MIT's Mitch Resnick: Tools for Creative Thinking
I met Mitch Resnick at MIT's Media Lab last Tuesday where he illustrated the finer points of playing a banana skin with Scratch and a Scratchboard - you can see the video if you don't believe me. He's one of the nicest, most approachable experts, a real expert, that you could ever hope to meet. He is, therefore, the ideal candidate to talk about Creative Thinking and some of the tools that can help us nurture that.
The UK's creative sector, for one, is now earning as much for our economy as the financial sector, which in itself is about to bypass the New York financial centre. Creativity is big business, if you're one of those educators who really needs to link education to economic wellbeing. Richard Florida in The Rise of the Creative Class provides a more global as well as a US-centric perspective.
In Kindergarten we have a lovely spiral of imagine, create, play, share, reflect, imagine and so on so forth, yet something happens after that to destroy the imagine and play part. Emerging technology, used in the right way, can help us work on more advanced ideas than we have done before but in a kindergarten style. It's no mistake that Mitch's place of work is called the Lifelong Kindergarten. It's what every school and education policy should be entitled.
Technology needs to provide us with a low floor (an easy way to get started) and a high ceiling (lots of possibilities for taking things even further). There also needs to be wide walls, so that projects can be extended into other domains (from building robots in Lego to building Crickets).
The 'Cricket' is a programmable box that can be attached to inanimate objects to make it do things - a cat model that, when stroked, miaows (or when the light sensor is covered, make a noise). These are no pre-programmed toys from Toys R Us that the kid just has and 'interacts' with, but programmable toys that kids can design and develop and truly interact with. What about the characters that start to jump up and down quicker the more you blow into a sensor? All programmable by the kids.
And by taking the physical object we can start to make things happen virtually on a screen, with a free programme like Scratch.
Whole projects can then be designed around invention making, using tools with low floors and limitless ceilings.
The one thing Scratch and its website offer us is a way not only to share the products of our learning but also the way we did it, without any extra stages. It would be so good to have a way of doing this in education in general, a way for teachers and students to share the products of their learning and, without too much extra work, the steps they took to get there.
Going through how you did something, though, is a vital part of reflection and we can only see how we could do things better if we go through this reflective step. I wonder how much reflection is done by Scratchers, though, when it's so easy to upload and then forget about what you have produced. Others, of course, reflect on your work and alter it, but does the payoff not appear mostly for others, rather than the individual who is trying to learn?
Update: You can listen to the whole talk over at Bob Sprankle's Bit By Bit Podcast.