Transformative Applications in Education/Squeak
What is Squeak?
Squeak is a programming language based on Smalltalk by a group at Apple Computer that included some of the original Smalltalk-80 developers, Alan Kay, Dan Ingalls, and Adele Goldberg. It is object-oriented and primarily visual.
Squeak was developed with the idea that it would be sufficiently easy to understand that children would be able to use it. Programming is accomplished by clicking and dragging commands onto the graphical sprite that the user wishes to control. The language is powerful enough that it has been used to write other programming languages. It can, however, have a bit of a steep learning curve in comparison to some of its less powerful derivative projects such as Scratch.
Squeak can be used in a variety of ways depending on the level of sophistication of the user. Aside from introducing learners to the basics of object-oriented programming without the burden of a complicated coding syntax, it can be used to create book-like presentations, animations, games and combinations of the above in ways that are much more interactive than the types of software normally used for the purpose.
One of the developers of Squeak, Alan Kay, has used it as a presentation tool in place of more traditional tools like Powerpoint. In this video, he uses it to give a presentation on various educational topics. For example, around minute 42, he shows the effects of an optical illusion by manipulating two instances of a graphic of a table, one vertical, one horizontal; this would not be possible to do on the fly with Powerpoint.
A variety of topics can be taught in the context of Squeak in a multidisciplinary manner. Cartesian coordinate geometry is employed to move the sprites around the screen, and Squeak could be used to enhance math lessons on the topic. Basic grammar could be taught using the sprites to represent nouns, and the commands to represent verbs, etc.. Constructivist lessons in literature might include learners creating animations describing how they believe characters would behave if something different were to occur in a story they are reading. Simulations could be developed to test hypotheses or demonstrate understanding of scientific principles.
In addition to the direct pedagogical uses of the Squeak environment, there is also a community of users that form a support network for the tool as well as an audience with which to share projects and from which to get ideas. The Squeakland showcase has 163 pages of user submitted projects as of May, 2010. Because Squeak is open-source, all the source code for the projects is available for use to help understand develop one's own programs. Many of the uploaded projects are tutorials explaining how to accomplish various tasks in the programming language. Because of its inclusion on each of the One Laptop Per Child initiative's laptops, the Squeak community provides a means of communicating with learners from all over the world.
Other Applications of Squeak
Squeak is the basis of a number of other applications that are either written in Squeak or have forked off of the Squeak project in some way. Many of these applications have kept the educational philosophy of their parent project and have transformative applications themselves.
EToys is a form of Squeak that is included on every OLPC laptop that is shipped. Like many of the other Smalltalk based applications, EToys is very compatable with Constructivist pedagogy.
According to the Squeakland website, EToys is highly engaging for learners and can be used in a variety of ways from a simple sketching application to a more complex object oriented programming environment. Children using it learn to think iteratively, develop computer fluency, critical thinking and problem solving skills. The end result, EToys advocates insist, is a sense of accomplishment and increased self esteem.
- Cunnington, C. (2011). Squeak. http://www.squeak.org/
- Jonassen, D., Howland, J., Marra, R., & Crismond, D. (2008). Meaningful learning with technology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, Prentice Hall.
- Watlington, J. (2011). The Children's Machine. http://wiki.laptop.org/go/The_Children%27s_Machine