Squeaking in sixth grade

Cathleen Galas cgalas at ucla.edu
Mon May 7 10:15:42 PDT 2001

>Thank you John, Scott, Dave, Naala and Florin.  The messages this 
>last week have been stimulating, and great fodder for my own 
>thoughts on using Squeak.
>	From the few weeks I've been using Squeak in my sixth grade 
>classes, I have some informal observations.
>	This year is the first year I've had a one grade class. 
>During the last several years I had fourth and fifth grade together, 
>and before that fifth and sixth.  I find many advantages to having 
>two grades together.  Just having students for the two years versus 
>only one enables me as a teacher to know the student better and 
>therefore be a better teacher to that student.  It also offers an 
>opportunity to use a mentor system, which I've used in this setting 
>for over 10 years.  However, this year I have about one-third of my 
>students from my last years 4-5 class.  This means I have about 
>17/54 for a third year, and the rest are new to me this year.  This 
>third has allowed the apprenticeship model to function in the 
>classroom.  Pieces of the classroom culture that are important to 
>me, such as classroom discourse, and the use of technology tools 
>have been built into the classrooom structure this year  informally 
>and passed on successfully.
>	One observation I have about introducing Squeak to my classes 
>in the past two weeks is the comfort level with a new technology. 
>The students I've had for three years have used Logo in design 
>projects in science about three times a year, one of which usually 
>had a research base.  The students new to my class have not come 
>with as much technology expertise or comfort.  They all used Logo in 
>the fall, and have been introduced to several other technology 
>applications that were new to them.  The old-timers seem to have 
>more comfort in the new setting with Squeak.  They seem to have a 
>higher threshold for working through problems, intuiting the new 
>platform, and a higher frustration level.  They are more apt to be 
>able to "mess around" to which Dave also refers. The new timers seem 
>to want direction and input and are a bit less comfortable trying to 
>make something work, and are a bit less willing to play with the 
>numbers to see what happens, for example when they change the ratios 
>on the wheel heading.  They would prefer a clear direction to put in 
>a certain number, and then drive the car. The new-timers seem more 
>likely to want to get the car driving, and then sit with a working 
>"finished" product instead of experimenting with the possibilities. 
>The old-timers, on the other hand, have opened up all the menus, and 
>pulled several items out of the tool box to play with and see what 
>	Several of the old-timers moved quickly to successfully 
>controlling the car and having the car drive itself on the track. 
>Then, they've wanted new challenges, and are very willing to help 
>other students, and to begin real "messin' around" ( I like this 
>phrase from Mr. Toad), with Squeak. One of them quickly programmed a 
>superman game with a comet, where Superman intercepts the comet.
>	John related using demonstrations before beginning, and 
>having many tutors available.  I have found that having a very brief 
>demonstration that allows students to get working on a new task, 
>then adding pieces as students successfully find ways to continue 
>working, helps most to be successful quickly and minimize 
>frustration.  For example, the classroom culture allows for quick 
>bits of input.  A signal is given to which students are used to 
>responding, they stop and focus for a brief minute while new 
>information is shared, usually students who have mastered a new 
>task, and they are off to work again.  Since students know that the 
>interruption is very brief, and it is introduced quickly as 
>information they may need just about now, or in a very few minutes, 
>they do focus and then go back to work to try to apply the new 
>information.  I ask students who have worked through something to be 
>the ones giving the input, so again the focus is not the teacher 
>giving the direction for the "finished" product.  If they're given 
>too much at the beginning, and they are not yet using it, the 
>information is usually lost and they will again need that 
>information individually if they do not intuit it themselves.  This 
>seems to be especially true of the students who do not have as much 
>experience working with simulation tools.  Their more extensive 
>background in working with simulation tools seems to offer the 
>old-timers a stronger context for intuiting the new program nuts and 
>bolts, as well as
>	Although I paired the students, or had them in threes on 
>computers, old-timers saw the value in being the only one at the 
>computer, and always jumped at that opportunity when available. 
>When that opportunity was presented to new-timers, many of them 
>lamented, "I couldn't work alone, I don't know this yet".  The new 
>timers seem to be more hesitant to "mess around" especially on their 
>own.  The old timers seem willing to experiment in pairs or a group, 
>and relish on their own time too.
>	I think these observations, although informal, speak to the 
>benefits of a whole-school community becoming involved in using tool 
>technologies.  Some of the new-timers had experience with concept 
>mapping software, but the tasks in that project may have been more 
>linear.  It seems that experience in non-linear learning with tool 
>technology does transfer. But also setting a classroom culture, and 
>hopefully a school culture, may transfer It is important that 
>children have multiple opportunities through the grades to 
>experiment and problem solve.
	I also observed a slight difference in gender issues between 
old timers and new timers.  Since girls and boys are equally well 
enculcated into the classroom culture when there is an apprenticeship 
model in a two-grade classroom, I have not seen gender differences in 
the past several years in ability to learn new technology or 
willingness to do so.  However, this year, when introducing Squeak, 
the old timer girls have been absorbed by learning something new, and 
are not yet available as mentors and models of technological 
competence.  Since they are not competent yet in Squeak, they don't 
offer that model of "you can get there too" to the other girls.  The 
old timers do provide a model of  This just reminds me that often the 
models that are chosen in schools to first be introduced to new 
technologies, and to serve as mentors to others as they gain 
confidence, are often still the boys.  Just a reminder that we need 
to spend time assisting girls to the competent mentor level, not only 
for their own competence, but to be a powerful model to other girls 
as they learn.  The girls tend to prefer working through new problems 
in a social setting, whereas, the boys can work in pairs, but more 
often are comfortable on their own. Honoring this difference in the 
classroom helps all to be successful.

Cathleen Galas

>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 
>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 yahoo.com on 05/03/2001 02:28:40 PM
>Please respond to squeakland at squeakland.org
>To:   squeakland at squeakland.org
>cc:   John.Maloney at disney.com (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
>it...here '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 on...in 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 nation...it 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 morning...now, back to it!   Dave Master
>                           <dave_master_edu at yahoo.com>
>--- John.Maloney at disney.com 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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Cathleen Galas
University Elementary School
Graduate School of Education and Information Studies
University of California, Los Angeles
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