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For 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 what they
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”)

But 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.

During 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.

With 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”.