Etoys is one of the most powerful tools on the XO — in terms of what it can do, how flexibly it can be used, and how it helps guide and facilitate thinking. This blog post from long-time OLPCer Sylvia Kist shows some of the research that has been done with children and Etoys on the XO.
Can programming on Squeak Etoys on the XO laptop help students develop concepts about the Big Bang theory? Or about phenomena such as the Lunar Eclipse? About breast cancer?
Working with Brazilian children and investigating their production, researchers from the Laboratory of Cognitive Studies of the Institute of Psychology of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (LEC/UFRGS) have been examining the potential of programming activity on Squeak Etoys for authoring and conceptual development.
This past November, part of this investigation was presented in a paper at the XXII Brazilian Symposium on Computer in Education (SBIE) and XVII Workshop on Informatics at School (WIE) in Aracaju (SE/Brazil), awarded as one of the best papers of the event. The work context was the trial of the Brazilian federal program One Computer per Student (PROUCA) in Porto Alegre, one of the five experiments of the first phase of the project, coordinated by LEC/UFRGS, in which XO laptops were adopted. (More details after the jump.)
Seymour’s Papert ideas are a source of inspiration for many teachers and researchers in Brazil and had a big impact on how the country’s computer lab program was shaped in the past. One Laptop Per Child brought to life Papert’s vision for a Children’s Machine, and also inspired many teachers and academics in the country.
Because of this history, the strongest characteristic of the OLPC project in Brazil is the involvement of universities researching how laptops can create powerful educational experiences, and promote cultural change around learning. Many research labs from Brazil’s top universities are working with OLPC in this challenge, and have developed field studies: including LEC/UFRGS, NIED/UNICAMP, LSI/USP, CERTI/UFSC, UFC.
One of the first investigations in Brazil, was conducted under the supervision of Prof. Léa Fagundes. It studied how the XO impacted the reading and writing learning process of 6 year old children in a public elementary school at Porto Alegre. The full study was published in Portuguese. A summary:
They hypothesized that each child having their own laptop would change the practices of reading and writing by students, impacting how they create concepts about the written language. Student practices were observed and analyzed in two ways: practices proposed by the teacher and things that students did spontaneously.
After 7 months of observations, the research concluded that daily use of networked laptops allows children to use writing and reading in real life situations, differently from artificial activities in school. This kind of usage builds a symbolic environment helpful for understanding the function and meaning of written language (fluency) and leads to a conceptualization process driven by the need to understand others (literacy). In the class that was analyzed, the teacher’s proposals and some other conditions were necessary for that to happen. Project work, laptop ownership by students, connection to the Internet, and the use of a virtual learning environment were among them.