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Topic: More from my think thank
Replies: 7   Last Post: Jul 14, 2006 3:30 AM

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Kirby Urner

Posts: 4,713
Registered: 12/6/04
More from my think thank
Posted: Jul 12, 2006 3:51 PM
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Continuing some threads below, e.g. Alternative View (math-teach), our sequence for 8-18 year olds goes roughly as follows:

(a) piloting and motor skills: this recapitulates early childhood experiences of developing gross and fine motor skills, except now we're projecting onto a simulated body, such as a turtle, animated character, or robot.

(b) immersive fantasy worlds: corresponds to childhood immersion in fairy tales, fiction (including science fiction) other fantasy genres, which are free to explore psychological topics without the added overhead of being "real".

(c) reality-based programming: young adulthood marks a time of transition, to where future careers may be realistically contemplated, and stepping stone pathways through institutions of higher learning must be contemplated. So lets get a feel for mathematics applied to various real world knowledge domains.

Important: although the curriculum transitions from (a) to (b), (b) to (c), in the student's experience, the growth is cumulative, i.e. you don't lose your motor skills when entering fantasy worlds (on the contrary, we're going to depend on them), and you don't lose your capacity to fantasize and engage in free play, even while buckling down to study basic genetics, thermodynamics, or business management.

In terms of freely available computer resources, (a)(b) and (c) may be cast any number of ways.

A way we're exploring right now in earnest (cite Project Kusasa) is Logo or Logo-like languages for (a), Squeak or Squeakish worlds for (b), and Python for (c). All of these run on Edubuntu and may be downloaded and upgraded using apt-get as better versions become available.

Also important: although I speak of "fantasy worlds" in connection with Squeak, this doesn't mean our simulations don't have real world content. Kids this age will typically enjoy games such as Sims 2, Civilization IV and SimCity (and so on -- these are some of the classics aimed at being this-worldy to a degree), not just Uru and Myst (decidedly other-worldly).

The mathematics we'll need to move through this sequence is rather diverse, and of course involves algorithmics (including flow of control), trigonometry with vectors (essential to building computer graphical content), and some calculus, to explain closed form representations of various change rules (necessary for a realistic physics in the various game engines).

Obviously there needs to be a large team of experts behind this integrative approach, as many diverse knowledge domains will be implicitly represented. I'm actively soliciting input from the military in particular, as this subculture concentrates a lot of necessary-to-survival logistical and management skills. Python, you may recall, is already a DARPA beneficiary.

My connections in the physics community (e.g. University of Nebraska), and to Silicon Forest executives (taking seriously Haim's suggestion to include the Seattle area) are proving relevant. I'm already on the web advertising my availability as an invited speaker to discuss our work in the Fuller School (BFI being a flagship).

Of course I do get some help from university-based math faculties, but not a whole lot so far, as the knee-jerk response of most professors is cynical skepticism and a desire to play devil's advocate. For example, I'm fencing with community college teachers over this idea of "Mathematics for Liberal Artists" over on mathedcc.

I'm OK with all this adversarial relationship and expect it will continue. Sparring helps me improve my skills as a recruiter. Still, I find it more relaxing to preach to the choir some of the time, I hope that's OK with people (it's not wasted effort, because good choirs are always hungry for new material).

Most of my math-savvy advisors work in private industry. Our local Wanderers (Linus Pauling House, Portland) has proved invaluable in linking me up with such high caliber talent (I've written about this before, in connection with Cal Tech especially, though the Fuller Archive is actually housed @ Stanford).

Mostly I get help from the open source community. As erstwhile "minister of education" for the Python Nation (which neighbors the Republic of Perl), I've been a privileged guest of the Shuttleworth Foundation's in London, UK. TSF is behind the high visibility Ubuntu distro, which some in the USA regard as "the one to beat" (with a free version of Linspire? Some think so). A lot of our very best thinking is coming from South Africa these days.

Last year I used OSCON as an opportunity to publicly thank this community for keeping the Fuller School in the black. I reiterated elements of this message in my presentation to the London Knowledge Lab (a sister think tank to our's in Portland), available as a low-bandwidth Quicktime screening through the BFI, or through LKL directly.

How BFI connects to other think tanks in our network is too difficult to diagram here (in ASCII text), but Google will help you discover the links, starting with (a domain name we snagged long ago, Kiyoshi and I did (was was BFI's first webmaster per -- we've come a long way since then (for which fact I'm grateful)).

If you discover a local chapter of something related, feel free to join in and get to work in your local school system. If your local school has a compsci faculty, that's a logical place to begin. My Oregon Curriculum Network web site should give you some ideas (

We're harvesting open source lesson plans at the moment (through Moodle and related technologies), plus use You Tube and Google Videos.

Here's one I like to show in my seminars for example:

And of course there's lots of Fuller himself, feel free to check it out on your own dime (e.g.: )


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