Seymour Papert is credited as saying that tools to support learning should have “high ceilings” and “low floors.” The phrase is meant to suggest that tools should allow learners to do complex and intellectually sophisticated things but should also be easy to begin using quickly. …

Millions of young people from around the world are learning to code. Often, during their learning experiences, these youth are using visual block-based programming languages like Scratch, App Inventor, and Studio. In block-based programming languages, coders manipulate visual, snap-together blocks that represent code constructs instead of textual symbols and commands that are found in more traditional programming languages.

The textual symbols used in nearly all non-block-based programming languages are drawn from English — consider “if” statements and “for” loops for common examples. Keywords in block-based languages, on the other hand, are often translated into different human languages. …

As children use digital media to learn and socialize, others are collecting and analyzing data about these activities. In school and at play, these children find that they are the subjects of data science. As believers in the power of data analysis, we believe that this approach falls short of data science’s potential to promote innovation, learning, and power.

Motivated by this fact, we have been working over the last three years as part of a team at the MIT Media Lab and the University of Washington to design and build a system that attempts to support an alternative vision: children as data scientists.


Sayamindu Dasgupta

Postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington. I build and study toolkits to foster creative learning.