Lifelong Kindergarten

First, some history

Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel officially opened the first kindergarten in 1840 to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the invention of movable type by Gutenberg. (Kindergarten - German - "garden for children") Fröbel had opened a Play and Activity Institute in 1837.

The first kindergarten in the United States was founded in Columbus, Ohio in 1838 by Louisa Frankenberg, a student of Fröbel. Kindergarten, whether as as pre-school program (as in China & France) or as a part of the formal school system is well established worldwide.

Typical U.S. kindergarten classroom - full of things to do, students working in small collaborative groups and white glue...
In the United States, children usually aged 5-6 years old, attend kindergarten to learn "how to learn", play, and interact with others appropriately.

Typical of this experience is the availability of manipulative materials and activities to motivate these children to learn the language and vocabulary of reading, mathematics, science, computers, music, art, and social behaviors. If you have had your own child go through a good kindergarten program, be sure to thank the teacher - it's an awesome and exhausting job to teach this level.

For those children who have spent most of their time at home with a parent, kindergarten (or pre-school) may serve the purpose of training them to be apart from their parents without anxiety.

Pre-school in America has taken on some of the goals of the traditional kindergarten and forced kindergarten teachers and curriculum designers to pull some materials from the first grade experience. This process has moved up through the grades since post-WWII as the number of students in pre-school programs increased along with the increase of the number of families with two working parents. If you graduated from high school more than 25 years ago, you would probably be surprised to see that 8th grade math looks amore like 9th or 10th grade math from your school days. This is quite observable if you are a parent and you try to help your child with homework. Word problems in first grade? Alegebra in grade 7?

Kindergarten is one of the few real success stories of our educational system. There's plenty of research to support that opinion. Gullo (1990) and Olsen and Zigler (1989) warn educators and parents to resist the pressure to include more didactic academic instruction in all-day kindergarten programs. They contend that this type of instruction is inappropriate for young children. All-day kindergarten programs can provide children the opportunity to spend more time engaged in active, child-initiated, small-group activities and teachers in these programs often feel less stressed by time constraints and may have more time to get to know children and meet their needs.

What the idea of Lifelong Kindergarten is all about

I'd have to admit that my first thoughts on this idea came from the popular book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. (see my entry from yesterday when I was rereading and rethinking Fulghum)

Mitchel Resnick, LEGO Professor of Learning Research and head of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Laboratory, is the guru of this right now. He explores how new technologies can help people learn new things in new ways. He feels that as children grow older their educational focus shifts away from direct manipulation to more abstract formal methods. His work focuses on radically changing this traditional progression based on the use of digital manipulatives that extend learning with a kindergarten approach through the school years and, indeed, throughout students’ entire lives.

In "Technologies for Lifelong Kindergarten", he identifies three underlying priciples in rethinking learning.

Reasons to be using design projects
  • students as active participants in the learning process
  • often interdisciplinary,involving concepts from the arts, mathematics, and the sciences
  • encourages pluralistic thinking by avoiding the right/wrong dichotomy prevalent in most math and science activities.
  • fits well with the educational philosophy known as constructionism (people build new knowledge effectively when they are engaged in constructing personally meaningful products)

Why we should be using new media

Many of the activities and representations used in today’s schools were developed in the context of (and are most appropriate for) pencil-and-paper technology. The Internet is a good example of a decentralized structure ("organized without an organizer, coordinated without a coordinator")

Encouraging personal connections

  • connecting activities and tools to learners’ interests & experiences
  • connections make the activities more motivating
  • learners work longer and harder on projects they care about
  • learners make deeper cognitive connections when they follow their interests
Current research seems to indicate that people form stronger relationships with knowledge through “concrete” representations and activities, as comapraed with the formal, abstract representations and approaches favored in traditional curricula.

The Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT has a number of interesting projects. One that should be of interest to the NJIT community is involved with rethinking robotics for girls.

The projects with materials avavilable online include "simple" software that lets students explore concepts such as "emergence" to complete systems like Scratch.

"Scratch is a programmable toolkit that enables kids to create their own games, animated stories, and interactive art -- and share their creations with one another over the Internet. Scratch builds on the long tradition of Logo and LEGO/Logo, but takes advantage of new computational ideas and capabilities to make it easier for kids to get started with programming (lowering the floor) and to extend the range of what kids can create and learn (raising the ceiling). The ultimate goal is to help kids become fluent with digital media, empowering them to express themselves creatively and make connections to powerful ideas. Scratch is built on top of the Squeak environment developed by Alan Kay and colleagues."

I fear that higher education instructors will view all of this as the domain of K-12 teachers, and still I am excited to see college faculty who are adopting some of the Lifelong Kindergarten research.

One of those I discovered online is physics professor Robbie Berg at Wellesley whose research interests are strongly grounded in this. He helped design the "programmable bricks" called Crickets released in 1998 by the LEGO company as part of their Mindstorms robotics line. It has evolved into PicoCrickets, which is designed for making artistic creations with lights, sound, music, and motion and should be available in April 2006.


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