No.01 — Beginnings 💯 Hundred Languages❓Six Questions on Technology
“The computer is like a foreigner, and if you want to talk to it, you have to speak its language.”
My name is Linda. Once upon a time I introduced myself as a children’s book author and illustrator. Some of you have joined me during the Kickstarter campaign for Hello Ruby - some have seen my TED talk - some are more recent followers of the Love Letters for Computers series. If letters from me don’t sound like you’re thing anymore, you can unsubscribe any time from the bottom of this e-mail.
My work exists at the intersection of three things: early childhood education, technology and play. The first draws inspiration from Montessori, John Dewey and Reggio Emilia, the second from computing culture of the 1960s, the third is the small, ghibliesque, soft, communal, subjective side of learning that is often forgotten.
This newsletter is an experiment in finding a new voice to talk about what I do. During the Kickstarter campaign I wrote these monthly updates, that allowed me to flesh out ideas and process. When the book was finally out, I felt so relieved that I all but stopped writing.
Anyways, here I am again. I think this might be a fortnightly issue, always with a theme (The Drawing Issue; The Utopia Issue; The Play Issue; The Homeschool Issue; The Grown-up Book Issue; The Print-and-cut Issue..) and something practical to take away.
Next: a few thoughts on pedagogy, a sneak peek to a new project and a downloadable worksheet for brainstorming.
One of the loveliest webinars I did this spring was with Reggio Emilia teachers. It’s a child-centric, deeply humanistic, quirky, philosophical, messy and non-packaged educational philosophy in a way most of edtech isn’t. I love it for all those reasons.
Years ago I wrote this preface for the first edition of the Italian Hello Ruby - about the philosophy of the hundred languages of the child. The core idea of Reggio is that a child has hundreds of ways of expressing themselves: with clay and gestures, paint and rubber stamps. However in schools we often limit the children to only writing and reading. Reggio educators treat a computer as just one more material to learn alongside paper, ruler, pens and movement. One of the hundred.
“The computer is like a foreigner, and if you want to talk to it, you have to speak its language.” “Yes, but the computer has to understand how we talk, too, and it has to do what we want it to do.” — Children from Diana Preschool, Hundred Languages of the Child
One of the aspects I enjoyed in Reggio Emilia was the open-ended nature of projects that can take all sorts of twists and turns. Many of my own favourite exercise start with kids posing questions that interest them like “What kind of a computer would a dolphin doctor need?”, “What shape is the Internet?” or “ What if my paper computer could print candy?”.
Throughout the process of exploring and experimenting they learn about abstraction, collaboration, media literacy, and develop a plethora of powerful ideas I would never have anticipate. That’s why most of the exercises I make include discussion points and very few of them have right or wrong answers. I think it’s important to give children permission to trust themselves, allow for many right answers to a question and give them enough time, space, materials, and resources to grow into whatever they want to become.
I’ve been at the Loris Malaguzzi Center, the building that houses all of this knowledge once before, and wish to go back one day. Meanwhile, I’m really happy we all get to engage more with this tiny Italian city through these e-learning opportunities.
Reggio Emilia serves also as the philosophical corner stone for a new project I’ve been working on - 33 one minute long videos that make the abstract concepts of computer science tangible and approachable for children. More on this soon!
Meanwhile, I love the concept of hundred languages so much one of my favorite activities to do with primary school teachers is to brainstorm how puppets, masks, stickers and clay might help explore algorithms, hardware or DDoS attacks. If you try this, would love to see your ideas!
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.
I’m finally reading through Ivan Illich’ Deschooling Society (here’s the Arena channel that originally got me interested) as well as Metaphors We Live By by Lakoff & Johnson. Both make me think how learning originates in our hands first, then in our head.
I’m very much a beginner in Neil Postman’s work on technological criticism, but these six questions seem like perspectives we could include in any primary school (and beyond) curriculum (What is the problem that this new technology solves? / Whose problem is it? / What new problems do we create by solving this problem? / Which people and institutions will be most impacted by a technological solution? / What changes in language occur as the result of technological change? / Which shifts in economic and political power might result when this technology is adopted? / What alternative (and unintended) uses might be made of this technology? )