Motivation – My correlation with Seymour Papert’s reflections

These are my thoughts on the essay “The Gears of my Childhood” by Seymour Papert.

There is an acient story about a young man named David, who defeated the mighty giant Goliath in an epic battle. Maybe you know this story well or maybe you have only heard about it.

David was small, had no resources and was alone in this fight, but he did something that changed his story: he put his heart into that duel. And he won the battle.

But why did I remember David?

Papert’s story, which talks about the way in which he put his heart in his relationship with the gears and how that changed the way he saw the world around him, reminds me of David. This story reminder us that in life what we do need to have meaning and motivation. That is an important reflection for us, both as educators and as apprentices. Papert’s story also reminded me of my own story. And you must also have memories of someone, or something, that changed your view of the world.

Some years ago I had the opportunity to read an article by the Brazilian writer Rubem Alves (1933-2014), which was published in a newspaper of great circulation in Brazil. In that article he quoted a phrase that touched my heart: “curiosity is an itch in the ideas”. That phrase became the gear of my life as an educator.

As a mathematics teacher, I have always heard the same question from my students: “Where am I going to use this formula in my life?”, usually related to the Bhaskara formula ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. It is a valid question, especially if that student has no interest in acting in the field of Mathematics.

I would love for my students to create connections between the real world and Math. For a teacher of this discipline, it is wonderful to have students who, like Papert, have models that inspire them and make them see meaning in what they do. It is thought-provoking how Papert reports that he understood well the functioning of gears and the structure of differentials, including making connections between them and mathematical equations.

But that phrase caught my heart: “curiosity is an itch in the ideas”. I remembered my childhood, how I used to ask questions and how curious I was. And I thought: “how can I create a space that fosters my students’ curiosity?” The story of the author Rubem Alves inspired me. I concluded that my classes should be more constructionist, that is, more exploratory.

One of the first projects I developed with my students was the Mousetrap Car. This project became another gear for me. I started to see different applicabilities for the Mousetrap Car project in Maths and Science contents. During classes, with their smartphones, the students, engaged and motivated, filmed theirs Cars on a defined trajectory and used calculators to estimate the speed of their prototype.

Shortly afterwards, I expanded my activities to educational robotics with LEGO Mindstorms and to the electronic prototyping platform Arduino.

At that point, I also developed interactive Maths quiz projects with my students, using the visual programming language Scratch, and worked on the concepts of Computational Thinking. And, the itch in the ideas that I wished my students had started to take hold of me. Thus, I became an educator who researches new methodologies and technologies for teaching Mathematics.

In 2018, I followed the implementation of the Maker Space at Polo Educacional Sesc, where I am currently a Maths teacher. I collaborated with the creation of the course called Designer in Digital Fabrication (Figure 1), an initiative whose objective was to empower our students to use the resources available in our new installation (3D Printers, Laser Cutter and other prototyping resources), through the Design Thinking strategy.

Figure 1 – Designer in Digital Fabrication training course

Among the actions in which I engaged in favor of Maker Education, I began to multiply my activities in courses of experimentation and training of educators (Figure 2) from our net of schools. These actions inspired me to inspire and became the differential in my professional life.

Figure 2 – Training of Educators

By merging low tech resources and high tech resources for hands-on activities, my eyes were opened to a new perspective on math teaching. That was how in 2019 I created the Maker Math course.

Teaching mathematics through digital fabrication, educational robotics and artificial intelligence is the guiding thread of this course. Mathematics, which exists in all the just mentioned technologies, allows the student to develop skills and competences through the development of projects of interest.

Stimulating curiosity and promoting incentives for the student to put their heart into what they are learning is a good start for a meaningful and enjoyable classroom. The giant Goliath, for many students, represents their efforts to create a connection between what is taught at school and the real world.

But there is nothing like strong motivation to help learners to move on and overcome difficulties. The term motivation is derived from the Latin word movere, which means “to move”[1]. Motivation can be defined as “the forces that act on or within a person that cause the awakening, the direction and the persistence of the voluntary effort directed towards an objective”.

Papert was moved by his gears, and they reverberated in a life focused on research, innovation and the inspirational Constructionist theory.