Last Friday afternoon I experienced one of the most joyous moments of my thirty years in education. I took three fifth grade girls (along with their classroom teacher chaperone) out to lunch. That’s right. We walked right out the front gate of the school, into the sunlight, crossed the street, walked down the block and had a leisurely 90-minute lunch at the restaurant of their choice – regrettably the crime against gastronomy (and pizza), California Pizza Kitchen.
A few weeks earlier, I had challenged the 5th graders to write a computer program in MicroWorlds EX that would draw fractional representations of a circle for any fraction a user requested. Feeling a bit cheeky, I said that I would buy lunch for the first kid or group of kids to write a successful program. After a few class sessions dedicated to the challenge, three fifth grade girls were the first to succeed.
I know. I’m a hypocrite.
I reject behaviorism and its evil friends; grades, punishment, bribes and rewards. However, this felt different. The kids were going to join me for lunch like colleagues celebrating an accomplishment. Best of all, their classmates continued working on the programming challenge, without hard feelings, even after “winners” had emerged. Perhaps they knew that their turn would come. I routinely bring treats from my travels into the classroom. If I worked in an office, I might stop occasionally and buy Dunkin Munchkins for my co-workers. I do the same with my students. Why not?
I loved telling the girls that they could order anything they wanted and learning about their dietary habits and favorites. Conversation covered sick babies, interior decorating, roller coasters, face blindness and Khan Academy. The last two topics were introduced by a girl who matter-of-factly stated, “I watch 60 Minutes.” I was jealous of their classroom teacher who knew more about their parents, siblings, friends and neighbors than I do, but a good time was had by all. The genuine gratitude expressed by the girls (including their teacher) made it all worthwhile.
Perhaps the highlight of our lunch was watching the girls color their kid’s menus at a lunch celebrating their computer science prowess. Once again, Seymour Papert is correct.
Below is the program the girls wrote. It required figuring out how to “teach the turtle” to draw a circle and utilized a bunch of mathematical concepts, including radius, fractions, variables and angle.
For those of you lacking the skills of a 5th grader and can’t read a Logo program, I’ve included a video demonstrating their program at work.
to Pie repeat 360 [fd 3 rt 1] end
to fraction :n :d cg setc "black pd Pie pu rt 90 fd 172 rt 90 pd repeat :d [fd 172 bk 172 rt 360 / :d] repeat :n [rt 360 / :d fillit ] end
to fillit setc color + 5 pu rt 5 fd 20 fill bk 20 lt 5 end
to mem repeat :n [fillit pu rt 1 fd :l / :d lt 1] rt 1 bk :n / :d * :l lt 1 end
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.