Build, Take Apart, Rebuild
A noted developer of educational tools makes the case for collaborative thinking and doing.
Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity Through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play
By Mitchel Resnick
MIT Press 2017, 191 pages.
Kindergarten, writes Mitchel Resnick, is as good as it gets. As conceived by 19th-century German educator Friedrich Froebel and still practiced by most schools, it is a time for discovery, collaboration, and creativity, with strong emphasis on exploratory play. Yet each successive year of school narrows learning into more limited, directed frameworks, with students “sitting at desks, filling out worksheets, and listening to lectures.” Moreover, a worrying trend has seen kindergarten shift to a more academic, less playful approach, with sand tables, block areas, and arts, drama, and craft centers being removed from classrooms. This is not the way education should be—at any level—argues Resnick. Instead, open, exploratory learning is “exactly what’s needed to help people of all ages develop the creative capacities needed to thrive in today’s rapidly changing society.”
Resnick has championed “lifelong kindergarten” in his work with the MIT Media Lab, in the development of Scratch and LEGO Mindworks programming software, and through Computer Clubhouse programming communities. This book extends that work in written form, arguing the importance of active, project-based learning and providing specific guidance for educators, students, parents, and program designers. Lifelong Kindergarten centers around four principles developed by the Media Lab group: “In short, we believe the best way to cultivate creativity is to support people working on projects based on their passions, in collaboration with peers and in a playful spirit.” A chapter is devoted to each of these four Ps, exploring, for example, the importance of collaborative work and social interaction: peers. When people think about thinking, Resnick points out, they often picture a solitary figure in deep contemplation, such as Rodin’s famous sculpture, The Thinker. More typically, however, thinking is integrated with doing, “interacting with things, playing with things, creating things.” It is also often done with others, as people share ideas, solicit critiques, and build upon one another’s ideas. The Peers chapter discusses community guidelines developed for Scratch users (be respectful; be constructive; be honest; help keep the site friendly), and delineates roles educators should assume as they move away from a top-down teaching model (catalyst, consultant, connector, collaborator). Resnick emphasizes that it is not simply a matter of stepping back and letting students explore: “Indeed, one of the biggest challenges in setting up a new Computer Clubhouse is helping the staff and mentors develop a more nuanced understanding of the teaching process, steering them away from the two extremes.”
Throughout these pages, examples are drawn from Resnick’s work with the projects and community of Scratch, MIT’s free, online, coding platform, which invites users to “create your own stories, games, and animations.” Each chapter closes with interviews of people whose childhood participation with Scratch and Computer Clubhouses contributed to their current pursuits as university students, engineers, and computer science teachers. Lifelong Kindergarten is not simply product endorsement, however. It provides a thorough understanding of Scratch but also, more important, of how Resnick and colleagues constructed the program to support the kind of learning they wanted to achieve, and of their challenges and discoveries along the way. A helpful closing section offers 10 tips for learners (No. 8 build, take apart, and rebuild), 10 tips for parents and teachers (No. 9 ask authentic questions), and 10 tips for designers and developers (No. 9 control the design, but leverage the crowd). The strategies explored are instructive for all readers.
Lifelong Learning closes with an appeal for “the creative society.” Like others who recognize the need to prepare ourselves for rapid, unknown future developments, Resnick wants to arm youth with agility and responsiveness. He argues that the answer is not knowledge, information, or technology, but the ability to think and act creatively. This is what will ensure future success for individuals, communities, companies, and nations. He further urges a “more humane set of values in society,” allowing and encouraging young people to follow their interests, explore their ideas, and develop their voices. “Those are the values I would have wanted in any era, but they’re more important now than ever before.”
Review by Robin Tatu
Robin Tatu is Prism‘s book editor.
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