No. 08 — On Drawing 🖍️ What's Inside a Computer 📒 Sketching with a neural network
Drawing the invisible
My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9676 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful.
For the last four weeks I’ve been (virtually) teaching a group of Helsinki University Teacher Education students on the topic Playful Computer Science for Early Years. At the same time, I’ve been a participant in the Reggio Emilia online course called 100 languages. Doing both of these side by side I’ve started to think a lot about the role drawing has in my practice and why I find it so important in learning.
One of my favorite activities to do with children is asking them to imagine what is inside a computer.
These drawings from the children are delightful. They depict philosophical worlds full of ideas, stories and suggestions.
Not all of them are 100% correct in the sense that education often thinks. But I think they all offer a starting point to build mental models. There is something very significant for me about how the representation in your head changes how you think. And although words are precise, they don’t give you a feeling in the same way drawing does.
Drawing may seem unimportant, but I think it is profound. A lot of teachers ask me how to assess drawings like these. I get the question, but I would encourage the teacher to listen to the stories the children are telling while drawing, the narratives they construct and the options they explore. That’s the learning.
“The language of mark making and drawing is one of the many languages children carry with them (in their life experiences) a natural language that belongs to all children, and that continually and constantly mixes with all he other languages. “
- Loris Malaguzzi
This morning, as I was preparing for the next class I teach on hardware and computer systems, I ran into this picture of Apple M1 processor with its 16 billion transistors jammed into 5 nanometers (reminder, one nanometer is a billionth of a meter, still incomprehensibly small).
I thought about cave paintings, early computers and city planning. What a beautiful, absorbing etching, and what a long way we’ve come as an industry.
The drawings used in this newesletter mostly come from kindergarten aged children from Tokyo, Fukuoka and Sydney. Big thank you to Matthew Scadding for sharing the work of his students. For next rounds, inspired by Reggio and drawing, I would probably offer new kinds of materials like cardboard, colored paper and different pens.
In computer science, a linked list is a linear collection of data elements whose order is not given by their physical placement in memory. But here it is a selection of things I’ve been reading lately.
Early hardware engineers signed their work by etching a tiny picture onto the computer chip, unseeable with plain eyes. Smitshonian has collected some of these - Waldo, Godzilla and Camel included.
John Berger on rediscovering drawing during lockdown. I encourage everyone to try it out. One of my favorite gifts for any kids is Crayola’s Slick Stix. They create rich color, make no mess and work on many surfaces.
I wonder what kind of crayons computers will become as we become more creative with the technologies we pack in them. A lovely concept is David Ha’s Sketch-RNN where you draw along with a neural network. Works for people who say they can’t draw (which I don’t believe.)
Maggie Appleton’s Drawing Invisible Computing Concepts and Julia Evans’ work on illustrated computer science zines are a+ inspiration for those who work in technical fields and want to learn more.
I’m hoping to surface and share stories from all of you and I’d love to see your creations! Or hit reply and answer me:
Have you ever looked inside a computer?
What role does drawing play in your own practice?
Has a drawing ever changed your perspective on something?
Is it OK to take this idea but change it up a bit to use with my kiddos?