Announcing the 2019 LEGO Papert Fellows

MIT Media Lab
Apr 4 · 4 min read
The Seymour Papert LEGO minifig stands outside the custom-built LEGO Media Lab. Photo: Maia Weinstock.

The support three graduate students each year who are working at the intersection of creativity, play, learning, and new technologies. Endowed by the LEGO Foundation to honor the legacy of Media Lab founding faculty member Seymour Papert, these fellowships ensure the continuation of Papert’s ideas and efforts in helping children to learn more creatively. As part of a larger cohort of Learning Fellows supported by the , the Papert Fellows contribute to of graduate student researchers at the Media Lab who are developing new technologies to cultivate in a variety of contexts.

“Seymour Papert laid the foundation for the Media Lab approach to learning, highlighting how people learn best when they’re actively engaged in designing, creating, and experimenting,” says Mitch Resnick, the LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research at the Media Lab and head of the Lifelong Kindergarten group. “It’s great how the LEGO Papert Fellowships are enabling current graduate students to build on Seymour’s work and ideas.”

Ollie Bray, Initiatives Lead: Connection Play and Education at the LEGO Foundation, adds, “Seymour’s thinking and ideas around constructionism continue to influence so much of what we do at the LEGO Foundation. We always look forward to the thinking and new ideas that the Papert Fellows bring in helping us on our mission to re-define play and re-imagining learning.”

Meet the 2019 LEGO Papert Fellows

, Lifelong Kindergarten

Credit: Lily Gabaree

Sean Hickey is a second year masters student in the Lifelong Kindergarten group. His research focuses on designing new tools, environments, and experiences for children to learn through artistic methods and other creative processes. Most recently, he has developed , a tool that builds upon the work of the Scratch programming language and allows children, and learners/makers of all ages, to create interactive video and audio projects on mobile devices through blocks-based programming. Ultimately, Sean is interested in creating new methods and media that empower children to express themselves and explore the world around them. During the summers, Sean is the director of Opequon Quaker Arts Camp, a summer camp in Virginia that aims to foster personal, emotional, social, and spiritual growth in campers ages 9–14 through creative projects and wilderness experiences in the context of a supportive community.

“Sean’s work cuts across traditional boundaries. He’s part designer, part engineer, part artist, part educator.” — Mitch Resnick, director, Lifelong Kindergarten group

, Civic Media

Credit: Alexis Hope

Alexis Hope, a PhD student in the Civic Media group, focuses on designing playful, experimental objects and experiences to bring people together, re-incorporating traditional craft practices into digital fabrication, and developing participatory design processes that center children and families.

Alexis is currently collaborating with the Philadelphia Museum of Art to design exhibition spaces that are radically welcoming to children and their carers, inviting children to play, learn, and interact with museums in new ways. This builds on her work as design director for the , which has brought together hundreds of parents and their children to redesign technologies for breastfeeding.

Alexis’s research questions include: How do we transform adult-focused institutions and events — like museums and hackathons — to be more inclusive of kids and families, to take their passions and interests seriously? How can we better invite children into the process of inventing the future? And most importantly, how can we do this work with an equity focus, in service of making the world better for all children?

“Alexis Hope is doing groundbreaking work that addresses the question of who gets to imagine and create our technological futures. In changing the structures of institutions like hackathons and ensuring that the people solving technosocial problems are the ones most affected by them, Alexis is making innovation vastly more inclusive and effective.” — Ethan Zuckerman, director, Center for Civic Media

, Personal Robots

Credit: Marlayna Demond

Randi Williams, a first year PhD student in the Personal Robots group, is empowering children to learn about artificial intelligence (AI). She has developed a number of AI education projects, including , social robot learning companions that teach AI through social interaction. Additionally, she works with her group to run studies that investigate children’s relationships with intelligent agents. To combat the current trend of misunderstanding and mistrust of AI, Randi is preparing the next generation to use AI to solve important problems in their communities. Her research intersects human-robot interaction and early childhood education with a particular focus on engaging students from diverse backgrounds. Currently, she is working with educators to design culturally relevant AI and engineering curricula that teach technical concepts through hands-on projects.

“Randi is a clear leader among her peers through her example and her actions. Computer science needs more leaders like Randi who are passionate about educating an inclusive and diverse generation of students with compassion and humanity in addition to technical prowess — to challenge and inspire them to build a future that everyone wants to see.” — Cynthia Breazeal, director, Personal Robots group

This post was originally published on the .


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