Thursday, February 22, 2007

Higher order thinking - a thought experiment

I was challenged by the Connectivism conference to clarify what HOT (Higher Order Thinking) is. I was challenged by the perspective that Higher Order Thinking is not really distinct from other forms of thinking, it just consists of deeper levels of understanding, making more and better connections.

Bloom's Taxonomy helps a little but I suspect Bloom was a writer, a verbal reasoner, not an engineer. His highest level, Evaluate (assess, judge in relational terms), sounds a bit like making connections, it doesn't really ring true for the hard sweat of deep thinking for me.

So I decided to observe deep thinking in the only laboratory I have, inside my own head. To conduct a thought experiment. The big risk here is that we all think differently, we already know that there are verbal and visual thinkers, I'm definitely visual. Does my mental model building hold true for other visual thinkers?

So I decided to observe my thinking and document it. I wanted to analyse deeper thinking, problem solving, the example that came to mind was the truss, I don't know why, nor do I know why it came to me while riding my bicycle.

The word "truss" is stored along with a visual image of a truss, it looks something like this,

except that I can't visualise all the bars at once any more than I can concentrate on them when looking at them now.

I searched my memory for all connections and came up with the words "statically determinate", from that I was able to to retrieve a kind of visual image of a structure where, if you took out one member it would fall apart but if you added another, the braces would fight each other and you wouldn't be able to calculate the forces in the structure. Also the image of the triangle came up as the building block of statically determinate structures.

A visual image of the members being hinged or pinned at the joints came up like this.

Ok it's looking good, there's quite a bit of retrieved data and the problem is, in theory, solvable. But so far there's no higher order thinking, I have been bouncing round Bloom's lower order: 1. Recall data 2. Understand 3. Apply (use). Its all retrieval, making connections, so far.

Now time for the deep thinking, I build an animated visual image of the truss under gravity in my mind. I know it will sag, everything does, this is another connection, data by association. I allow the visual image to sag and observe it, a bit like this:

I observe that the top bars must shorten and the bottom bars lengthen, those visual images trigger the words "compression" and "tension". Yes I think the top bars are compressed and the bottom compressed.

Let's check that, let's run the mental simulation with a top bar removed, it plays in my mind like this.

Yes the top was definitely being compressed.

Now run the mental simulation with the bottom bar removed, it runs like this.

What about the diagonal braces, take one from the middle like this. I imagine it like this.

The structure doesn't know which way to fail, it could twist just as easily either way. I'm thinking that the force in the brace is near zero.

Does this hold for all braces? Try for an end brace like this.

No. So I'm thinking that the forces in the braces are zero in the middle and increase towards the sides. I've got a feeling that they will alternate between tension and compression but this mental simulation is getting taxing and I am at risk of falling off my bicycle.

What have I achieved here? I am satisfied that lower order thinking can be thought of as making connections, as information is recalled and cross checked against other data, checked for consistency, understood.

When the higher order thinking takes place, problem solving, the thinking is qualitatively different. It uses the "virtual serial machine built on top of the hard wired evolved natural predominant parallel processing" of our brain.

Mental models are built, understandings are constructed. The language of constructivism better describes the thinking process. HOT is different.

The simulations were run with sodaconstructor and captured with Cam Studio, then uploaded to Google Video.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Thinking about thinking

"Consciousness - our brain contains a virtual serial machine built on top of the hard wired evolved natural predominant parallel processing."

I like this quote from learningevolves, it encapsulates the higher order thinking that is missing from Connectivism. The virtual machine uses symbol systems, often but not always language. The symbols can be visual images too but they do run serially.

Visual thinking can consist of constructing a mental model or simulation and running that simulation in our head. The simulation runs serial mode. We observe this thought experiment and then use language to extract conclusions.

By comparison, making connections and data retrieval run parallel.

External storage, be it pencil and paper or delicious bookmarks or the scrabble letter rack expand our limited working memory and assist both our parallel and serial processing.

I once had a dumb cow and a smart cow. If I stood on the other side of the fence with a bale of hay, the dumb (Hereford) one would move as close as possible and then stand and bellow.

The smart one (Jersey) would process for a few seconds then run away from the hay, out through the gate and back. Was it making connections, running back through all the stored chess moves triggered by fence and hay till it retrieved a success scenario? Was it running an A* path finder algorithm on a visual map model in its brain?

