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Posts by karenlum

Freire for the people!


It’s interesting that we discuss education and constuctionism in terms of its application to young children.  I find these theories are very relevant to higher education as well.  I took four years of French language from 7th-10th grade.  We progressed through the curriculum slowly, and I still, to this day, recall a great deal of what I learned.  Last year, I took First-year Chinese at Stanford.  We zipped through two years of curriculum in one, smashing in over thirty words and characters every four days, being quizzed every fifth day, and regurgitated it all at the end of each quarter.  Needless to say, I recall almost nothing from that class.  It was a waste of my time.  I spent hours studying for it everyday, had to take a smaller course load every quarter because of Chinese, and I don’t even remember what I learned.  I think teachers that if we made it to Stanford, then we have mastered this banking method of learning.  But students of all ages and abilities can benefit from Freire’s theories of pedagogy of the oppressed.

I think out of all the readings we have had so far, Pedagogy of the Oppressed is one that I have enjoyed the most.  He doesn’t discuss more specific applications of educational theory like Papert does, but he certainly provides a general framework which could give rise to more teaching methods besides constructionism/constructivism.  I agree with Piaget’s sentiments that knowledge is not just created, rather it is built on real-world models.  But I don’t think the only way to practice constuctionism is through physical devices.  There must be other (low-cost) ways to teach proportions than just Abrahamson’s  Wii device.  I think Freire’s theory has wider application than Papert’s, and maybe Piaget’s.  If we can essentially understand that education must be empowering, cognitive, and focused on the individual student rather than the transfer of information to the student – then I think Freire’s theory can give rise to multiple forms of revolutionary, effective teaching.

Some Freire quotes I resonated with:

“The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world.”

The truth is, however, that the oppressed are not “marginals,” are not people living “outside” society. They have always been “inside” — inside the structure which made them “beings for others.” The solution is not to “integrate” them into the structure of oppression, but to transform that structure so that they can become “beings for themselves.”

“Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferrals of information.”

DrawRight – an artistic software to encourage children to draw and color accurately!


DrawRight is an artistic learning software for children, ages 4-8, to learn to accurately visualize the world around them.  In order to think artistically, children must first learn the laws behind perspective, lighting, and realism.

This software is a digital coloring book, in which children are presented with line drawings, and are given paintbrushes, paint buckets, and pencils.  They are then instructed to fill in spaces with the accurate color. For example, a tree should be shaded in green; the sky should be shaded in blue; cement should be gray; flowers are more flexible and can be shaded in pink, red, purple, or white.  Shading in people requires more critical thinking – depending on the role the character has (ex: mailman, school teacher, waiter), the child will choose what skin color to shade in.  If the child shades in the wrong color, an error screen pops up and they are told to try again.  They are also not allowed to draw outside of the lines, or redraw the lines.  At the intermediate stage, children learn to shade in lighting, accurate to the position of the sun or another light source.  Lastly, as advance DrawRight users, children will then be able to draw their own accurate perspective drawings, using vanishing points and straight-line tools.  This software serves to instruct children at an early age to develop visual and spatial intelligence.

DrawRight hopes to encourage children to realize their potential as an artist at an early age, and thus pursue such a career when they are older.  We realize the negative connation artistic careers come with.  Through our software, we hope to shift this social mentality and generate more respect for the artists among us.  We are striving to give rise to the next Renoir or Van Gogh of our future generations!

Why should Piaget be dead?


After reading about Piaget and Papert this week, I can think of no reason to reject Piaget’s theories.  He successfully created and reshaped many schools of thought in his lifetime, according to Papert’s article on Piaget in TIME Magazine.  What I enjoy most about Piaget is his respect for children, and his constant reminder to himself and others to not judge children.  I can barely remember what it was like to be a child – the thoughts that ran through my head, how I approached conflicts, what I was interested in, what I was good at, etc.  All I know is that even between my senior year of high school and now, I’ve changed immensely.  I can only assume how much more I’ve changed since being a child.  Perhaps we should have read these articles in the same week we were working on our toy designs.  I think having been given some idea of what behavior to expect from children would have been beneficial.  At our first round of testing, Joaquin was shy, hesitant to answer our questions, unwilling to communicate with us or even look us in the eye.  We left his cottage realizing that it had been a long time since we were six years old.  As what Papert said on Piaget’s main finding after a lifetime of research is that “children don’t think like grownups.”  This led him to his great uncovering that children are uniquely more intelligent than we think they are.

