Topic number 7 – Constructivism and Teaching/ Learning Strategies.

 

Techno-Logic: A Micro-World

for Constructivist Science and Technology Learning

 

Abstract:
Techno-Logic is a micro-world developed to facilitate the learning of both scientific concepts and their technological applications. It integrates creative construction of concrete machines and models with an introduction to computerized processes control. Techno-Logic was developed at the IDEA Center, designed to be suitable, attractive and effective in teaching even young beginners. Through the suggested constructivist learning the student not only learns about science, but also practices science. The learner seeks solutions, asks questions, extrapolates, raises hypotheses, plans ways to verify them, and evaluates the results. In this way, he or she learns, not only abstract scientific and technological principles, but about scientific and technology processes as well. With appropriate guidance and direction, the Techno-Logic environment enables the learners to build their knowledge through varied, rich experience.

An educational system that aims to prepare the learner for life in such a society has to adapt its curriculum to include technology as a vital field of knowledge. We suggest to adopt the term “Technology” as human knowledge that is utilized to answer human needs, both of the material and the spiritual kind. This definition reflects an alternative approach to technology which considers technology as one of the components of the social-cultural medium (Heidegger M., 1969; Simon H. A., 1990). Knowledge, skills and resources are combined to help solve various existential and practical problems. Alvin Toffler in his book “Future Shock” (Toffler, 1970) states that the metaphor that relates technology to machine, has always been unsuitable and even erroneous, since technology was always more than factory and machines. Technology can be seen as human competence and talent utilized to overcome human biological restrictions by extending human abilities.

The qualification of learners to live in a technological world, will be evident in their ability to efficiently utilize technology, use existing technology to plan and manufacture new products, and think of directions to develop new technologies. Thus, learning technology has to involve two main activities: using technology and developing new technologies. Understanding the nature of technology and its influence on human life is essential for the development of curriculum for Technology and Science Education and on the development of learning environments for the learners to operate in.

 

The “Spiral Model” as a Basis for Developing the Techno-Logic Micro-World

A first step in developing a learning environment that can be used as a Micro-world for experiencing science and technology is to study the interrelations between technology and human beings and to realize its influence on the development of society. A theoretical model called “The Spiral Model of Technology Evolution”, was used for this study (Krumholtz, 96; 97). The “Spiral Model” describes the interrelations among four factors: human needs, physical phenomena, technological constraints and technological solutions.

Based on the “Spiral Model” we suggest to distinguish five stages in developing technological products:

  1. Research - to identify human needs or problems that call for technological solutions.
  2. Plan and design a solution - chosen out of different solutions that had been suggested.
  3. Carry out the plan - making the product.
  4. Market - putting the product out for marketing.
  5. Further developments - in response to new needs triggered by use of the product, improving it or making a new one.

We suggest a constructivist educational approach for teaching science and technology that allows the learner to experience technological activities and technological processes. A technological process includes the identification and separation of all four factors in the “Spiral Model”. The learning experience in a technological process starts with identifying a problem - an human need - and ends with raising, choosing and producing a solution - a practical product. Science and technology learning is inherent to the overall learning process when the learner tries to deal with technological problems and to overcome physical constrains.

The micro-world that allows such activities must fit the learner’s ability level and relate to his or her fields of interest, so that the technological activity will be as real and as significant as possible to him or her.

 

The Learning Activities

Following the five stages of development of technological products, and based on the Spiral Model of technology evolution, we suggest that the children go through five stages in the learning process and become both users and developers of technology:

1. Learn about human needs - identify one need or demand.

2. Plan and design a solution - suggest a LEGO model that will provide an answer to this need.

3. Carry out the plan - build the model from LEGO bricks and program the computer to control the model’s operation.

4. Market the product - exhibit the product in the classroom.

5. Suggest further developments - for your LEGO model to respond to new demands it may trigger.

The First Pilot Micro-World - Pre Techno-Logic

In order to give the learner the opportunity to go through a process similar to the process of developing a technological product in real life, we have to choose a simulation system suitable to the learner. That is, it has to be easy to use, close to the content of the child’s world of interest and suited to his or her level of development. Moreover, in order to teach scientific and technological concepts and principles in a way that will lead the learner from intuitive understanding of the concepts to a more formal, scientific understanding, it is necessary to provide the learner with a wide range of concrete experiences using simple models and familiar tools. This is actually the basis of the constructivist approach that suggests active involvement in building concrete product to enhance understanding of abstract concepts.

