Conclusion: Montessori’s Fortnite
We can and should improve schools to
give students access to expanded thinking. We in computing have a powerful
lever. We can change the computation.
Maria Montessori made the observation almost 100 years ago3: children
are set up by their nature to learn their
surrounding environment and culture.
Changing the environment naturally
leads to different learning. Montessori
wanted her children to have qualitatively different thinking, so she invented
new kinds of school.
Changing school today impacts only
one part of today’s children’s lives.
Changing computing impacts their environment both in and out of school. If
Montessori were alive today, she would
still want to redesign school, but she
would likely want to change the computing, too. That is part of the child’s
whole environment. How would Montessori redesign Fortnite? What would
she design instead of Fortnite?
Teaching computing as it is today
is unlikely to have dramatic impact on
students’ everyday lives. It is our job to
redesign computing, to give children
new power to make sense of their world
and change it.
1. Clement, J. Algebra word problem solutions: Thought
processes underlying a common misconception.
Journal for Research in Mathematics Education 13, 1
(Jan. 1982), 16–30; doi: 10.2307/748434
2. Dewey, J. How We Think. A Restatement of the
Relation of Reflective Thinking to the Educative Process
(Revised edition); D. C. Heath, Boston, MA, 1933.
3. Montessori, M. The Montessori Method. Frederick A.
Stokes Company, New York, 1912.
4. Norris, C. and Soloway, E. Students write more, write
better on the computer: Rigorously supported! T. H. E.
Journal, (Nov. 11, 2017); https://bit.ly/2KQ To Tg
5. Wing, J. M. Computational thinking. Commun.
ACM 49, 3 (Mar. 2006), 33–35; DOI: https://doi.
Mark Guzdial ( email@example.com) is Professor of
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, College
of Engineering and Professor of Information, School of
Information, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.
Alan Kay ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is Adjunct
Professor, Computer Science, University of California, Los
Angeles, USA. He is the recipient of the 2003 ACM A. M.
Cathie Norris ( email@example.com) is Regents
Professor, Learning Technologies, College of Information,
University of North Texas, Denton, TX, USA.
Elliot Soloway ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is Arthur F. Thurnau
Professor, Computer Science and Engineering, College of
Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.
The lead author organized the effort; all other authors are
in alphabetical order.
Copyright held by authors.
We should not teach a qualitatively
weak subset of something to children
when we have better options. It might
make later learning of a more powerful
version more difficult.
Instead we should take our inspirations and goals from Jerome Bruner’s
assertion and challenge: “Any subject
can be taught to any one at any age
in an intellectually honest fashion if
their level of development is heeded.”
Keeping the “intellectually honest”
part means that—especially for young
children—it will be necessary to invent real variants of adult versions of
the subject matter—as has indeed
been done so well by Montessori, Pa-pert, Bruner, and others. We imagine
a comprehensive suite of intellectually honest computing-based models
for understanding systems can lead to
much better notion of programming—
for both adults and children. These
will lead to much better programming
language designs and environments
as part of a larger curriculum made
from the most powerful ideas about
systems, processes, science, math, engineering, and computing itself.
One of the main ideas of K– 12
schooling is to prepare children in general for their next phases of life, and
subjects such as reading/writing/litera-ture, science, mathematics, and history
are taught to all to provide a “richness”
of thought about both civilizations
and how to be a citizen who supports
civilization. Understanding civilization as a system is a powerful idea for
all citizens. In our metaphor, we want
citizens to participate in the redesign
of the city and understand the rationale
for its design. Students need fluency in
order to be able to understand models
and systems. Important thresholds of
understanding must be reached before
they can be part of one’s thinking tools.
Finding and inventing these thresholds
for the general population of children,
and how to teach to them, is the critical
need of our time!
Representations to help thinking—
language, mathematics, computing—
are all best taught in context. Children
should use computing with all the other fields of thought, rather than mostly
in isolation. Rather than teach computer science as a separate topic that
might transfer, we should teach with
computational models in every field.
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