I found his chapter on the concept of life most interesting.  The efficacy of his study all started with his realization that his test subjects were primarily answering the questions systematically.  From there, he was able to identify four stages to how children generate their own understanding of “life.”  I found the stage of understanding the difference between movement and spontaneous movement most interesting.  This distinction implies a number of things that the child might subconsciously understand, even though they might not being able to articulate it.  Ex:  Manmade objects vs. objects found in nature; objects that are breathing (fish) vs. those that are not (trees); objects that have to be controlled to move vs. those that move voluntarily, etc.  While some of the children obviously incorrectly stated if some objects were alive or not, I appreciated how Piaget didn’t immediately disregard “incorrect” answers, but rather analyzed them to uncover a possible pattern in their thought process.  I think as a class, we should use this method of non-judgmental, empathetic interviewing/questioning if and when we work with children again.  We should encourage children to think, not necessarily how to think “correctly.”

[Sidenote: I question why systematic thought isn’t more prevalent.  I can’t remember which reading this was mentioned in, but it said that many children are not able to systematically figure out combination problems until around age 10-12 (ex: There are 3 people, how many possible pairings can you create?)]

For how Piaget’s theories can apply to our class projects, I’m interested in an educational tool/toy that encourages children to think and construct their own ideas, rather than be taught correct knowledge.  When we were Joaquin, we saw how shy he was and unwilling to think outside his comfortable realm.  Perhaps it was because we were adults meeting him for the first time, with a slew of questions, but he did exhibit some reluctance to be creative and “out-of-this-world” with his responses to questions like “What would you do with a million dollars?” or “If you could go anywhere in this world, where would you travel to?”  I think an educational tool/toy to push children to think imaginatively, without repercussion to being “wrong,” would be a great way for kids to cultivate their creativity.

Corell Wooden Toys

Team Amy, Jasmine, and Karen: Imagine your own animal!


After our interview/play session with Joaquin, we left with little data on his interests.  We knew he has a penchant for math, is struggling in Chinese, and enjoyed the lesson on penguins he had in class that same day.  But beyond those few facts, we knew little about Joaquin.  We had hoped for more insightful findings from observing him, but Joaquin was pretty shy and didn’t communicate much, with his words, body, or actions.

The initial stages of brainstorming were tough.  We came up with a lot of cool concepts for educational toys, but ultimately none of them were truly derived from our understanding of Joaquin.  Last week, we came up with an idea for a travel game that would have Joaquin explore the world, and urge him to think outside of his comfortable realm.  But as attached as we were to this great concept, we had to let it go because we had not based our design on our sole user, Joaquin.

Eventually, we came to a final design for a penguin toy.  It would be a penguin made of wood, consisting of different sets of heads, wings, abdomens, and feet to represent different species of penguins.  The appendages would be attached to central abdomen by magnets, so that the head could turn, the wings would flap, the feet would wiggle, etc.

However, after much difficulty transferring our Inkscape SVG files to Coreldraw, we didn’t have time to include the magnet holes into the wood pieces.  So on Wednesday, we arrived at Joaquin’s door with wood pieces, but without magnets.  We were nervous, unsure if he would like the toys without the magnets.

Surprisingly, Joaquin got right to playing with the pieces, an

d not only did we assemble a penguin right away, but he also assembed almost 10 others types of animals/objects in the next few minutes!  He made a rabbit, a hot air balloon, a person on slits, etc.  We were IMPRESSED, to say the least.

[kaltura-widget uiconfid=”535″ entryid=”0_v0vzgr5w” width=”400″ height=”330″ addpermission=”” editpermission=”” align=”center” /]

We spent the rest of the session playing with the wood pieces, and the roll of magnets we had brought along anyways.  They had tons of fun playing with the magnets too!  We urged them to explore different situations and see what the magnets adhered to.  They quickly found out that magnets stick to metal, but not ALL metal.  They also found out that magnets will repel each other if held together at certain angles (north hitting north, south hitting south).  Also, they found out that magnets will stick to each other even if there is a something between them (ex: a thin notebook, Joaquin’s sleeve, Joaquin’s ear!)

Later as we debriefed our observations, we realized that with the amount of time left before the project was due, and the difficulty we anticipated with transferring our Inkscape drawings to Coreldraw, as well as the constant queue to get on the LASERCAM, we decided we had to nix the magnets for feasibility of completion.  Instead, we decided to make a bunch of different animals and characters so Joaquin can explore different combinations of barts and create endless possibilities.

Our illustrations:

Cinderella!  (For Joaquin’s little sister, Eva, so she won’t feel left out.)







On the LaserCAM:

Can’t wait to give them to Joaquin today!

15 students have just been given the assignment.

