Introduction to Squeak Etoys on the BTest OLPC XO November 2006 Build
This documentation is in progress and will be added to through the month of November 2006.
Etoys on OLPC XO
This experimental system for the BTest build was done to test a wide range of Etoys facilities on the XO, including: screen size and legibility, sound and dynamic graphics generation, use of the camera, keyboard, and tablet (especially for painting and pointing), external devices (such as physical world sensors), collaboration & mentoring, etc. One of the main new facilities supplied here that will be fleshed out considerably in future builds is a comprehensive attempt to provide an interface and material that can help children learn Etoys without requiring expert adults to help them.
This document will cover the Etoys facilities provided in this experimental build, and we at Viewpoints Research Institute (a nonprofit research organization devoted to helping children learn to think), invite users and testers to email us with comments, questions and complaints at XOetoys@squeakland.org .
Status of this BTest-1 Version of Etoys
We plan to make the Etoys user interface use as many of the OLPC "Sugar" UI conventions as possible. The latter are still being designed, so there is currently not a lot of coherence with Sugar, and Etoys thus uses its own UI conventions (which are explained below). The very high resolution and unusual color gamut of the XO display required some new design, fonts, resizing, etc. The slower speed of the XO required some optimizations and a few simplifications.
This version of Etoys was adapted from the standard multilingual system that is already used in many places in the world (and is discussed at Squeakland Website and in the book Powerful Ideas in the Classroom by B.J. Allen-Conn and Kim Rose. For convenience, we will give a gist of this material here using screen shots from the actual XO Etoys version and examples on the BTest-1 machine.
Introduction to Etoys
Etoys is an authoring system, primarily aimed at children, in which a wide variety of dynamic media can be created and programmed/scripted, shared and collaborated. Much of the use of Etoys has been as a vehicle to help children learn "powerful ideas", especially in science and mathematics.
The main ancestors and influences of Etoys were Logo, Smalltalk, Hypercard, and StarLogo. This version was designed primarily for 9–12 year olds, but has been used successfully with younger and older children. We are in the process of making a multiple user-interface system that will better cater to the needs of young children (especially those who don't yet read) and older children who can handle many more operations and complex planning.
Etoys has been freely available on the Internet since 1998 and works on all the standard platforms (and many nonstandard ones). Etoys is localizable, and there are versions in German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Swahili, etc. The Etoys home website is web address of Squeakland , and this contains quite a bit of material about the use of Etoys, the philosophy of education employed, and many examples done by children, teachers, and parents. Etoys is currently in more than a dozen countries and has been quite successful.
Etoys has many scriptable media objects, and the children can create more. These include: drawings & paintings, text (including ability to do extensive layouts), pictures (BMP, JPEG, GIF, PNG), animations, movies (MPEG), sound (MP3), sound recorders, sound synthesis (sampling, FM, etc.), MIDI player and editor, "books" (like Hypercard stacks), enriched webpages, etc. These are all WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) intermixable and authorable via direct manipulation and scripting.
Educational Uses of Etoys
Etoys as an environment for education was originally inspired by the ideas of Seymour Papert (who was influenced by Piaget), Montessori, Dewey, Vygotsky, and Jerome Bruner. The basic theory is that children learn ideas best if they can encounter, play with and construct the ideas kinesthetically, visually & sonically, and symbolically. The ideas often need to be put into representations that are better matched to the cognitive abilities of the children in their current stage of development.
For example, the calculus is the idea that many changes are gradual enough to allow the change to be expressed in terms of nearby properties of time and space. This "mathematics of change" is often represented using algebraic symbology and analytic geometry in cartesian coordinates, and the learning of these representations usually delays the introduction of calculus to high school or later.
But Papert pointed out that since children are already in a world of change and are coping with it, especially by moving themselves around, making simple plans, etc., they should already have gained intuitive knowledge that could be used for learning the "mathematics of change" in terms that relate directly to their own experience. In the world of their experience there are no cartesian coordinates and so the mathematics of vectors and what is called "differential geometry" (which were invented to avoid needing coordinates) is likely to be more suitable. Where, for example, in cartesian coordinates a child would have to learn about <math>a^2+b^2=r^2</math> to make a mathematical representation of a circle, a much younger child can easily make one by walking in a circle and then thinking about what they had to do: go a little, turn a little, over and over.
child walking in circle
The Etoy scripts can go over-and-over by clicking the little clock on them, and so the mathematical expression of a circle in Etoys looks like:
In practice, the children first make something on the screen (usually by painting a picture), then they bring their creation to life by writing simple scripts that are both directions to Etoys for actions to be done and they are mathematical expressions of change in this special version of the calculus that we are helping them learn.
Every object in Etoys also has a pen, so one way to think of Etoys is "Logo with unlimited Turtles that can wear Costumes". We can use the pen to help us reflect on dynamic changes. For example, we can reveal the vector nature of a circle by choosing to have arrows drawn instead of just lines. Or we can make it easier to see the distances of the "hops" by drawing dots. Another way to think of the "distances of the hops" is a measure of the speed of the car (since each hop is taken on a uniform tick of the script, and "speed" is the distance traveled in some unit of time). The script shows this also as the units the car moves forward (in this case, it is 5).