Nea-Science – Special Issue Vol.3
Technology to enhance Hands-on Psycho-pedagogical Practices
Since their birth and maybe even before, children start learning about the world around them. Day by day they can count on wider sensory-motor functions that open to their cognitive development new ways. In the period of their life that goes from few months to 3-4 years hands are fundamental in conveying knowledge. A child points something, he/she handles, touches, tastes and manipulates while understanding an object features and functions. This every day observations reflect in eminent psychologists perspectives, consider for example Piaget (1926; 1936), Papert (1993), Bruner (1990) who recognize a fundamental role to manipulative activities for psychological development and cognitive representations birth. Also Vygotsky, the other giant father of cognitive development theory, believed that interaction with environment was an important way a child may learn, not the only one indeed. In his opinion, cognitive development relies on input from other people as well, thus underlying the importance of historical and cultural context children live in. Of course, adult humans do not learn only by pointing, reaching, touching and manipulating. During the cognitive development and learning processes, the “concrete” manipulative acts are gradually embedded and represented in our neurocognitive structures where they are performed as “simulated” actions (symbolic acts) in a virtual (mind) space (see Newcombe abd Shipley, in press). But the use of hands (or more in general, the body) coupled with a cognitive representation of the physical space are the latent and essential psychological biases of our learning/developmental processes. They strongly emerge when the environmental conditions invite us to use them. These biases are, probably, the main reasons why we think about Internet as a geometrical (virtual) space or why the (computer) “mouses” and the “touch screens” are immediately intuitive. In fact, the mouse extends our “pointing” and “reaching” actions in a computer screen graphic space and the current “touch screen” technology allows us to manipulate digital virtual objects. Recently, new technologies are candidates to enhance our attitude to know by manipulating. Basically, they are composed by common objects equipped with sensors and connected in wireless mode with a remote computer. Users enter in this sort of Internet of Things and interact with the smart objects through new interfaces (glasses, gloves, visors, etc.) or by traditional manipulation interpreted by (sophisticated) computer programs (see for example handwriting recognition systems). We think that the new chances offered by the Smart Objects technology could produce innovative learning/teaching environments to enhance neuro-cognitive development especially in training context. Moreover, with these tools we could recover traditional and well known psycho-pedagogical practices that are not widely and massively applied because of their expensiveness. For example, it is the case of educational materials like Logic Blocks or Teaching Tiles. These are manipulative learning environments designed to teach a wide range of subjects (mathematics, geometry, languages, geography, etc.) and abilities (or soft skills) (problem solving, creative thinking, cooperative behaviour, etc.) for children aged from 3 and 10. Unfortunately, this type of material can be used individually or in small groups of students (3-4 children maximum) and requires a constant supervision by an adult (teachers, parents, educators, etc.). This is a strong constrain for their massive utilization. As said above, we think that the emerging field of smart technologies (software and hardware) could be addressed to overcome this constrain and exploit the huge potential lying in these materials/practice. This book aims to introduce the general theme of developing and using innovative teaching/learning environments based on the harmonic integration of (a) Referring to a well-known cognitive theoretical perspective; (b) recovering traditional psycho-pedagogical practices, etc. (i.e. logical blocks, teaching tiles, handwriting); (c) applying Smart Technologies to enhance the psycho-pedagogical practices (i.e. hardware side: RFID/NFC sensors, augmented reality systems, intelligent interfaces, etc.; software side: artificial intelligence systems to enhance the learning-teaching experiences). The book is divided-up in two parts. The first part delineates the state the art of the overall field (theoretical perspectives, hand-on educational practices, smart technologies applied to education), the second part will describe the Block-Magic methodology-technology as a concrete and recent case of study. More in detail the first part reports the state of the art about theoretical perspective on learning and cognitive development that inspire hands-on educational practices. Moreover we will describe some relevant examples of hands-on educational practices, underlying their specific features, strengths and drawbacks and how they are related with the theories and methods describes in the first section. Finally, we will go a step further introducing tangible devices and smart technologies that allow people to interact with digital information through the physical environment (i.e. tangible user interface). Also in this case attention will be devoted to analyse these examples according to the proposed theoretical framework. The part II will widely describe a case study, the Block-Magic methodology . What is Block Magic? Why is it different from others platforms? What does it allow to do in training /educational context? Why is it effective? These questions will receive a reply through the description of concrete examples and applications by the Block- Magic Consortium, in the framework of EU funded research project. Many book authors are members of the Block-Magic consortium (www.block-magic.eu) that has developed learning/teaching materials and activities according to the above guidelines.