff, R., and Hirsh-Pasek, K. (eds.), Play = Evaluation of FIRST LEGO League. Waltham, MA: Learning: How play motivates and enhances children's Center for Youth and Communities, Heller Graduate . Oxford cognitive and social-emotional growth School, Brandeis University. University Press. Minsky, M. (1986). Introduction to LogoWorks. In 10. 16. Rusk, N., Resnick, M., Berg, R., and Pezalla-Granlund, ., & Harvey, B. (eds.), Solomon, C., Minsky, M M. (in preparation). New Pathways into Robotics: . McGraw- LogoWorks: Challenging Programs in Logo Strategies for Broadening Participation. Hill. 17. Sawyer, R. K. (2006). Educating for Innovation. The Children’s Mach Papert, S. (1993). 11. ine: Rethinking Thinking Skills and Creativity , 1, 41-48. 1 , School in the Age of the Computer . Basic Books. How Computer Games Help Shaffer, D. W. (2006). 18. Resnick, M. (1998). Technologies for Lifelong 12. Children Learn . Palgrave Macmillan. Educational Technology Research and Kindergarten. Development , 46 , 4, 43-55. 19. Singer, D., Golikoff, R., and Hirsh-Pasek, K., eds. (2006). Play = Learning: How play motivates and Resnick, M., Kafai, Y., Maeda, J., Rusk, N., and 13. enhances children's cogn itive and social-emotional Maloney, J. (2003). A Networked, Media-Rich growth . Oxford University Press. Programming Environment to Enhance Technological
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