Sugar Vision

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Sugar Vision talk at FUDCON11 by Walter Bender, transcribed by Mel Chua. Edits/corrections welcomed, all mistakes are Mel's fault.

<mchua> walter: I gave this talk in 1984.
<mchua> will be small and informal.
<mchua> I want to talk about Sugar and Sugar Labs - not going to be
talking alot about technology, since people have been getting that
<mchua> more about the management
<mchua> It's about learning. It's about making a change in the way that
basic learning happens.
* |tanya| ( has joined
<mchua> This was the original mission statement for OLPC as well.
<mchua> This is 1983 in senegal (slide) - this is one of the first 1-to-1
computing things
<mchua> Papert was working with a school in Senegal.
<mchua> (slide shows picture of Papert, a child, and a computer)
<mchua> the ideas behind Sugar has to be taken back to the work of
Seymour from back then.
<mchua> (Mel: These notes, again, are paraphrased.)
<mchua> We had an educational technology called the "mimeograph machine"
back then.
<mchua> When we first started OLPC, there was an educational software
company nearby and they made a software to help teachers make worksheets,
because teachers are too busy to do that.
<mchua> So this is 2008 (next slide: children with XOs in Thailand) -
children with XOs.
<mchua> The difference between this picture an the other people is that
i'ts laptops and the nice thing about laptops it that they are portable.
<mchua> s/people/picture
<mchua> In this case, it's rural children documenting the forest in
their community.
<mchua> Marvin (Minsky) who is one of my favorite people at MIT, has made
some statements about learning (slide: "The playfulness of childhood is
the most demanding teacher we have. Never again in those children’s
lives will anything drive them to work so hard. --Minsky")
<mchua> Henry Jenkins used to study fans - like fans pushing air around.
<mchua> One of his observations is that $word-I-missed are different
from the rest of us - standard deviations from the norm.
<mchua> $word-I-missed == explorers, perhaps?
<mchua> When Jenkins described this I got really wary, because my kids
at the time were little, 6-7 ish and they were doing all the same things
that Henry's crazy fan people were.
<mchua> (Mel: the word was either explorers or experimenters - formal
scientists, I think)
<mchua> But the mass production model of school doesn't encourage that.
<mchua> That kind of thinking.
<mchua> And my response to Bryan's comments about why this is difficult
is - right, except what we want to do is make this opportunity happen
whenever it can.
<mchua> And then - science is important. Critical thinking is important.
<mchua> much of what we're asking is asking people to be critical
<mchua> <shows slides of lots of education/pedagogy researcher names
that have inspired Sugar>
<mchua> So the other thing is - I used to ask audiences "what are the
great learning moments in your life?"
<mchua> rarely was it lectures.
<mchua> I mean, this is not a great learning moment in your life
right now.
<mchua> <audience laughter>
<mchua> Simon: It's a mixture - you can get new inspiration by listening
to someone, and then go and do stuff with it.
<mchua> Bryan: A lot of learning is hearing other people talk about stuff.
<mchua> Walter: Some of it is lost in the hysteria about constructionism
- you can't realistically expect that each one of us is going to invent
<mchua> so part of the idea is you want to balance discovery and
exploration with expression.
<mchua> Bryan: for instance, addition is a habit - you don't actually
critically think, now, oh, 3+5 is... now I have to think about it -
it's a mechanism you have developed in your brain.
<mchua> Ben: Multiplication algorithms that little kids learn now were
super sophisticated several hundred years ago - advanced math research.
<mchua> Walter: The language we give kids around that knowledge is
<mchua> We don't tell them about linearity, or the stuff that makes math
interesting... we don't give them that vocabulary and grammar today.
<mchua> I have to put in a special penguin (next slide) because I think
free software is fundamental.
<mchua> Bryan: One big point is that software is never done.
<mchua> Michael: <turns around and says something I can't lipread. :P>
<mchua> (Mel: Bryan was talking about how software - esp. open source
software - can always be picked up and improved, made better.)
<mchua> Someone I don't know yet: You set up this environment where
you're intended to fail as part of the learning experience.
<mchua> Walter: Abundance is very important.
<mchua> It's about sharing, but it's also about critique.
<mchua> The discussion about rpms vs xos - eventually the best idea will
come to the top.
<mchua> Bryan: The prevailing educational culture is that Someone says
"This is what you should learn."
<mchua> Ben: Guido van Rossum, Python's creator, criticized the OLPC
project as "the 21st century equivalent of handing out Bibles in Latin
<mchua> If you hand out systems that are locked and closed and
preconfigured, then you're imposing your view on things.
<mchua> But if we give them an open, empowering system,that's different.
<mchua> (Mel: I disagree with Ben, but that's for later.)
<mchua> Walter: Another place where we fall short is - look at the
difference between a pdf and a wiki. One makes it easier to write margin
notes and share things with other people.
<mchua> I don't think we have the right affordances yet in Sugar to do
this kind of thing.
<mchua> Taglines of sugar: 1. Learning is not a service. Learning is a
verb, information is a noun.
<mchua> 2. You learn by doing.
<mchua> 3. Love is a better master than duty.