We found that LEGO Dacta computer control systems: LEGO-Logo and the later development ControLab, meets these requirements. They can be used in classes as “Micro-Worlds” that the kids can operate in (Resnick, 1993). We developed learning activities that allow the learners to experience technological processes and physical phenomena. Through the activities learners gain practical experience in planning, constructing and operating physical models that are computer controlled. The learners are building models from LEGO bricks, including motors, lights and sensors and using the computer to control the operation of the models. Such models are for example, traffic-lights that simulate real operation, greenhouses that open and close doors according to the temperature inside the greenhouse, remote controlled wheelchairs, washing machines, conveyer belts that identify boxes according to size or color, elevators, racing cars, etc.

 

Advantages and Deficiencies

The LEGO-Logo micro-world was used with various groups of learners, both school children aged 9 to 15 and teachers of elementary and junior high school. Based on our experience we found that:

LEGO Models - the LEGO DACTA computer controlled models answer our needs for a simulation system which can help deal with the technological world. We realized that the LEGO bricks and the variety of products, allow us to choose different models for the different populations. The great variety of LEGO models and building elements, made it possible to define an evolving line of models with increasing levels of complexity.

Control Software - Working with the programming software TC-Logo and later with the ControLab software, we identified some basic difficulties:

1. It takes time to master a formal computer language, in this case the Logo language. This was a major obstacle considering the time limit of 30 hours that we had.

2. For young and novice learners the programming language is too complex, even without considering time limit.

3. Non-Espeaking chilfamiwith the English language and this poses the greatest obstacle for young learners.

We realized the need to have a programming software that:

* Keeps the powerful ideas of Logo programming, such as structured programming, simple recursion, closed-loop and open-loop control.

* Is easy-to-use in relation to the ability of the user.

* Is user friendly, for example, contains commands which are represented as icons and not as words.

* Has on line detailed help screens, to allow inquiry and self-learning.

* Does not require any previous experience in computers.

We defined the concept for a programming software that in cooperation with a software-firm in Israel was developed under the name of TechnoLogica (TechnoLogica, 95).

Figure 1: The main screen of Technologica Software

 

Techno-Logic - The New Micro-world

TechnoLogica software, the LEGO models and the learning activities and processes based on our educational approach, composed a new micro-world called “Techno-Logic”.

For the teaching of technology we chose to emphasize the role of the logic of the control structures, that are defined by using TechnoLogica, rather then the programming using formal computer language. In that sense, TechnoLogica was developed as an icon based software that allows the user to define various control structures (IF, IF-ELSE, WAITUNTIL, REPEAT) without the need to use any formal programming language.

 

TechnoLogica allows three modes of control:

1. Immediate mode of manual control.
2. Automatic Control: Open-loop control, executing a list of commands.
3. Feedback Control: Closed-loop control, using sensors for feedback.

To let the learners experience technological evolution, the models are first operated manually. Then, a motor and batteries are added to operate the model by electricity. At these stages the learner operates the models in on/off operations, under manual control.

At a more advanced stage of control, the model is connected to a computer and is automatically operated, controlled by TechnoLogica procedures, programmed by the learner. In the final stage, sensors are used to enable feedback in the control loop.

Figure 2: Lego Dacta Computer Control System

 

In a final exhibition, which is part of the marketing phase, each participant raises suggestions for further development of the product that may satisfy new needs that will be triggered through the use of their model.

