JumpSmart at Constructionism 2016
The following post is from Bryanne Leeming MBA ’16, founder of JumpSmart, a spring 2016 hatchery business.
In early February, the JumpSmart team traveled to Bangkok, Thailand to attend and present at the Constructionism 2016 conference. We found ourselves in the presence of legends.
What is Constructionism?
Constructionism is an educational theory originating from Seymour Papert at the MIT Media Lab. He is the creator of the Logo programming language, which has since influenced many other languages used for teaching computer science concepts. Constructionism claims that we learn best when we are doing something or creating a meaningful product, whether in the real world or digitally. Constructionism relates closely to experiential learning, and is contrasted to lecture-based transmission of knowledge. It is an addition to the theory of Constructivism.
Papert defined it as, “Constructionism – the N word as opposed to the V word – shares constructivism’s connotation of learning as “building knowledge structures” irrespective of the circumstances of the learning. It then adds the idea that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it’s a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe.”
How did we get there?
Every two years, the constructionism community hosts a global conference where all the thought leaders and researchers come together to present and give feedback to each others’ work. Amon Millner, an advisor for JumpSmart and a professor at Olin College of Engineering, teamed up with Mikhaela Dietch, an Olin Student, and I to write a paper about JumpSmart and our prototyping so far. We submitted it to the conference and were accepted to present at Constructionism 2016. We were grateful to the Babson SLIF fund as well as the Clare Boothe Luce program for funding our trip and allowing us to bring JumpSmart to this new audience.
JumpSmart in Constructionism
At JumpSmart, we are creating a product that allows kids to learn coding through creating. Our product is a set of electronic tiles embedded with lights, sensors, and sound capability that kids can program using a kid-friendly block programming language from a wireless device. They can create games, designs, and even musical instruments that they play on their feet. We added physical activity and social engagement into the process of coding for kids. With our paper, we presented JumpSmart as a new entrypoint to coding through its use of physical activity. Having lots of entrypoints invites many different types of learners into the field at a young age.
Up until this conference, any public showing of JumpSmart had either taken place in front of children and parents, or as a pitch at a business competition. Presenting to educational researchers and thought leaders was an entirely new step for us, and our product was improved from the feedback we received at the event as well as from being able to see up and coming research from other universities. Attendees ranged from PhD candidates, to college professors, to teachers, to researchers working directly with national governments to implement new computer science curriculum throughout an entire country. This experience taught me how important it is to continue to bring your ideas to new audiences in order to improve them, and to make sure you’re always learning and never the smartest person in the room.
Current Challenges of Constructionism:
One session at the conference was for brainstorming and discussing current challenges constructionism faced. Here are a few that were uncovered:
- Time in the school day is scarce, and it can be hard to implement new lessons with constructionism and making when it competes with other curriculum requirements. There is a need to create a sense of urgency for change in schools that is not there yet.
- Many teachers lack confidence and skills required to be comfortable changing from a lecture-based classroom model to one where their role is a facilitator in urging children to create.
- When a school has switched to a project-based curriculum, there is a question of how to give grades on creative projects and things made in the maker-space. Giving grades can cause children to fear failure and take less risks, but there needs to be a way to track progress and show improvement.
The conference proceedings with our published paper can be downloaded here.