<mchua> Laptops can help deliver information on whatever you are
interested in.
<mchua> About sugar - here's the home view (slide: screenshot of
<mchua> <talks about the frame in sugar>
<mchua> <discussion about zoom metaphor>
<mchua> |tanya|: note how many people are typing on their laptops, see
how bernie and simon are whispering to each other - there are a lot of
backchannel conversations going on.
<mchua> |tanya|: (we just may not be able to see them all)
<mchua> Walter: One of the principles we have is simplicity.
<mchua> One way of thinking about is that the world is complicated,
so let's use simple tools to help us get at that complexity.
<mchua> We don't want a simple world, but we want simple tools to get
<mchua> Walter: <demoes tamtam>
<mchua> (or rather, shows a screenshot of it)
<mchua> Literally, 2 year olds can walk up to it and start using it with
no instruction. I have seen it many times.
<mchua> So some kids will grow beyond that, and they'll go to tamtam
jam, and tamtam jam has multiple voices - you can sync your drums with
other laptops...
<mchua> ...and then there's tamtam edit, which lets you start laying
down tracks...
<mchua> (the first screenshot was tamtam mini)
<mchua> ...and then tamtam synthlab - where you can make your own
<mchua> (Mel: Walter is using TamTam as an example of progressive -
but still simple - tools for dealing with the complex world, in this
case sound/music.)
<mchua> <Ben, Michael, Simon discuss technical details>
<mchua> Walter: <talks about turtleart>
<mchua> There's a lot of programming environments - like pippy.
<mchua> TurtleArt is intro logo.
<mchua> I'm the maintainer of this package now. <room laughter>
<mchua> Ben: <complains about middle-endian notation of TurtleArt syntax>
<mchua> <discussion on the nonintuitive design of TurtleArt>
<mchua> |tanya|: Also, it's interesting to see how fast the discussion
in the room can turn towards hacking and program design. ;)
<mchua> Walter: One feature I added recently is an export function that
turns your project into standard logo, berkeley logo.
<mchua> But anyway, this is an introduction, it's meant to make you
<mchua> More neat ideas: turtleart with sensors.
<mchua> Now we can interact with the physical world.
<mchua> Another thing - we want kids to reflect in their work. The
journal just captures things
<mchua> We've been talking about the concept of putting a portfolio in.
<mchua> I made a powerpoint-like thing out of turtleart.
<mchua> <demo>
<mchua> s/demo/talk about screenshot
<mchua> The point is that kids can make presentations, but also that they
can see that this is just another program that they can build stuff with.
<mchua> I want to talk about collaboration. <screenshot: neighborhood
<mchua> <screenshots of collaboration in various Activities>
<mchua> It's rare that students have open internet access in a classroom,
so it's hard for them to collaborate this way - but here, they can
collaborate locally without that priv.
<mchua> The Journal - it's this place that stores everything you do.
<mchua> <screenshot: Journal>
<mchua> I think by default that launching Activities - should be most
recent instance of that Activity in the Journal... anyway.
<mchua> One thing about Sugar is that it works.
<mchua> Marco (lead Sugar developer): Are you sure? <laughter>
<mchua> <screenshot: results from Peru - reading comprehension; less
students failing, *some* students advanced (up from 0!)>
<mchua> (Mel: That data - are we sure it's Sugar that accounts for that
increase (and not the passage of time, or... anything else?)
<mchua> Greg: It would be great to hear what actual users say - drill
down from the bar graph.
<mchua> Michael: <discussion of how hard it is to make many connections,
even if the information is available, based on his Uruguay experiences>
<mchua> Walter: We don't necessarily have that information access. I
know there's some very detailed studies we just don't have access to.
<mchua> Bryan: We're used to schools with nice parents and decent teachers
- you won't see big leaps there.
<mchua> (if Sugar is adopted.)
<mchua> Walter: Grades aren't necessarily correlated with future
<mchua> Bernie: I can believe that kids that spend a lot of time hacking
on a laptop might get worse grades in school.
<mchua> Of course, if you engage in creative learning, you don't have
the time to memorize this stuff in school.
<mchua> Tony: There are many ways to learn things. Memorizing is just one
of them. I bet you can find kids you can rattle you off baseball stats,
because they're interested in them.
<mchua> For example - we learned to touchtype as kids in school in
a really boring class. But now we have kids that want to go on chat,
so they're going to learn touchtyping because they want it!
<mchua> Bernie: Sometimes you memorize because you have to, sometimes
because you want to.
<mchua> Walter: <slide on mission of sugarlab, comments on lots of
<mchua> <discussion on sugar on a stick>
<mchua> It will make a difference, because one of the big barriers is
that sometimes you can't do 1-to-1 laptops, and sometimes admins don't
want school computers to be touched.
* |tanya| has quit ()
<mchua> <much scattered discussion>
<mchua> Michael: Back to Walter!
<mchua> <everyone gets quiet>
<mchua> Walter: I'm done.
<mchua> I can give the demo if people want.
<mchua> (Of TurtleArt.)
<mchua> <TurtleArt demo starts. I stop taking notes.>