Cooperative Parent-Child Learning in a LEGO-Logo Environment
Bar-Ilan University - The Jorden-valley college
Department of Math and Computer Sciences
Jorden-valley, 15132, Israel
The idea that parents and children could learn LEGO-Logo together cooperatively, has become a reality. LEGO-Logo course lends itself to, and allows for, a rich choice of activities in various fields, by an individual project-oriented teaching. The LEGO-Logo system has proven to be extremely suitable to collaborative parent-child learning, due to its variety of opportunities and especially to its novelty and inventiveness.
LEGO-Logo courses were held for sixth-grade gifted children, with the willing participation of their parents. It was found that these courses help to foster and cultivate the thinking and creativeness of participants, as well as improve family ties and bring about better understanding between parents and their children.
This paper presents the educational potential embodied in this versatile system, on condition that the teacher inspire an atmosphere of freedom: to choose, to decide, to create, to explore, to program, to struggle with problems, and above all to make mistakes, in his class. It also describes the parent-child interaction created during the meetings, as a result of the shared learning within this computerized and technological environment.
LEGO-Logo, cooperative parent-child learning, gifted children, project-oriented teaching, computerized-technological environment.
1 LEGO-Logo system description
LEGO-Logo is a computerized, technology oriented, learning system. As its name indicates, it is a combination of Technic-LEGO (the technological aspect) and of Logo (the computerized aspect). Combination of these two has a much greater effect than each one by itself. It encourages diversity in several ways: a diversity of project themes, a diversity of working styles, and a diversity of entry paths (Resnick, 1990). Thus, it offers a wealth of activities, within a well-defined framework, where everyone can find something personal and interesting to do, to learn, and to occupy himself.
Inclusion of sensors in LEGO-Logo allows transfer of information to and fro between LEGO and Logo, through an interface box. As a result, one can build LEGO-machines, operated and controlled by Logo-programs. For example, in a project of building a model for a sorting machine, the time in which a moving beam hides the light from an optic sensor is transformed into input data reported to the computer. This information which is used by the computer to calculate the length of the beam, and the output data to the sorting machine, will result in readjustment of the beam according to its length.
The compound system is set up as a "micro-world", allowing creative thinking and intuitive learning of various interdisciplinary subjects in scientific and engineering fields (Ocko, Papert & Resnick, 1988). These may include: computer sciences, mathematics, physics, simulation, robotics, automation, etc.
2 The educational approach of LEGO-Logo
LEGO-Logo, like other cooperative learning methods (Graves, 1993), foster respect for learning. Students have to share, talk, debate and relate to one another. They learn how to work with others, and how to help each other to promote creative thinking. LEGO-Logo has a positive effect on the social interactions in the classroom. The students learn to work cooperatively in groups as well as to use the computers better and to plan shared projects (Dawson & Bell, 1991).
Learning is conducted by experimental, inventive, and open-ended activities, combining a variety of elements from different areas. Learning starts by allowing students to choose a topic for their project, and is concluded upon their own evaluation and decision. During the studying in class, students organize themselves in teams. Each team chooses a project, and plans, builds, and carries it out accordingly.
Learning processes are reinforced by feed-back from computers, LEGO models, other teams and the teacher. For example, each week the teacher might get computer programs that control the students projects and returns them back with advisory comments. This procedure is based upon the belief that students learn best, when they initiate an activity and receive help, only up to their will. Thus, teaching in this environment is performed by project-oriented learning. The teacher does not teach, but assists with problem solving (through guiding questions and hints). He may also catalyze or introduce new ideas (technological, mathematical, etc.), such as the inverse ratio between the motor speed and its strength (exerted moment). Teaching is carried out by conversations with each team separately, and by whole class discussions about general ideas, which may be common to all. Such a discussion may start by a presentation of one students Logo program to the whole class, and then by examination its bugs.
For example, the following program (below, left) was supposed to operate a car by a touch sensor, so that one press will move it, the next press will turn off the motor, and so on. The explanations of the LEGO-Logo commands are on the right:
to GO Give a name to the procedure listento BUTTON Set up a connection to a touch sensor waituntil [sensor?] Wait for first pressing talkto MOTOR Set up a connection to a motor too on Turn on the motor waituntil [sensor?] Wait for the next press off Turn off the motor GO Execute the procedure once again end End of procedure
In a discussion about the objectives of the program, the students have to handle a range of problems. For example, the high speed of the computer causes it to jump to the off immediately after the on command, and thus, the program above does not work appropriately.
