those of you who wonder why we do things the way we do, this
is for you. The answer to that question begins with what we
all know is true from our own experience---that children learn
live. We all do. Telling students that math and science and
writing and all the things we want them to learn are really
important doesn’t answer their real question: what’s
if for? What will I ever use this for? In short, the issue is
motivation. At Young McDonald’s Farm they see what math
and science and engineering and technology and writing are for,
and why they matter. As educators and parents you know that
proficiency in math and science and technology are critical
for your students. Now you don’t have to tell them. You
can show them. And show them the doors it can open for them---aquaponics,
agriculture, programming, engineering---to name only a few.
(see the links section under “Careers”)
our work isn’t just based on anecdotal, gut level feelings
about education. We’re involved in serious academic research
in the cognitive science issues raised here (see the links section
to take you to relevant publications). Our past and ongoing work
on the effectiveness of simulations in the learning process inform
all the decisions we make about how to design programs and curricula
at YMF. We work closely with respected academic institutions like
Rutgers University and Teachers College Columbia University to
study the underlying pedagogy of the work we do and to design
and implement accurate assessment instruments to measure student
achievement and the effectiveness of our program. We know parents
and schools want measurable results and we make sure we can provide
it, along with
independent verification of those results.
the last year we have begun to incorporate simple programming
lessons into our professional development workshops and into
the lessons we plan for our students by introducing Squeak programming.
Both teachers and students will learn to use Squeak, a programming
language designed by Alan Kaye and other pioneers of personal
computing and networking. Squeak is unique in a number of ways,
but most importantly, it is simple enough for learners to apply
it almost immediately after learning a few simple commands.
The immediate interactivity allows learners to manipulate simple
objects and incorporate graphics and sound. The power and ease
of constructing a moving object is intrinsically motivating
to the learner and facilitates understanding and exploration
of core principles and concepts. Squeak allows the students
to actually create their own virtual manipulative, thus incorporating
the benefits of using virtual manipulatives with the far more
powerful benefit of directing the process themselves. Squeak
allows the user to solve and visualize authentic problems by
providing a tool for creating and testing hypotheses.
just a few keystrokes or clicks of a mouse and some simple commands,
the Squeak user can dive into some pretty sophisticated and engrossing
mathematical ideas, manipulating and changing variables and exploring
the possibilities in ways that encourage deep understanding of ideas.
The value of Squeak for both math and science curricula is incalulable.
Alan Kaye himself has often described Squeak as a “thought
amplifier”. Isn't that a tool every student and teacher needs?
The use of virtual and physical manipulative together is, we believe,
a particularly strong component of this program. Research has already
shown the efficacy of conventional manipulatives, but virtual manipulatives
deliver the same benefits as well as others unique to themselves.
Most teachers realize the benefits of the hands-on, multi-sensory
nature of manipulatives, but are reluctant to use them in their
classrooms because of the practical drawbacks: the time needed to
distribute them, clean up afterwards, etc. Besides overcoming this
obvious but very real drawback, virtual manipulatives allow the
learner to model and observe systems and scenarios that regular
manipulatives could not. A student can observe the effect of, for
instance, underwatering a plant, not just for one or two days, when
the effects might be too subtle to notice, but over the life of
the plant, by “speeding up” the time span during which
the observation takes place. Virtual manipulatives allow the student
greater scope in manipulating the variables, widening the possibilites,
the “what ifs”.