This blog post is about objects that were influential in my learning when growing up, similar to what gears were for the father of constructionism, Seymour Papert.
I think the objects that played a big role in helping me understand the concepts I was learning in elementary school (e.g. especially math, arts, and science) were my train sets, watercolor kit, crayons, and particularly my Playmobil toys.
In the foreword for his Mindstorms book, Papert (1980) talks about the importance of objects as he went about learning, or in constructivist and constructionism’s terms, constructing knowledge. He talks about his familiarity with car parts as a kid and how he was in love with differential gears. He believed that working with gears helped him understand math concepts in school. Differential gears became a model Papert understood and served as a framework where the new mathematical concepts fit and made sense to him. Papert (1980) mentions that objects (e.g. gears) could function as “transitional objects” where they afford new knowledge to transition into the mind.
When I think back on my childhood during the elementary years, I remember how much I loved my free time with the Playmobil sets (see images of examples below). I owned the pirate ship, the medieval castle, the western fort, an emergency boat with a functional battery-powered motor, the fire truck and many figures and accessories. I remember creating stories, planning a whole city in a notebook, carefully assembling the sets, even writing to the Playmobil company asking them to make a passenger airplane.
I loved how those toys accurately resembled “real” vehicles and buildings and I admired every small detail, and intricate accessory. I was excited over the motor for my boat that I could actually put in the water and make the boat float on its own. I could not believe they were making a motor powered with batteries and that was at the same time safe to put in the water. I really think those toys helped me understand the basic properties and configuration of vehicles and buildings and helped me move forward into more complex activities, like planning a miniature city on my free time. I wanted to build a miniature city for my Playmobil collection and future purchases. I remember a small notebook and dreaming about how I was going to “create the ocean” by constructing a pool and an underwater tunnel made out of clear plastic so I could see the boats and move from one island to another one. Then I wanted an airplane so bad that I suggested the factory to hurry and make one so we could buy it. I thought, “How strange. They oversaw making a very common vehicle like an airplane. They have castles, cars, but no airplanes?” Ha! No wonder I became a mechanical engineer.
Well, I look forward to understand much better the importance of objects as we study the theory of constructionism this semester.
Images from the Playmobil catalog at http://www.playmobil.us
Papert, S. (1980). Gears of My Childhood. Retrieved from https://llk.media.mit.edu/courses/readings/gears-v1.pdf