Tinkering about Thinking about Seymour


“You can’t think about thinking without thinking about thinking about something.” – Seymour Papert

MIT Papert Event

Last week, the Tinkering Studio team traveled to Boston for a symposium celebrating the life and works of Seymour Papert at the MIT Media Lab. Seymour Papert was a revolutionary educator who designed the logo turtle, taught creative computing, and wrote many seminal books including the classic Mindstorms. His constructionist theory of learning, emphasizing collaboration, iteration, and agency, has formed the foundation of our work in the Tinkering Studio and has deeply influenced the entire maker movement. MIT Papert Event

The event featured many of Seymour's close colleagues, friends, and mentees who shared big thoughts and personal anecdotes in a series of keynote speeches and panel discussions. And since an event celebrating someone who advocated tinkering and play wouldn't make sense without a hands on exploration, we set up some stations where people could try out a sound machines activity that we've been developing with the Lifelong Kindergarten group and the LEGO Foundation.


In the prologue to Mindstorms, Seymour focused on how, as a child, he fell in love with gears, and that love for a material changed his self-perception and allowed him to become more interested in learning about math, science and engineering. So for the event we thought it would be appropriate to try to emphasize gear-based sound machines by creating five pegboard tables where people could work together, using the LEGO gears to expand their constructions. MIT Papert Event

Seymour's work also focused on the powerful ideas that can emerge when playing with programming and computation. LEGO sound machines lend themselves to these types of explorations and we set up several tables with interesting shakers, music boxes, and "cows in cans" that made different sounds when programmed using a version of Scratch on an ipad controlling a WEDO motor and sensors.


This combination of sound machine stations created a joyful cacophony of bells, drums, and shakers that was audible as people got off the elevator and joined the event. The large working spaces also encouraged collaboration and we could see ideas quickly spread around the working spaces. IMG_7731

It was great to see learners of all ages experimenting and working together to create interesting rhythms and complex constructions. Some of the participants came back to the stations at each break to keep working on their ideas and testing out new ways of building.

MIT Papert Event

Sebastian worked on one of the most compelling programmed instruments that included a disc with holes, a bright LED, a solar panel and a speaker. When the light passed over the solar panel in an off/on pattern it created a frequency that could be heard over the speaker. Programming the motor to move the light back and forth over different parts of the disc made a changing tone that sounded pretty amazing. This and other interesting examples really demonstrated the high ceilings possible when combining LEGO pieces with real world sensors and materials.

MIT Papert Event

One of the best things about this unique event was that it gave us the chance to invite some of our biggest inspirations, like Eleanor Duckworth, to try out our new activities. It was so cool to be able to reflect together on the activity design, faciliation, and materials with a group of educators and thinkers that we deeply admire. MIT Papert Event

All in all, it was really special event and a great place to continue the prototyping of some of our #LEGOtinkering ideas. We plan to continue to think about how environmental elements can support collaboration, the ways that programming can be more seamlessly integrated into the activity, and which real world materials can support furthered investigations. As well, hearing about and discussing the legacy of Seymour Papert also helped to see the context of this activity and the larger Tinkering Studio program as one of the "seeds that Seymour sowed" all around the world.

Neat tinkering stations! Bookmarking now to show these videos to Queen Ka'ahumanu Tink Think Tank Tech Team (T5) to inspire their future projects. Thank you for sharing!!

Great fun - I am sorry I missed it. Please, is the version of Scratch mentioned here: "version of Scratch on an ipad controlling a WEDO motor and sensors." available? I am a Scratch Jr and Scratch enthusiast but this is unfamilair to me. I would love to be able to do this with our WEDO and tinkering boards. Thanks!

Hi Kimberly! The version of Scratch we are using is not available (yet…?) it's a very rough prototype whipped up by our friends in the MediaLab. It may be folded into a future version of Scratch, though, so it may become available at some point. Meanwhile the regular version of Scratch does interface with the WeDo, it just works from a computer rather than an iPad, but on the other hand it has more functionality than the version we were using…

I'd like to make (or acquire) a Lego Technic-compatible pegboard that is shown in this post. I've seen it mentioned in a few other posts too, but I haven't located any details about them, e.g., plans, specs, etc. Can you help? I want to teach myself engineering principles with Technics -- and try some of your more artful experiments -- and I can see how such a base would be very helpful!


The pegboards are not available for purchase, but we have published an Instructable with the laser cutter file we used to make smaller versions. The file for the large ones can be easily made one you have the right hole dimensions and spacing from the smaller file, and either sent to a big laser cutter if you have access to it, or a CNC machine. Let us know how it goes and how some of your experiments turn out!

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