Short works

Books : reviews

Mitchel Resnick.
Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams: explorations in massively parallel microworlds.
MIT Press. 1994

(read but not reviewed)

How does a bird flock keep its movements so graceful and synchronized? Most people assume that the bird in front leads and the others follow. But that’s not the way it works. Bird flocks don’t have leaders: they are organized without an organizer, coordinated without a coordinator. And a surprising number of other systems, from termite colonies to traffic jams to economic systems, work the same way.

Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams is a wide-ranging exploration into the counterintuitive world of decentralized systems and self-organizing phenomena. Increasingly, researchers are choosing decentralized models for the organizations and technologies they construct in the world, and for the theories they construct about the world. Yet many people continue to resist these ideas, assuming centralized control where none exists, and imposing centralized control where none is needed.

Drawing on ideas from computer science, education, psychology, and systems theory, Mitchel Resnick examines how and why people resist decentralized ideas, and he describes an innovative new computer language, called StarLogo, that he designed to help people {even young children) develop new ways of thinking about these ideas. For example, a student can use StarLogo to write simple rules for thousands of “artificial ants,” then observe the colony-level behaviors that arise from all of the interactions.

Resnick discusses how high-school students have used StarLogo to create new types of computer simulations, and he examines how their thinking changed in the process. He concludes by proposing heuristics for thinking about decentralized systems, aimed at helping people move beyond the centralized mindset.

Vanessa Stevens Colella, Eric Klopfer, Mitchel Resnick.
Adventures in Modeling: exploring complex, dynamic systems with StarLogo.
Teachers College Press. 2001

Have you ever wondered how birds flock or forest fires spread? For thousands of years people—from daVinci to Einstein—have created models to help them better understand patterns and processes in the world around them. Computers make it easier for novices to build and explore their own models—and learn new scientific ideas in the process. Adventures in Modeling introduces you and your students to designing, creating, and investigating models in StarLogo.

Using models to explore complex, dynamic systems or events (like predator/prey interactions or traffic jams) is a powerful learning experience. It can help you see the world in new ways and demonstrate how complex patterns can arise from many simple interactions. Modeling and simulation are finding a rapidly growing audience among teachers in middle and high school science and mathematics classes—especially since the NCTM and AAAS standards advocate their integration into the curriculum.

Mitchel Resnick.
Lifelong Kindergarten: cultivating creativity through projects, passion, peers, and play.
MIT Press. 2017

In kindergartens these days, children spend more time with math work sheets and phonics flashcards than building blocks and finger paint. Kindergarten is becoming more like the rest of school. In Lifelong Kindergarten, learning expert Mitchel Resnick argues for exactly the opposite: the rest of school (even the rest of life) should be more like kindergarten. Drawing on experiences from more than thirty years at MIT’s Media Lab, Resnick discusses new technologies and strategies for engaging young people in creative learning experiences. He tells stories of how children are programming their own games, stories, and inventions, and collaborating through remixing, crowdsourcing, and large-scale group projects. To thrive in today’s fast-changing world, people of all ages must learn to think and act creatively—and the best way to do that is by focusing more on imagining, creating, playing, sharing, and reflecting, just as children do in traditional kindergartens.