Simply Seeking Syllabus for 5th-8th Grade Squeaking

Florin X Mateoc mateoc_florin at
Thu May 3 17:16:08 PDT 2001

I know from personal experience in general problem-solving that trying first to
come up with my own solution while intentionally avoiding any "contamination"
with other (potentially much more advanced) pre-existing solutions, is the best
way for me to learn something new, come up with something original, have a
critical view (and appreciation) for other people's work. I am sure this should
work very well with college students, perhaps even with some of the high-school
An essential pre-condition for this approach to work is for the subjects to have
their motivational engines started. This is why I don't know if this could work
with small children. Although it is true that peer appreciation is a strong
motivational factor very early on. But for children it is also essential to
perceive it as a (competitive) game (this is from my other personal experience -
as a father)
Another difficulty with children is that they don't have other competing
(balancing) interests. How do you keep them interested but not addicted, so that
they don't over-specialize too early ?

Thank you all for the opportunity to learn and exchange ideas on so many
fascinating subjects,


dave_master_edu at on 05/03/2001 02:28:40 PM

Please respond to squeakland at

To:   squeakland at
cc:   John.Maloney at (bcc: Florin X Mateoc)
Subject:  Re: Simply Seeking Syllabus for 5th-8th Grade Squeaking

This issue you've uncovered and focused on, I think,
is one of the most central issues in education,
curriculum design and teaching. I've struggled, and
continue to struggle, with this delicate balance and
"dance" of exploration and instruction every day. I
don't have any pat answers, nor do I think there are
any;but I'll share my experience struggling with 'goes...
I have scaffolded this issue from a number of
directions over the years...I personally don't feel it
is an "either/or" proposition; at least from my
experience. I agree that if students whom are
introduced to a demo may "get farther", if "farther"
is defined in a certain manner and, if "farther" is
our goal. But, first we should determine what
"farther" is and if it is always desirable.
      I've found that a steady diet of direction at
the outset of activities cripples students in other
ways later ways that  traditional schools fail
to measure, or seem to care about. Having the students
try to apprehend something initially, and trying to
comprehend it for themselves, constructing their own
initial conceptualization to test in demonstration
first to their friends and trusted peers...being
allowed to look  over one another's shoulder and
"cheat" in this second stage of development is some of
the best scaffolded learning I've ever seen in my
classes.And all of it happened with little or no
direction on my part.
   I found that after a period of individual, "joyous
exploration" and apprehension (in every sense of that
word!); and a period of peripheral and peer-scaffolded
"testing"; my students felt that their personal "take"
on the challenge was honored (as divergent as it may
have been) and, that they then had more confidence in
their ability to  explicitly exhibit that
understanding with a "public" performance of
their"take"  to the class.In fact, many of my students
would crack into the operating systems of the
computers  when they needed to; and I'm at a loss to
even begin to explain to them how to accomplish THAT
feat.(Alan usually came in and hired THOSE kids from
my class! ha ha)
     Over the last two decades, hundreds of my
students have gone on into professions in the arts,
animation, media and software and hardware design.
And, the ones that moved into the creative aspects of
these fields all have credited this initial period of
"messin' about" with a concept or a "tool", with their
professional confidence in muddling thru frustrating
challenges. (Martha Stone Wiske and David Perkins
write about this process in their book, TEACHING FOR
UNDERSTANDING; as does Alfred North Whitehead in his
book THE AIMS OF EDUCATION, he calls this "the stage
of romance").
  I am not so "Pollyanna"  as to think that every
child must muddle thru every process from the
get-go...but, I think we should be careful not to
excise some healthy anxiety from the learning equation
too quickly and too often. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi
writes quite convincingly and eloquently about the
delicate balance between anxiety and the growth of
ability and self-efficacy (his books FLOW; CREATIVITY;
and TALENTED TEENAGERS are quite provocative on this
     The teacher's timely interventions and
scaffolding of each students journey into
understanding of more complex challenges is the
musicianship and artistry of teaching; when to "teach"
and when to question, challenge and support. I've
tried for my entire career to design ME (the teacher)
out of as much of this  process as is possible. To
design experiences that engage students at an access
point they feel comfortable with almost
immediately...but, not a dumbed down curricular
task...but, a challenge that quickly leads them into
self-empowerment and complexity appropriate to their
interest and ability level at any given point. This is
the never-ending challenge that drives me every day.
    I presently co-direct a Virtual Distance Animation
program  called ACME that utilizes this approach with
H.S. and University students across the is
a derlicate balance every telecast...AND, we've added
to the mix bi-weekly interventions and critique and
challenges from professionals in the field...when a
student, a teacher and a class think that they've "got
it" they can "up the ante" and show it to a
professional in the field. We call this "who
sez?".This "social validation process" exists in the
real world; and I believe it is crucial for the
development of not only the students, but quite
possibly more enlightenening for we teachers, to
engage in this "dance" of reconciliation and
critque.(Again, Csikszentmihalyi's book CREATIVITY
really gets into this delicate, but real, social
     If I hadn't opened my classroom doors and my
curriculum to field professional critque my strategies
and personal understanding would have grown at a
snails pace. Frank Thomas, Chuck Jones and Bill Scott
helped me become a bridge to the future for my
students. But, professional intervention can become
mere training in technique if we don't watch out for
balance between personal expression and principled
instruction...a question of insightful design,timely
intervention and teacher "musicianship" and ongoing
reflection about our own practice, focused on student
evidence and performance...and, finally a dash, or
whatever you can get, of "who sez?"
    I think one of the many great experiments that
"Squeak" may launch many of us into is just such
reflections, observations, dialogue and collections of
anecdotal evidence...hopefully some patterns may
emerge...what a great journey it will be!
             Thanks Jim and John for stimulating me so
much this, back to it!   Dave Master
                           <dave_master_edu at>

