Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Free Schools and Free Tools

I've been spending time thinking about and building creative learning tools. One question I ask when I'm making a learning tool is, "How much guidance should I build in to the tool?" I'm finding that this is a design question without an exact answer. Every tool has some suggestions in it - a hammer guides you towards hitting things, while a nail gun specifically suggests that you should shoot nails into things. You can prepare a wide range of foods with a chef's knife, while a garlic mincer is much more directed and even more effecient. Which tool should you give someone?

When I visited a free school this spring, I found they had a world that might be useful to borrow from when I think about my learning tools.


Me and a couple Media Labbers drove out to a visit day and took a tour.

music-note.jpgLISTEN TO THE AUDIO TOUR I COMPILED (3 minute mp3)

They didn't have any classes, nobody got any grades, there were no grade levels, and there was no required curriculum. But there were things like a music room with guitars and other instruments, a computer room, a reading room with books on every subject, and a group of adults that were available if their expertise was needed. So how much guidance was built into the school? It seemed only enough to support the students' ideas as they blossomed. That's a careful balance, because too much guidance and you'll end up with a group who doesn't have space to follow their own ideas, while too little guidance will leave a group without the nurturing it needs for new ideas to emerge. Free tools are kind of like free schools - you have to take your project in your own direction, but once you get going the functionality you need is there to help your project grow.

A good cook might make use of a chef's knife and a garlic mincer. So how can we make tools that are useful, but without limiting what can be cooked up?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great buch of kids w/the right attitude. Wish more schools were in that mode.And more teachers in the same space. But again, they all seem to have problems w/learning math....that's your cue!Keep on keepin' on...xxoo..dad