Papert & Vygotsky – Colin

Papert and Harel’s piece on constructionism reminded me of how students approach hobbies outside of the classroom. For example, I knew a few people in high school who shared an interest in website design. My school did not offer any classes on that subject at the time, so my friends found resources on their own time and taught themselves the basics. This is also similar to the various hobbies that students (and adults) may pick up and drop at any given time eg: teaching themselves how to play guitar, writing creatively on their own time, building models, etc.

Constructionism at its most basic level allows students to play with a medium, learning to use it (or not use it) at their own pace. This in turn reminded me of Anna Anthropy’s book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, which focused on hobbyist culture within gaming and the moderate (but decreasing) barriers to entry for anyone to create an interactive experience. Thinking outside of just ‘students,’ a hobbyist/engaged/playful practice of working with a medium can also serve as a means of expression for marginalized individuals and groups.

To take this into the realm of educational reform, constructionism suggests that we bring the best parts of hobbyist culture into everyday classroom experience. This also means rethinking the ideas of testing, universal standards of education, and opening the classroom to the community-at large (as discussed briefly in the 10 Ideas for 21st Century Education reading.)

Vygotsky on the other hand, provides us with very useful descriptions of the way in which play provides a framework of affective experience that shapes (and is shaped by) rules. However, I think his description of play needs to take into account more variables and consider the external circumstances of play.

What allows play to occur? Safety, for one.

If there is real fear, intimidation, or risk of injury or death, children are less likely to engage in play. This can also be a fear of reprisal from authority, or in the case of an experimenting maker, fear of failure or ruining their material. I believe the environment plays an important role in allowing play to occur, and to bring it into the classroom means creating a space where mistakes are allowed and the metrics of success are reevaluated. One such example is  Vygotsky’s ‘zone of proximal development,’ but I would like to see further (more recent) readings about these studies and issues.

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