An example for such a model is an elevator. In the first stage the elevator is operated manually by the user who pulls a string connected to a pulley. In the second stage a motor is connected to the pulley via gears and is operated using batteries to supply electricity. The learner operates the elevator manually, and stops the motor when it reaches each floor. The learner uses his eyes to decide when the elevator reaches a certain floor.

The more advanced stage is when the motor is connected to an interface box that is connected to the computer. A procedure is programmed to operate the model to run a four times loop of 5 seconds ON and 3 seconds OFF, to allow people to get on and off the elevator. This operation is called an open-loop control or an automatic operation.

In the last stage a light sensor is attached to the elevator and it allows for feedback control, when the light sensor “sees” each floor and the computer “tells” the motor to wait for 3 seconds, before going on to the next floor.

The further developments for this elevator model that are suggested by the learner, are based on the need for safety that arises when the elevator is used. Another light sensor could be used to “see” if there are people standing in the way to prevent the movement of the elevator door. Another possible development consists in the elevator “seeing” if there are at all people who actually want to stop in each floor.

The LEGO computer controlled models can be seen as a bridge between the concrete physical world and the abstract world of computer science. The models built from LEGO blocks represent the physical-mechanical world, and the programming using TechnoLogica allows the construction of abstract logical thinking structures.

 

Constructivism as a Pedagogical Basis for Techno-Logic

Our pedagogical approach stems from the constructivist theory of development suggested by Piaget (Piaget J., 54; 73), stating that learning consists of building knowledge structures, and from the educational philosophy developed by Seymour Papert and others - the social constructionism approach (Papert S., 1980, 1993; Papert S., 1991). The pedagogical approach is based on independent inquiry and self guided learning and facilitates personal construction of knowledge concerning the external world.

In order to describe our pedagogical approach, let us examine the commonly accepted methods of learning in biology or physics school laboratories. Learners are usually given exact instructions on how to carry out experiments planned by others and are supposed to obtain the expected results.

In the Techno-Logic environment the learners behave like scientists in all respects; they search for solutions to real problems. For example, a learner builds a motorized car from LEGO bricks and writes program in TechnoLogica to control it. A touch sensor is attached to the front of the car - its role is to report to the computer if the car has bumped into a wall. The computer responds by changing the direction of the movement of the motor, causing the car to reverse direction.

The learner runs the TechnoLogica program to operate the car. It hits the wall, but instead of moving backwards, as expected, it remains in place. What is the problem? Is the TechnoLogica program well defined? Is the problem related to the car structure? Has the computer received the proper information from the sensor?

These types of questions lead the learner to a series of tests through which he or she learns that the power created at the time of the crash into the wall was not strong enough to cause the push-button in the sensor to activate the sensor. One possible solution is to increase the motor speed in order to create more power to push the button.

Through this type of learning the learner not only learns about science, but also does science. The learner asks questions, seeks solutions, extrapolates, raises hypotheses, plans ways to verify them, and evaluates the results. In this way, he or she learns, not only abstract scientific and technological principles (i.e., force, friction, movement, energy), but experiences scientific processes as well. With appropriate guidance, the Techno-Logic environment enables the learners to build their knowledge through varied, rich experience.

 

Research Results Concerning Science and Technology Thinking

LEGO-Logo and Techno-Logic micro-worlds were tested with different groups of learners of different ages and with different needs: average learners aged 8 to 14 in a special research setting and in normal class settings; gifted kids aged 6-8 and 13-14; learners at the age of 12-14 with learning difficulties.

One of the studies that took place, involved a group of 6th grade learners familiar with Logo programming. The experiment made it possible to reveal the learners prior technological knowledge and to identify their motivation factors (Krumholtz, et al., 93).

