It is undeniable the power that simulations have when we show and explain something. It is much easier to explain something using a simulation than complicated and boring formulas. This applies to absolutely all fields and disciplines. But, if we create ourselves our simulations, the potential is even greater: enhancing creativity and motivation (we create something), plus the develop of different skills that we need to create our simulations.
To enter the world of simulations, we have to understand different degrees (from zero to infinity) of Artificial Intelligence (AI). In other words we can create objects that replicate the real world, some of them just do something for what they are programmed over and over again, and others have the ability to react to different actions (they are “smart”).
I decided to take the example of a simulation made by Will McGugan in Pygame, the objective of this simulation is to show a nest of ants that collect leaves and defend themselves from other animals, in this case spiders. In this simulation, ants have the ability to think (Artificial Intelligence), as they are able to recognize a leaf, hold it, take it to the nest and go back to search more leaves, they are also able to recognize and attack a spider that is near to their nest.
Pygame, and Python in general, are very powerful learning tools, both for people who create educational materials or for the students themselves, they can create simulations as described above. In fact, the vast majority of activities in the Xo are made with Python.
One of the drawbacks of Pygame, that I also noticed in other activities for quite some time with the kids, but not only with them, but with most of the people, is related to the word “fear”. In this case, fear of “lines of code”, because we tend to associate “lines of code” with “something very complicated”.
Some time ago I read that this problem with the “lines of code”, was many years ago one of the most widely accepted criticals to the programming language for children created by Seymour Papert: Logo. And in my opinion, the evolution of Logo in the world of learning is strongly linked to Scratch or Etoys, focusing less on the code, and more on learning.
I think one of the great advantages of using Etoys in addition to their creative potential, is to encapsulate the “lines of code”, allowing us to create simulations, games, or whatever you can think, in a more natural way, so we can make big simulations without the need of many lines of code and in a more graphical way.
The mix of these two tools (Pygame and Etoys) when we work in a creative environment (in a creative educational world), in my opinion, has the greatest potential. The challenge ahead is to achieve this balance, between these and other similar tools.
I strongly believe that the balance between these two tools is the way to get in our hands a huge potential to promote creativity in education. It is for this reason that our work is focused strongly in Etoys and Pygame, plus some other activities that are in Sugar and contributes to the development of this challenge.