Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Learning and XO - a.k.a. the $100 computer

Steve Jobs of Apple, Inc. was once quoted as saying, “We think basically you watch television to turn your brain off, and you work on your computer when you want to turn your brain on.” Unlike pre-Internet media consumers, today’s generation of media consumers are also publishers. They are blogging, producing their own videos and podcasting. They are chatting about the TV they watch, while watching them. It is a far cry from a world that flopped itself on a couch to be mesmerized by the evening’s lineup of electrons.

Yet this is still not as engaging as writing a computer program. Whether the program is a game, a simulation, or a tool, the programmer needs to understand the world that is being modeled. For example, if you want to write a game where a cannonball is shot out of a cannon, you have to understand quite a bit about gravity and momentum. Programming is much more engaging and rewarding than just shooting the aliens. I have expanded on this theme in my article Learning by Interactive Programming (L.I.P.).

What does this have to do with the XO - a.k.a. the $100 computer? XO comes with a number of very advanced programming environments. The most exciting of these for education are Squeak (a version of SmallTalk), eToys (built in Squeak), and LOGO, of turtle-graphics fame. These languages are student and teacher-friendly. Given what I regard as the inevitable success of the XO, this is exciting news.

It will mean millions of students potentially learning how to turn their brains on! In future postings I hope to explore for you how these languages work and how they can be used educationally.

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