Other study engaged three groups of 7th and 8th grade learners that went through the process of developing a technological product according to the learning process that was described above. The research concentrated on identifying the physical concepts and principles and the technological phenomena that could be experienced in the computerized Techno-Logic learning environment. In addition, the level of understanding of concepts and phenomena were tested in this group. The analysis shows that physical concepts such as, speed, acceleration, static and dynamic friction, gravity, force and balance were involved and that most learners (87%) had reached intuitive understanding of the concepts. Some of the learners (24%) expressed more formascientific understanding of the concepts. The technological phenomena that wereas being experienced using thLEGO modw, mechanical in tradeoff between speed and power in a combination of cogwheels; the relation between the feedback received by the sensors and the control of the machine’s operation; the distinction of manual control, automatic control and feedback control.

The study that had been conducted with learners with learning difficulties, revealed that the learners had reached an intuitive understanding of the above mentioned technology phenomena, to some extent (Krumholtz and Zodik, 1993). What was most significant in their experience, as was expressed by them at the end of the learning period, was the chance they had been given to create something of their own - a solution which they invented. Their expressions of creativity ranged from merely inventing a name to a given model, to suggesting different new operations to its function, and for some of them to building a mechanical model out of their imagination.

During the last two years, TechnoLogica was adapted in various countries like, England, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Korea and the Netherlands. Primary researches that were conducted in junior high school in England and in an elementary school in Sweden, result in very significant outcomes concerning its efficiency for developing logic thinking of programming. The adaptation of TechnoLogica in different countries made it possible to continue with comparison research on the use of the new Techno-Logic micro world.

 

Final Remarks

The modern age is characterized by the rapid developments taking place especially in technology. Unfortunately, although major investments have been made in developing high technology, the guiding ideas and concepts are not always clear to the user, even though he uses them on a daily basis. In addition, school curriculum touches only few aspects of these rapid developments, and thus is not properly addressing the need to prepare future citizens to work in today’s technology environment. The Techno-Logic constructivist micro-world is one of the possible answers that can help deal with the technological world of today. We believe that having gone through such a constructivist learning experience, learners will better understand scientific phenomena and principles, and will be more ready to become both users of technology and developers of new ones.

References

[Heidegger 1969] Heidegger, M. (1969). The Question Concerning Technology. Harper torch books.

[Krumholtz et al. 1993] Krumholtz, N., Shafriri, N., Harel, H. (1993). Developing Scientific and Technology Thinking using LEGO-Logo Simulation System. Research report, Dept. of Education in Technology and Science, Technion, Haifa Israel. (In Hebrew).

[Krumholtz and Zodik, 1993] Krumholtz, N., & Zodik, I. (1993). Technology Literacy to Special Education Learners - Using Computerized LEGO Technic systems. Research report, Dept. of Education in Technology and Science, Technion, Haifa Israel. (In Hebrew).

[Krumholtz 1996] Krumholtz, N. (1996). The Spiral Model of Technology Evolution: A base for Curriculum Development. In. Mioduser D. & Zilberstein (Eds.) Book of Abstracts, JISTEC96, the Second Jerusalem International Science and Technology Education Conference (p. S1-83).

[Krumholtz 1997] Krumholtz, N. (1997). The Spiral Model of Technology Evolution: A base for Curriculum Development. To be published in The Journal of Technology Studies.

[Papert 1980] Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms. New York: Basic Books.

[Papert 1991] Papert, S. (1991). Situating Construction. In. Harel, I. & Papert, S.(Eds.), Constructionism. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.

[Papert 1993] Papert, S. (1993). The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer. New York: Basic Books.

[Piaget 1954] Piaget, J. (1954). The Construction of Reality in the Child. New York: Basic Books.

[Piaget 1973] Piaget, J. (1973). To Understand is to Invent. New York: Grossman Publishers.

[Resnick 1993] Resnick, M. (1993). Behavior Construction Kits. Communications of the ACM, vol.36/7, 64-71.

[Simon 1990] Simon, H. A. (1990). The Science of the Artificial. The MIT press.

[Toffler 1970] Toffler, A. (1970). Future Shock. Am-Oved Publisher. Tel-Aviv.

[TechnoLogica 1995] TechnoLogica.Software (1995). Phantom II production Ltd. Israel. Software available on the World Wide Web. (http://www.phantom2.com).