NetLogo Assignment – Modeling the Stanford Struggle


This week has of course been stressful, being in the middle of midterm season and all.  So as I was trying to learn how to program this model, I chose my social phenomenon to be the “Stanford Struggle”, as I was experiencing it at the very moment.  This model serves to show the a 15 person class, and their journey to complete a major assignment due in a week.  The amount of “yellow” represents the rate of completion.  So as the week goes on, all the students eventually turn in the assignment and the whole screen turns yellow.  The rate of completion starts off pretty fast, but as the student progresses through the week, he or she becomes tired, slows down, and takes much longer to complete the last assignments.  You can tell at the end, a couple students turn their work in “late.”  (Indicator: a few black spots take exponentially more time to turn yellow)

Programming my own model was pretty hard!  I used the tutorial and dictionary to help, but I found the tutorials to be not so helpful.  They were very comprehensive on the commands it covered, but I couldn’t figure out how to apply those steps towards the other possible commands in the dictionary.

Overall, the model didn’t turn out how I wanted it to.  I was able to successfully program the basic function of the student completing the assignments, but I was not able to include any variables.

Things I wanted to include:

– Variable for # of units the student is taking this quarter

– Variable for # of hours of sleep through the week

– Plot the rate of work completion

– Monitor exhaustion

– Take a nap if exhaustion level drops too low.  I was hoping that out of all these functions, that I would at least get this command to work.  But alas, I kept getting the “ERROR” slap in the face.

Things the model does not show:

– Procrastinators!  Some get their work done, at the last minute, in a very short amount of time.  My model assumes everyone starts off diligently when first given the assignment.



turtles-own [ exaustion ]
to setup
set-default-shape turtles “person”
to setup-patches
ask patches [ set pcolor black ]
to setup-turtles
create-turtles 15
ask turtles [ setxy random-xcor random-ycor ]
ask turtles [ set color yellow ]
to go
to go-once
to do-hw
ask turtles [
if pcolor = black [
set pcolor yellow
set exaustion (exaustion + 10)
to move-turtles
ask turtles [
right random 360
forward 1
set exaustion exaustion – 200
to do-plots
set-current-plot “Totals”
set-current-plot-pen “turtles”
plot count turtles
set-current-plot-pen “Completion”
plot count patches with [pcolor = yellow]

Response paper #2: Be your own theorist


Before I play “Devil’s Advocate,” MIT is an inventive, well-researched way for kids to practically conceptualize knowledge on their own.  It’s amazing to think that any child could be an Einstein with a little nudge.  From my personal experiences of figuring things out on my own, I agree that constructing one’s own knowledge leaves a residual effect that can be used again and again each time one tries to learn something independently.  While the initial tinkering may be “naïve”, troubleshooting different methods and testing patterns eventually does get one to the final answer.  Most importantly, that person will not forget what did not work, a.k.a. learning from one’s mistakes.

Secondly, MIT is definitely an interactive tool I can see children having fun with.  While the MIT1 prototype conveyed the same concepts on proportionality, the MIT remote controls also allowed for two dimensions of movement along the x and y axis, whereas the ropes and pulleys of MIT1 could only be moved along the y axis.  Using the Wii-like laser technology was a smart move, as the Wii is incredibly popular right now.  I could even see this education tool for the classroom even being an education game for the home where kids can learn about proportionality in front of their own television.  The next step, testing it with two children so that they can learn how to operate the MIT collaboratively, will be useful in determining if this should a game, with aspects of competition, teamwork, etc. (as opposed to just a learning tool).

Now for playing “Devil’s Advocate.”  The utility of this device just seems very limited.  It only has one function – learning about proportionality.  But from what I recall, we only spent perhaps a couple weeks on the material before we mastered it, were tested on it, and moved on.  I am probably biased, since I performed consistently well in primary/middle school and never struggled with math.  But nonetheless, this MIT project is a lot of effort to put into a single mathematic topic that will be mastered and moved on from within a few weeks.  Is this really economical for the typical public school classroom?  Would a teacher really invest in an infra-red device, which I assume will be fairly expensive, just to teach a single topic in math for a few weeks?  I would like to see the utility of MIT expanded to cover more concepts in math, i.e. trigonometry (ratios in triangles, Pythagorean’s theorem), more algebra, etc.

Picture 2

Team Lovie, Amy & Karen (Scratch Project)


Manic Mondays at the Wizard Co-op


Shirley the Wizard

Burly the Arch Nemesis

Creed the Hippie

Big Nose the one with the big nose

Crusty the Clam

What’s for dinner?!  Five wizards deal with their personal differences in this coming of age story about communal living, fulfilling responsibilities, and honoring friendship.

(file too large!  What should I do?)

What’s the Big Idea?


As always being a top-achieving student throughout elementary to high school, I did not begin to understand the predicament behind the achievement gap until I came to Stanford.

