Introduction to Seymour Papert(from his own website – http://www.papert.org/): People laughed at Seymour Papert in the sixties when he talked about children using computers as instruments for learning and for enhancing creativity. The idea of an inexpensive personal computer was then science fiction. But Papert was conducting serious research in his capacity as a professor at MIT. This research led to many firsts. It was in his laboratory that children first had the chance to use the computer to write and to make graphics. The Logo programming language was created there, as were the first children’s toys with built-in computation. The Logo Foundation was created to inform people about Logo and to support them in their use of Logo-based software for learning and teaching. In short, Seymour knows his stuff about learning.
Getting to the point
I have just returned from our Year 11 History Trip, supporting their GCSE studies. Our destination was Berlin, and the two areas of study were the rise of the Nazi party and the Cold War. It would of course have been very easy to have the study materials in printed or electronic form, as History has for all of its teaching courses. The wonderful thing about the city of Berlin is that it sits at the geographical centre of both topics and it (and Germany more generally) sits close by our interests as competing western democratic industrial nations.
During our visit to the Reichstag, we stood outside Chancellor Merkel’s office and knocked on the door. Sadly, it seems we had just missed her, but the experience promoted by our guide was very much in which we sensed the proximity of the German leader to those whom she governs and to whom she is accountable. Sir Norman Foster’s inspirational architectural construct of the new parliamentary space within the old Imperial building is breathtaking in its contemporary design. Almost nothing is left of the old building, except some specific signs of previous conflict from its past, such as bullet holes in the masonry and graffiti written in cyrillic script by conquering soldiers from Russia and their allies.
During our stay, students covered the museums of Check Point Charlie and the Topography of Terror (adjacent to the SS HQ), the Berlin Wall, and its graffitied memorial, the East Side gallery, the Berlin underground bunkers, the Olympic Stadium and the Holocaust memorial.
The educational highlight is always the Sachsenhausen Concentration camp, in which political, military and outcast prisoners were held, and in many cases murdered by their Nazi captors. I quote from the website:
Concentration camp Sachsenhausen was built in the summer of 1936 by prisoners from the Emsland concentration camps. It was the first camp to be built after ‘Reichsführer SS’ Heinrich Himmler was put in charge of the German police in July 1936. The new concentration camp was designed and planned by SS architects to be the ideal camp. It was to express the world view of the SS in its architecture and at the same time symbolically subdue the prisoners to the absolute power of the SS. Sachsenhausen concentration camp took on a special position in the system of NS concentration camps. This was highlighted by the move of the concentration camp inspectorate’s administrative department from Berlin to Oranienburg. The inspectorate was responsible for all of the concentration camps within the German realm of power.
Between 1936 and 1945, more than 200,000 people were imprisoned in Sachsenhausen. At first the prisoners were political opponents of the national socialist regime, then came the people declared by the national socialists to be racially or biologically inferior and from 1939 onwards, increasing numbers of citizens from occupied European countries were transported to the camp.
Our stay in Berlin was in a former military barracks, now AO Hostel, Koepenicker Strasse, near Ostbahnhof station, close to the city centre. Both functional and well equipped for groups, it certainly keeps us feeling humble in thought and deed.
The challenge for our 29 students is now to populate the History department’s website to commemorate the trip, and illustrate to you, Dear Reader, in writing and pictures what perhaps they gained from this intense study residential. For certain I suspect they will never forget their experience, but knowledge and understanding will be more deeply embedded through some further work reflecting on their findings. You can visit our website here – https://sites.google.com/a/clairescourt.net/berlin-february-2014/ Armed with cameras and the tools of research at their finger tips, Y11 can provide us with some unique insights…
…as Seymour Papert would say: “The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.”