Bad navigators use a 1D map representation in their head, probably stored as linguistic symbols "first right then turn left at the shops, first right at the railway line" Good navigators store a visual representation of a 2D map. Probably both run in the virtual serial machine.

Then there's autopilot mode. Ever ended at home when you intended to go somewhere else? The good old Connectivist parallel processor recognised landmarks along the way and fired up the drive home connections.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

OCC2007 Constructivism, Constructionism and Connectivism

Vicki : Perhaps the reason connectivism is gaining such steam is that educators feel the current (learning theories) as presented are missing out on some vital aspects of effective, engaging teaching. Are you saying that connectivism is in other theories and so then would you say that perhaps those theories are not being taught correctly to educators?

This question was asked during the Kerr session of OCC2007. Bill Kerr writes that "a political movement is needed" that Constructionism battled with schools in the 80's and that school won. Schools are power structures and empowering students threatens schools' entrenched values. The battle is being fought again, this time its about games and blogs and flickr and myspace.

The intellectual property proponents and the "old school" schools are both working to limit children's access to the creative opportunities of the web.

“The computer is a medium of human expression and if it has not yet had its Shakespeares, its Michelangelos or its Einsteins, it will. …. We have scarcely begun to grasp its human and social implications.”
Computer Criticism vs. Technocentric Thinking By Seymour Papert

Bill writes of Article 13, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice.

The "rights" of children were infringed when schools denied children the creative opportunities of the computer in the 80's, now their rights are again being infringed as they are denied the creative opportunities of Web2.

Constructionism , the N word is similar to Constructivism the V word. "It then adds the idea that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it's a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe." The bold emphasis is mine. Constructionism anticipated the creative opportunities ofWeb2 self-publishing.

Constructivism, like Connectivism offers a strategy for education when there is education abundance, teaching students to be life long learners.

So to return to Vicki's question, current learning theories have not been widely implemented in schools. Where they are implemented they definitely result in engaging teaching. Are they effective teaching? That's harder to judge, standardised testing is good for fact recall but does not indicate whether students are equipped to be lifelong learners.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

OLCC2007 How the Read/Write Web Challenges Traditional Practice

Todays session of OLCC2007 was not about the learning theory as such but more about the oportunities for connected learning or as one chat comment said: I don't think there is a completely distinct line between this theory and others--for myself, I see this as one more set of tools to use

We see the undeniable effect of Web2 or public authorship tools creating an engaging and relevant context for learning. Students who would never write an essay contribute to Wikipedia, Youtube, Myspace etc. Players of World of Warcraft are heavily dependant on text communication. The old school will criticise it for bad spelling and grammar but it is effective communication, suited to modern times.

I have written previously on this blog on the value of WoW, as a programming environment, an example of economics but mostly as a supportive global village where children learn management skills from a community.

Second Life was mentioned in chat. I think that the attempt to re-create traditional learning spaces in SL is misguided, it remains a creative space with much potential.

The internet has given access to a wide range of educational material, Maths Demo's, Applets and Virtual Manipulative this is really fun stuff,

Networking creates the opportunity to meet people of common interests. The edublogging community is great for teachers, but have students benefited? We need to teach students to be lifelong learners, teachers need to model this, teachers need to be transparent learners. For example, kids need to be shown how they can set up RSS feeds.

The opportunities for collaboration have increased. My experience with kids learning mathematics and programming through making computer games is that you create an environment where peer tutoring arises naturally but that experience is not universal .

The concept of “trusted sources” worries me. The advice was to assemble a network who think like us. That could lead to isolated extremist thinking.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

OLCC2007 - Knowledge and Learning

knowledge is justified true belief Plato

"And in knowing that you know nothing, that makes you the smartest of all". Socrates.

Thanks George for the opportunity to contribute from the floor, to “move the conference from the podium to the audience”. My chosen context is “engagement in relevant and authentic tasks” but for the moment I want to discuss how the audience grappled with two questions about Connectivism:

  • Is Connectivism really new or part of continuum of change?
  • Does Connectivism confuse Knowledge, Learning and Education ?

I have edited from the chat discussion the following.

Is Connectivism really new or part of continuum of change?