--- John.Maloney at wrote:
> Mark,
> Scott Wallace and I recently taught 3 classes of 33
> kids at a local elemantary
> school's "Discovery Day". The first two classes were
> fifth graders, the last
> class was sixth graders. We worked throught the
> "Drive-a-car" example.
> Our experiences strongly supports John Steinmetz's
> observations of the
> Open School classes. In particular:
> Re:
> >One way of teaching that has worked well: at the
> beginning of a session do
> >a short demonstration for all the kids, showing
> them the activity before
> >you turn them loose to do it. That way if there are
> any unfamiliar skills
> >or concepts needed for success, you can introduce
> them while giving
> >everybody a feel for the activity.
> We actually taught one of the first two classes with
> an up-front demonstration
> and one without it. Even though the up-front demo
> takes an extra five minutes
> (out of 40 minutes), the class with the demo got
> further. We decided to
> teach the final group with the demo and that class
> also got further. One
> practical thing about an up-front lecture/demo:
> that's the only time you really
> have the full attention of everyone in the class.
> After they start their projects,
> some of them will always be distracted when you ask
> for their attention.
> In fact, we asked them to not even start up Squeak
> until we'd finished the
> initial demo and introduction, and that was a good
> idea.
> Re:
> >Iit's good to have plenty of help available for the
> kids--especially at the
> >beginning. So that means you should have a small
> group or some assistants.
> >Any computer activity involves confusions and
> missteps, and Squeak is a
> >research system so there are even more possible
> confusions and blind alleys.
> Scott and I were only two "teachers" for 33 kids who
> had never seen Squeak.
> I thought it would be a chaos. Actually, it worked
> better than I expected, in
> part because we only had 18 computers, so kids
> worked in pairs. That
> meant you could help two kids at once, and often one
> of the two would
> understand your suggestions quickly. In contrast, we
> recently taught 14
> kids who had never seen Squeak at Disney's "Bring
> your child to work day"
> and we had about seven teachers. In that situation
> progress was very fast,
> because kids who were stuck got immediate attention.
> However, I don't
> believe that many teachers is necessary. I thank
> that if Scott and I had just
> one more assistant, it would have been optimal: one
> teacher for every six pairs.
> (Actually, one might say it is the computer/teacher
> ratio that matters! You
> want that ratio to be under six for maximum
> progress.)
> Your original posting said there were six PC's in
> the lab. I think that's
> about the max for a single teacher, but there should
> be no problem
> with pairing up two kids per computer. If you do
> this, I'd limit it
> to 10 kids on 5 computers, at least for your first
> time. That would
> also leave one machine available as your "demo"
> machine. You also
> said it would be open to kids from 5th-8th grade. We
> had
> that same span for the "Bring your child to work
> day". In that case,
> the eighth grader was noticably faster and more
> self-sufficient than
> the youngest kid. If that happens in your class, you
> could recruit the
> fastest kids as teachers.
> Good luck!
>    -- John

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