The moment you arrive at your first class at Stanford on your first day of being a freshman, you are no longer the top student in your class.  You now sit in a lecture hall of three hundred other students who are just as driven, intelligent, and interested in the curriculum as you are.  Suddenly, competition enters the picture.  Whereas you may have once garnered all A’s with ease, it now takes extreme work ethic, and sometimes luck, to earn an A on a final, or let alone a B.  (God forbid a C!) That sudden shift from earning an “excellent” on your work to “good” or even “satisfactory” is incredibly discouraging.  Imagine feeling that way from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Papert sheds light on the predicament behind conventional educational criteria, in which a single method of teaching and learning is practiced, and any student who does not perform well at this method is coerced into believing he or she is “dumb” or an “underachiever” from a young age.  Papert has the right idea in expanding the criteria to invite students who think in special ways, “captive birds” as he describes them.  It is disheartening that certain students are misunderstood from the beginnings of their intellectual development.  Once they are labeled as essentially intellectually inferior, teachers pay less attention to them, they are given less engaging and challenging work that only reaffirms their “intellectual inferiority”, and thus they continue down a slippery slope into the pit of underachievement.

My understanding of the BIG idea is to engage students from the get-go, so that they aren’t discouraged from an early age and begin to fall down this slippery slope.  I was incredibly discouraged my freshman and sophomore year – I contemplated dropping out during my first quarter at Stanford, dreading the next four years marked by sure failure, and each poor grade only reaffirmed my disappointment in myself.  It was only until this year did I begin to feel more competent, and even successful, in my classes.  This in turn boosted my confidence.  Whereas before I had multiple reasons to explain why I was doing poorly, I now have multiple reasons to believe I can improve and excel.  Part of the reason behind this shift in self-confidence was because I am now taking primarily project-based classes.  My preferred modes of learning are more in line with these kinds of assignments: learning by doing and understanding the material through multiple layers that build upon one another – both akin to facets of constuctionism.

Fortunately, my boost in confidence came about only two years upon entering Stanford.  The bigger question is how can implement and empower ideas while students are in primary school so that they are not discouraged from the get-go?

Questions:  In constructionist theory, will there always be a connection between the material and the student?  Is there always something personal for the student to build off of?  And if not, is this an indication of a weak point in the curriculum?


Hot glue and filler rod: The gratifying nature of DYI


As a child, my mother kept certain materials away from me.  Perhaps she was concerned for my safety, perhaps artistic endeavors were too expensive, or perhaps she simply wanted me to concentrate on practicing piano.  Therefore these materials became unattainable and mysterious to me.  At the age of 7, I understood “privilege” as the opportunity to use hot glue, clay, sculpey, fabric dye, and balsa wood.  These were art materials that cost more than the substitutes that could be made or found at home, such as paper mache, or leftover wood in the garage – therefore they were more expensive, and elusive.  I was elated whenever I had the chance to use them in school, and would attempt big projects to optimize my brief access to these tools and materials.

From an early age, I fell in love with building and creating.  I always tried to fix or build things myself, purely for the incredible gratification of knowing that I did it myself, and even learned something in the meantime.  I avoided asking my parents for help, which I am sure they resented, and was always brainstorming new projects to take on.  From watching family movies at an early age, I dreamt of having my own tree house.  Unfortunately our backyard only had pine trees, which had short, weak branches unable to support a tree house.  Still, I devised building plans and picked out sets of branches that could potentially support the box-shape of a house, and even spent one day digging the steps up the hill to my dream sanctuary.  I figured it was better to build something and attempt the tree house, than to not build at all.

In middle school, I broke a welded joint on my borrowed French Horn.  In a panic, I had to find a way to fix it without letting the school or my parents find out.  I recalled learning that “blue” fire was the “hotter” than orange fire, and the kitchen stovetop produced blue fire – so I took my French horn and held the broken joint over the flames to try to weld the parts back together.  Of course, it did not work, but I was more than astonished when I saw the petroleum lubrication on the tubing transformed the blue fire into a ravishing green fire.  A couple weeks later, I saw a crème brulee torch and ramekin kit in a Bed Bath & Beyond advertisement, and wanted to purchase it so I could use the torch for more controlled welding.  I obviously did not understand that welding has to be performed at a very high temperature, but still I resourcefully searched for alternative tools to fix my French horn on my own.

To this day, I am still just as enthralled by the opportunity to make things.  I grab every chance I can get to take a class in the Product Realization Lab. I love welding and the experiences I gain every time I pick up the torch.  I find excuses to weld, from functional to purely aesthetic projects.  I design my own clothes, and spend hours in fabric stores exploring different materials and brainstorming potential ideas for clothing.  I am riveted by transforming materials into formed artifacts – watching solid filler rods turn into liquid metal, constructing flat fabrics into 3-dimensional clothing.  I view tools and materials with the same fascination and delight I felt as a child when I laid eyes on a hot glue gun or a block of clay.  The only difference is that now I can actually apply these hands-on learnings to my intellectual life at Stanford, calling it “design thinking” instead and working with my hands to better understand problems and build tangible solutions.

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