Sugar is based on Constructionism. Like any good theory, Constructionism is accurate on some points, and needs further research on other areas. But what is Constructionism? Is it true? Is it effective?
Seymour Papert, the father of constructionism, slyly points out that simply giving a definition would not be a Constructionist way to teach you. Instead he suggests ways in which you can experience what works and what doesn’t in current Constructionist programs. We can be a little more explicit, but the need for experience remains central.
In Piaget’s Constructivist theory of child development and learning, based on decades of research with children, understanding is something a child constructs internally out of experience and previous understanding (which in some cases will be misunderstanding), when the child’s brain is sufficiently developed to support the ideas involved.
In Constructionist education on computers, “Aha!” moments—in which a child (or adult) who has been working on a problem without insight suddenly gets it—are deliberately fostered. Alan Kay gives examples of ten-year-olds, with appropriate guidance on where and how to look, and appropriate computer software to assist them, discovering essential concepts of calculus, such as the laws of constant acceleration with their geometric realization and their application to physics. The symbol manipulation and formal proofs have to be delayed to a more appropriate developmental stage, of course.
Much more common still are opportunities to work together—using Sugar’s collaboration capabilities, built-in to its Activities—to construct something, and to explore all that is known and unknown and share the results. This is what Ivan Krstić told us captured the teachers in Latin America, who were no longer bound to the inadequate textbooks and teaching materials provided by the government. And after the teachers got it, the parents soon got it.