Are the changes caused by the internet that new that we need a new learning theory? If the changes differ only in degree but not their fundamental nature, do we need a new theory?

“Surely the key step change in the rate of speed of transfer of information came with the invention of the telegraph, not the internet?

Sure, but the data able to be transferred is different with internet, telegraph relied on an operator and radio does too. But the internet gives the power to the masses. That was when the step change happened.

Step changes have been occurring always, it is a chain of step changes, not just one Telegraph was beginning, but the access was limited and net has wider adoption at the individual level. Telegraph to the internet is like fixed print to Gutenberg’s movable type, internet is the "killer app".”

Does Connectivism confuse Knowledge, Learning and Education ?

Is Connectivism a theory of knowledge rather than a theory of learning, does it fail to address the full range of education, does it apply equally to problem solving? Difficult questions when we don’t know what information, knowledge or education are.

Knowledge is not the same as education, not without the ability to apply that knowledge. It's the idea of "actionable knowledge" perhaps--different to just knowledge. Knowledge is not education, education is the ability to handle information. Information to solve new problems.

Knowledge is justified true belief (see Plato). Education is a path to knowledge.

There is a difference is between information and knowledge, information in a database is not knowledge. Knowledge is information with meaning. I don't think it's just information. It is information linked to meaning, it is purposeful meaning and the ability to generalize to similar situations. Learning is the path to knowledge. Education is a structure applied to (hopefully) support learning

If I am a good problem solver is that knowledge? Education might be knowing how to use the information in a knowing manner. If you know techniques to solve problems, that is knowledge. A good problem solver is one that knows how to know knowledge.

Think information literacy: able to recognize you have a problem to solve, know where to find resources, can evaluate the resources & apply what you've learned.

Education: from the latin educere means to lead forth.. That suggests that there is someone with the knowledge leading the cattle. But this is changing, we can skip the intermediaries.

But what of engagement?

Games, Myspace, Flickr, Blogs provide great opportunities for engagement.

The connection is a great motivator! We grew up reading manuals to learn to do something. Today students find "mentors" for becoming quickly knowledgeable about say ... computer games and internet gaming.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Online Connectivism Conference OCC2007

The Online Connectivism Conference - OCC2007 will be held online 2-9 Feb or (3-10 Feb if you are in Melbourne), generally at 17:00 GMT, which is 4am Melbourne time or whatever day and time it is in your time zone.

I have agreed at Bill Kerr's request to be a Context Filter.

My chosen context is engagement in relevant and authentic tasks. I came to this conference through my involvement in students creating their own computer games, a highly engaging, relevant and authentic task.

What do computer games and Connectivism have in common? Quite a lot.
  • I would never have found Game Maker without the internet
  • I would never have met teachers equally enthused as I without the internet
  • I web published our students games on the internet
  • I am self-taught about game pedagogy through the internet
  • I am self-published on the internet
  • Through the internet I am in real-time dialogue with the worlds experts on games and learning
A Constructivist (my) perspective and a Connectivist perspective both try to come to terms with an increasing body of knowledge, sitting at our fingertips, Google now indexing 10 zillion pages. Both perspectives agree that the rote learning of facts is becoming less important in school. Constructivists believe that students will need the skills to construct understandings of new knowledge, Connectivists believe that they will need the skills to connect with new knowledge.

For me the debate is not whether Connectivism has the necessary depth to be called a learning theory, whether it deserves to be an -ism. For me the important issue is what can be learnt about living and learning in a connected world when 1000 people from round the world connect in a way which was previously impossible.

If I can master the technology and sleep deprivation I'll filter.

The Filters

Tony Forster
engagement in relevant and authentic tasks

Graham Wegner
Student initiated curriculum

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach
Voice for the Voiceless

Mel Chua
Student/younger generation

Vicki Davis

Virginia Yonkers
Business and workplace education/training

Chris Sessums
Issues of Poverty

Clarence Fisher
Rural K-12

Jo McLeay?
Personal teaching experiences

Darren Kuropatwa
K-12 – Senior High School

Michael Hotrum
Higher Education

Marilyn Martin
Consultants view

Sharon Peters
Women of Web 2.0

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Game programming tools

I think the essential features for game programming languages for school use are:

  • easy entry level programming with drag and drop programming
  • a true versatile programming environment, not just selecting from limited scenarios
  • top end extensibility through fully featured text based programming
  • licencing which allows kids to continue to work at home for free

Running through the products with an apology for any errors and omissions, sorry limited time may mean errors:

Game Maker - meets all criteria, unregistered version is free
Click&Play - "free for schools" puts home use in doubt, one of Clickteams old products
Multimedia Fusion 2 by Clickteam, built on Click&Play?
Stagecast - US$49.95
Games Factory - price $? by Clickteam
Alice - free, 3D but limited scenarios?
Python - free, opensource, text based
Blender - free, opensource, complicated
Dark Basic - text based
Bliz Basic - text based £30 - £50 per copy
KPL - free, text based
Logo - text based
Flash - text based, cost
Toontalk - US$25
Squeak - free, opensource, not that easy bottom end?
Etoys - written in Squeak
Scratch - Scratch is written in Squeak, Scratch uses graphical programming, open source but not open development, recommended yr1 to 6
Adventure Author - not yet available?
Runtime Revolution - £33
Mission Maker - £79
Baltie - US$18, can you make games? need to look into it further
Runbasic - text based? cost?
3D Gamemaker - limited scenarios? £10 - £25
Thinkingworlds - not easy entry?
Kahootz - not a programming tool, cost
Beyond Virtual - 3D, Starter free, Silver $150
RPG Maker - 30 day free trial, US$60
ADRIFT - Text Adventure creation program, registered version $18.95
Fablusi - online role play simulation platform
Quest -
Make text adventures, role-playing games, training materials, simulations, interactive fiction, Trial version or $39.95,
Inform is a design system for interactive fiction, it is free and runs on Mac OS X and Windows
Realm Crafter - Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Game Creation engine allows you to design, create and publish your very own MMORPG game
StarLogo TNG graphical programming, 3D, Win & Mac, free to schools
Sploder create fun flash games, Try the Game Creator Demo
Sludge make RPG's
Visionaire create your own adventure game, free version cannot compile standalone, registered version 20Euro
VastPark, free, a virtual worlds platform that lets anyone create their own virtual world
eMERGENCE, Flemish Ministery of Education, available soon?
DreamSpark, Microsoft Visual Studio 2005, and XNA GameStudio 2.0, available soon?
Neverwinter Nights Aurora Toolset, $20 3D quest game level editor
Phrogram trial version free, otherwise express $30, standard $50
SwinGame SDK Supports Pascal, including FreePascal and Turbo Delphi, VB6, Visual C#, and Visual Basic .NET
Ren'Py visual novels dating sims and simple games Atmosphir free tool for platform games
Agent Sheets, free 10 day trial, AU$160, education edition AU$130, can save as Java applet and can export simulation statistics to spreadsheet. More on educational aspects at Scalable Game Design including lesson plans
TurtleArt, free, runs on the Sugar operating system or Gnome (Linux)
Game Editor, free and open source if your game is similarly licenced otherwise US$94.95
Kodu (originally named Boku) runs on Microsoft Windows and the Xbox 360
Unity inc. Wii and iphone, free lite version and 30 day trial pro version
PlayBasic Free version or $A29.49. The free version cannot make .exe , text based, mainly for 2D games, Windows
Panther - based on Scratch, many enhancements by some Scratch enthusiasts
Unreal Engine 3 development kit - UDK, free
Gamestar Mechanic Free and premium versions Mac, iphone, ipad. Free or $99 pro
Google appinventor for Android mobile phones. Scratch like block programming
Cryengine CryENGINE3 Educational SDK is for internal, non-commercial use; and is available only to educational institutions. ScriptTD is an open source tower defense game engine for Windows Phone that allows non-developers to create TD games by changing settings, sounds, and graphics.
Portal - incorporating Portal™ and Portal 2 into classrooms - looks like its 3D level editing

See also a list at

For an alternative view see
An Objective Comparison of Languages for Teaching Introductory Programming
which looks at programming, not game programmng
the importance of visual programming by Detha Elza
Lowering the Barriers to Programming: A Taxonomy of Programming Environments and Languages for Novice Programmers, Caitlin Kelleher and Randy Pausch, Carnegie Mellon University

Scalable_Game_Design see p19 for criteria
Teach a Kid to Program

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