NET NEWS: MIT to Expand Its Child's Play

Science  04 Dec 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5395, pp. 1779
DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5395.1779c

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is making a high-tech foray into educating future generations of university students. Last month the MIT Media Lab announced a $27 million gift from a Japanese philanthropist for a new center to develop computer technologies that help children learn. On the drawing board are an animated owl that tells folk tales, for instance, and LEGO bricks with computer chips that let kids make their own scientific instruments.

The Media Lab's guiding principle is to teach through hands-on projects rather than books and lectures, says the lab's Mitchel Resnick. This philosophy has received a big endorsement from Isao Okawa, chair of both Japan-based CSK Corp. and video gamemaker Sega Enterprises Ltd., who has tapped his personal fortune to endow an Okawa Center for Future Children at MIT, to be built by 2003. Instead of reading about animal behavior, students might learn about it using “creaturelike robots with sensors,” Resnick says; or they might learn about systems like traffic jams or bird flocks not by diving into differential equations but by “building their own model on a computer.”

Another goal will be to hook up children around the world with the Internet, especially in developing countries, as 1000 kids did this past month in a Media Lab online event called Junior Summit '98. Jan Hawkins of the Harvard Graduate School of Education says the lab's approach to making kids “leaders of their own learning [is] great and it's different,” although it may not be embraced right away by school systems committed to traditional teaching.

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