Technical remark: The words in the procedure above, written in capital letters, are defined by very short procedures, such as follows:
to BUTTON Give a name to the procedure output 6 Set up a meaningful name to slot 6 end End of procedure to MOTOR Give a name to the procedure output "a Set up a meaningful name to slot A end End of procedure
3 Parent-child relationships
The first meetings of the LEGO-Logo course were held in an atmosphere of embarrassment and confusion. The sixth-grade gifted children were computer-friendly in general, and particularly with Logo, which they had learned in school. Their parents, however, were in most cases computer-illiterate, anxious and hesitant. Nevertheless, they came to the meetings aware of the importance of fostering and cultivating their children. During the first stage they could even feel, at times, some derision and scorn from the children. Later on, during the course, the parents overcame their insecurity.
Their experience, especially their technical skills, helped them with problem solving, and at times, they even surprised their children. The natural friendliness, and intuitiveness of the whole environment enabled the parents to become more and more involved. They helped their children, when they became stuck, even with programming. At first, the parents ideas were expressed in natural language, and the children translated them into Logo. As time went on, the parents became fluent in Logo, reaching the stage where they could express themselves, and make suggestions in that programming language.
4 Research questions
LEGO-Logo environment invites investigations such as: an examination of contents, or of the quality of the learning processes. As well as an examination of the social outlook of a parent-child course, such as the influence of cooperative learning on family relationships.
One can learn about the contents quality of the studies and the special interest that was aroused, from a compliment that was expressed by one of the parents: "In my opinion, the meetings are too short. Two hours are not enough. It would be better if the meetings were three hours long" (and every meeting lasted full two hours!). That is somehow different from another finding, that working parents prefer projects which require intense effort but for a set time (Wirth, 1991). Another reinforcement was the parents persistence throughout the year, in spite of all their day-to-day activities.
The evaluation, which accompanied the course, puts forward several points, two of them will be discussed in detailed. The first is about follow-up activities at home, and the second is about the influence of the course on family relationships.
5 Sociological results
The results presented here refer to a period of 2 years, 1992-1993, during which 9-10 parent-child teams participated each year. Reports were received from 18 pairs. The sixth-grade students studied one day a week in a school for gifted children, and other days in regular schools in their regions. The courses were also accompanied by observators. 50% of the participants answered the question regarding collaborative follow-up activities done outside class positively. These activities were categorized as follows:
The second point, about the influence which the cooperative learning had on relationships within the family, positive reports were received only from one third of the pairs. Nevertheless, some of them were very moving, and are quoted from the questionnaires below. The first three quotations are from parents, and the others are from children (not of the same parents):
"I am divorced, and the course enables me to develop closer relationships with my son" (a father whose ex-wife has custody).
"There is now more awareness and understanding of subjects I deal with, at my job" (a father who was pleased that his daughter and even his wife had been learning topics that were close to his work).
"I dont think there is any influence on our relationship at home, because we have always enjoyed doing things together, but there is certainly a great pleasure in cooperative learning" (a mother with her son).
"I am usually with my mother, and now I spend Wednesdays with my father".
"I think so (that there is an influence), because Wednesday is my day with my father".
"I tell my father what I think, and together we use the words I learned in Logo".
"During the meeting my father behaves more like a friend. The team-work with him teaches me to work cooperatively".
The above quotes demonstrate the creative experience of cooperative work between parents and their children. They also refer indirectly to the improvement of communication and closer family ties in those cases.
These findings were supported and even strengthened by observation reports. These results showed a higher level of cooperative learning then has been reported before (such as by McBride, 1989). The parents became real partners in working on the projects. They learned more about their own children, and they influenced their development. As a result they had closer and richer relationships with them.
The paper emphasizes the importance of a rich environment, such as LEGO-Logo, which broadens the students horizons, and enables an intuitive learning of interdisciplinary subjects through their own personal activities. Every activity must be done cooperatively in small groups, as in real life. The fact that the system was completely new to both parents and children enables real team-work learning. Thus, it helps them to achieve, not only wider knowledge and to minimize parents fear of computers, but also a wider understanding of the childrens point of view. What contributed to the fastening of inner family connections was the imbalance between the lack of programming experience on the parents part, and the lack of life experience on the childrens.