Around the World with the 8 Big Ideas of the Constructionist Learning Lab

The Big Idea Octopus

In 1999, Seymour Papert, the father of educational technology, embarked on his last ambitious institutional research project when he created the constructionist, technology-rich, project-based, multi-aged Constructionist Learning Laboratory inside of Maine’s troubled prison for teens, The Maine Youth Center. As Gary Stager shares in our book, Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, Papert outlined these 8 Big Ideas to help visitors understand constructionism as a living, practical approach to creating an optimal learning environment.

The Stanford University FabLearn Fellows have started to create translations of the Eight Big Ideas Behind the Constructionist Learning Laboratory by Seymour Papert into various languages.

Translations more will be added as they are created!

Includes the first big idea of learning by doing) –

“Felix, Aaron, and Oskar do their very best to understand Papert’s ideas. Sometimes they understood because it is what they do everyday in the makerspace.” Read more

  • German (this was translated by students, please read this post for more details!) – Die erste große Idee ist Learning by Doing. Wir lernen alle besser, wenn das Lernen Teil einer Tätigkeit ist, die wir wirklich interessant finden. Wir lernen am allerbesten, wenn wir etwas lernen selber zu machen was wir wirklich wollen. (7 more…)
  • Kirundi – Iciyumviro cambere nyamukuru ni kwigira mubikorwaKenshi na kenshi twiga neza mugihe twiga ivyo twumva dukunze. Kukaba nkako, twiga neza cane mugihe turiko dukoresha ivyo twize mugukora ikintu dushaka kugerako. (7 more...)
  • Kinyarwanda – Igitekerezo cya mbere cy’iremezo ni Kwiga unakora. Twese twiga neza iyo bijyanye no gukora ikintu kidushimisha. Twiga neza cyane iyo twize dushaka gukora ikintu dushaka. (7more…)
  • Italian – Imparare facendo : Quando imparare fa parte di un’esperienza attiva ed interessante, impariamo meglio. Impariamo ancora meglio quando possiamo usare quello che abbiamo appreso per creare qualcosa che ci appassiona. (7 more…)
  • Swahili – Wazo la kwanza ni kujifunza kwa kutenda. Sisi wote huwa tunajifunza vizuri wakati kujifunza ni sehemu ya kufanya kitu kinacho tuvutia. Twajifunza vizuri Zaidi tunapo tumia kile tulicho jifunza ili tufanye kile tunachokitaka (7 more…)
  • Portuguese – A primeira grande ideia é aprender fazendo. Todos aprendemos melhor quando aprender é parte de algo que achamos realmente interessante fazer. Nós aprendemos melhor quando usamos o que aprendemos para fazer algo que realmente queremos. (7 more…)
  • Catalan – La primera gran idea és aprendre fent. Tots aprenem millor quan l’aprenentatge és una part del fer alguna cosa que ens sembla realment interessant. Aprenem de la millor manera quan fem servir el que aprenem per fer alguna cosa que realment desitgem. (7 more…)
  • Spanish – La primera gran idea es aprender haciendo. Todos aprendemos mejor cuando el aprendizaje es parte de hacer algo que nos parece realmente interesante. Aprendemos de la mejor manera cuando usamos lo que aprendemos para hacer algo que realmente deseamos. (7 more…)
  • French – Le premier principe est l’apprentissage par la pratique. On apprend tous mieux quand l’apprentissage entre dans le cadre d’une activité qu’on trouve vraiment intéressant. On apprend le mieux quand on met en pratique ce que l’on a appris sur quelque chose qu’on désire vraiment. (7 more…)
  • More to come…


And in English… The Eight Big Ideas Behind the Constructionist Learning Lab
By Dr. Seymour Papert

The first big idea is learning by doing. We all learn better when learning is part of doing something we find really interesting. We learn best of all when we use what we learn to make something we really want.

The second big idea is technology as building material. If you can use technology to make things you can make a lot more interesting things. And you can learn a lot more by making them. This is especially true of digital technology: computers of all sorts including the computer-controlled Lego in our Lab.

The third big idea is hard fun. We learn best and we work best if we enjoy what we are doing. But fun and enjoying doesn’t mean “easy.” The best fun is hard fun. Our sports heroes work very hard at getting better at their sports. The most successful carpenter enjoys doing carpentry. The successful businessman enjoys working hard at making deals.

The fourth big idea is learning to learn. Many students get the idea that “the only way to learn is by being taught.” This is what makes them fail in school and in life. Nobody can teach you everything you need to know. You have to take charge of your own learning.

The fifth big idea is taking time – the proper time for the job. Many students at school get used to being told every five minutes or every hour: do this, then do that, now do the next thing. If someone isn’t telling them what to do they get bored. Life is not like that. To do anything important you have to learn to manage time for yourself. This is the hardest lesson for many of our students.

The sixth big idea is the biggest of all: you can’t get it right without getting it wrong. Nothing important works the first time. The only way to get it right is to look carefully at what happened when it went wrong. To succeed you need the freedom to goof on the way.

The seventh big idea is do unto ourselves what we do unto our students. We are learning all the time. We have a lot of experience of other similar projects but each one is different. We do not have a pre-conceived idea of exactly how this will work out. We enjoy what we are doing but we expect it to be hard. We expect to take the time we need to get this right. Every difficulty we run into is an opportunity to learn. The best lesson we can give our students is to let them see us struggle to learn.

The eighth big idea is we are entering a digital world where knowing about digital technology is as important as reading and writing. So learning about computers is essential for our students’ futures BUT the most important purpose is using them NOW to learn about everything else.

The story of the Constructivist Learning Laboratory is documented in Gary Stager’s doctoral dissertation, “An Investigation of Constructionism in the Maine Youth Center.” The University of Melbourne. 2006.

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