Tonight I had the pleasure of listening to the inventor of the Squeak language (as well as a number of other important things in computing), Alan Kay speak in person. Alan is also a principal in the OLPC, XO project. He talked about important developments in the history of personal computing and then spent the remainder of the evening demonstrating the children’s Squeak language and the eToys environments that are created using Squeak. He is passionate about improving the quality of education and the facilitation the potential of children everywhere. Needless to say, I was pretty much riveted for the entire talk.
It was interesting to hear his response to my question about the value of using gender-differentiated learning environments. As some of you may know I am in the process of evaluating various visual programming languages for possible inclusion in Microsoft’s DigiGirlz curriculum. One (other) such candidate is StoryTelling Alice. Alan actually signed off on StoryTelling Alice’s creator’s thesis – Caitlin Kelleher. Despite that, in his response, he indicated that he sees value in gender-differentiation for a specific subset of what Squeak is designed to do. Specifically, "If you are just trying to teach programming, then maybe…" The implication was if the goal was to improve absorption of math and science concepts generally, then gender-differentiation was unnecessary.
To hear more watch Alan’s talk at the TED conference where he talks about his approach to education in general. If the video loads slowly, go here to listen to Alan’s talk directly.