(written with Susan Jordan, from newsletter)

The purpose of education is to teach kids how to become critical and creative thinkers. It’s about the process, not the end product. When children are learning, you can get inside their mind and break apart what they are doing to find out what they know and where they need to grow.

The brain thinks visually. Squeak Etoys takes full advantage of this by being a cognitive bridge that takes traditional concepts and connects them to 21st century thinking skills and computer programming content. Etoys appeals to students emotionally as something fun and exciting. When you link a child’s emotions to something full of rigor and relevance, you create a permanent connection in a child’s brain between fun and problem solving.

Etoys helps kids conquer their fear of being wrong! Just like any inventor, they must troubleshoot to make their storybook characters come to life. The level of critical and creative thinking it takes to integrate computer programming skills into the creation of a story is exponential compared to writing a story with a pencil and paper. It is impossible to achieve this level of learning the old fashioned way. There is no comparison. Etoys has the rigor and relevance that teachers seek for their students with the added benefit of fun!

As Seymour Papert said and the children in our Immokalee pilot echo, “This is the hardest fun they’ve ever had!”

(by Dr. Alan Kay of Viewpoints Research Institute, from newsletter)

Children are set up by nature to learn the world around them by watching adult activity and playing imitation games. Dewey pointed out that this is difficult in today’s developed cultures because many important adult activities are opaque or not found in every home.

Montessori thought that children’s urge to learn the world by immersion and play could be powerfully used for twentieth-century learning if the children were placed into twentieth-century environments and given toys that embodied twentieth-century ideas. One of her special insights was that a main task of early education was to reshape the ordinary common sense that every child picks up into the “uncommon sense” that is needed as the foundation for many modern ideas, especially those in science.

There are books about how to learn these ideas in the thousands of free libraries in the United States. But if you haven’t learned the discernment to use libraries and don’t have a hint of what you are missing, you have to be a pretty special type to find a way into these ideas by yourself. The Internet is now starting to bring the libraries of powerful ideas into the home, but most people will still need the discernment and the hints to provide the motivation for exploring ideas that require some effort to learn.

The most important thing about powerful inexpensive personal computers is that they form a new kind of reading and writing medium that allows some of the most important powerful ideas to be discussed and played with and learned than any book. This is what our work and Squeak is all about. We are interested in helping children learn to think better and deeper than most adults can.

We have made the Squeak medium to serve as a new kind of electronic paper that can hold new ways to represent powerful ideas. We have written examples of this new literature which are published on the Internet for children and adults to “read” and play with. Readers can also become writers, because “authoring is always on”.

(from newsletter)

Very likely if you’re reading this, you love shiny new toys. Especially intriguing are the clever ones: the iPhone’s, Wii’s, and XO laptops. Handling a new inspired design is a little slice of Christmas morning, a reminder of a time when gadget play was all that mattered.

The XO is quite an eye-catcher. One look and you know it’s something to pick up and explore. Like so many toys that make our daily grind a bit better … Bluetooth headsets, touchscreen remotes, talking GPS nav … the XO excites our imagination with its swivel screen, mesh networking, and low low cost.

But here’s the thing: it’s just a box. Through all the press and praise and endless talk, the XO is merely a wrapper around the real Christmas present. Contained within its rugged plastic case, you’ll find the means to make your own toys. Forget the distractions we’ve come to crave, this little machine holds the power to fundamentally change how we think and learn.

But only if we unwrap the surprise inside, the crown jewel of the XO laptop: Squeak Etoys. As software pioneer Alan Kay has said, “The computer is simply an instrument whose music is ideas.” Etoys lets you play “idea music” with an unexpected grace. It helps you visualize and explore abstract ideas, which makes the lesson learnable. With Etoys, you make models as real as Rubik’s cubes, then tinker with them till new truths are found.

Waveplace teaches how to teach this. Just as music is best learned while working closely with a music teacher, the magic of Etoys comes across best while working with an enthusiastic mentor. Waveplace trains mentors to encourage purposeful play, to engage children in their own learning, to guide their discoveries. This transforming magic, what we call “spark”, is the shiniest toy of all.

Been a pretty cool week so far.

On Monday, Viewpoints Research contracted Immuexa to redesign their Squeakland website. Given that Etoys is the crown jewel in the OLPC lineup, we’re pretty excited. We’re hoping to launch this winter.

On Tuesday, OLPC started mass production of the XO laptops. I’ve been a fly on the wall listening to their team talk for months. Having been entrenched in development mayhem much of my life, let me simply say it’s a big accomplishment. Congrats to all.

On Wednesday, we launched the beta of Blazemark 2.0, which is being shown at a fire-fighting convention in Las Vegas. This most recent fruit of our labors may actually save lives, which is humbling and gratifying.

Today, I’m loading my XO with the newest build and shipping it to Saint John for our pre-pilot, where our team will teach one student in preparation for our full pilot in December. It’ll be sad to see the little tyke go. My two-year old is particularly fond of TamTam.

Tomorrow, I’ll be signing the final papers for the creation of Waveplace Foundation Inc, a new 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to bringing digital media skills to West Indian children. We’ve got nine board members steering the ship, all of whom are true believers in all things OLPC.

Next week should be even cooler. I’m traveling to Boston to meet with Walter Bender, Jim Gettys, and SJ Klein at OLPC headquarters.

Stay tuned.

I’ve just posted the first two screencast tutorials on Squeak Etoys. Originally, the plan was for us to be in St John right now, prepping for our three-day Etoys workshop at Caneel Bay. Since the funding didn’t materialize, I’m making these short movies instead, hoping they’re enough for Bill & Mary to struggle through on their own.

The first movie discusses how to install Squeak Etoys and the latest OLPC Etoys image on your computer (particularly if you own a Mac). The next shows Etoys in action for about fifteen minutes.

My next screencast will be on Tuesday. Let me know if you were able to view these movies. I used two different approaches to encoding the video, so I’m interested to see how others fare on different systems.