How Seymour Papert influenced our thinking

Photo by Mim Adkins

On January 26, 2017, the MIT Media Lab held a symposium to celebrate the life and ideas of Seymour Papert. His family and friends, along with many former colleagues and students from around the world gathered to talk about what they learned from Seymour, the pioneer of Constructionist learning, and how his ideas shaped their own thinking. 

Here's a selection of what they had to say. And,  farther below are some scenes of the celebration of Seymour.

“Seymour, being the visionary that he was, had the gift of making the extraordinary look like it was commonplace. He was predicting the future by inventing it. Seymour had a favorite expression: Now is the time.” – Artemis Papert, artist, author, and Seymour’s daughter

“A lot of the Lab’s DNA came from Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert, and I think there's this sort of playfulness that both of them had that still survives. 30 years later, this DNA is expressing in different ways. And Seymour also had this activism that is built into the Lab, which is manifesting in a very constructive, playful, and interesting way.” – Joi Ito, Director, MIT Media Lab

“Seymour was intrinsically global. He was global to his bones, not just because he grew up in South Africa and was educated in England and worked with Piaget in Geneva but he was just a global thinker.” – Nicholas Negroponte, Media Lab co-founder and chairman emeritus

“Seymour helped me make the bridge between being sure that making with physical things and making with digital things was all part of the same intellectual and passionate endeavor. So, he changed my life in many, many ways.” – Molly Watt, Logo curriculum developer and teacher trainer

"Mindstorms was life changing—to think about the machine as not just a way to make things faster, better, more efficient; but as a way to amplify what people do, and to help kids be expressive and to create powerful things of interest and share them with others.” – Brian Smith, educational technology professor at Drexel University

“Seymour had had a great habit of stepping back from problems and thinking about things and in larger terms. So, I realized was that I needed not to think about schools and learning, but to think about what people needed to know and be able to do in the world.” – David Williamson Shaffer, professor of learning science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison

"Seymour was an inspirational leader, opening educators to exciting ways of using technology and working with children. The Media Lab was a place where these ideas were active and we could take this philosophy and bring it into our classrooms. I was teaching in 1984, and Mindstorms was like a bible.” – Linda Stone, technology consultant and Media Lab Advisory Council member

“I grew up in Wyoming and was taught Logo in grade school in the early 1980s. It very much affected the way I learned math and science, and even languages long afterwards. As much as I'm really sad by his passing, I am inspired by the future he's created for us.” – Fred Watters, a nurse practitioner who met Seymour in Maine

“He was a real giant whose work we can continue to learn, to build a future, and to hope that there will be a better future for our children and ourselves.” – Carla Rinaldi, President of the Fondazione Reggio Children, Italy

“I associate Seymour with childlike wonder, a sense of exploration, creating instead of receiving knowledge. And, in my own career I haven't had a linear path—it’s been more of a ‘zig zag’ that's taken me much further than some straight line would have. I credit Seymour for that gift.” – Steve Strassmann, visiting scientist at Harvard Medical School

"I remember being shocked that Seymour thought we should destroy all the schools, and then being equally surprised that, a breath later, he was excited about the project that he was about to undertake in the schools. He could take these seemingly contradictory ideas, hold them in juxtaposition, and make sense of them." – Rena Upitis, education professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario

“Seymour’s class really resonated with me; and was a central influence on how I understand things. To this day, he’s one of the people I quote when explaining things—in an operational sense, rather than abstract, meaning that you understand something to the extent you can use it." – Bob Frankston, spreadsheets inventor, developer, writer

"Scenes" credit: Photos by Mim Adkins

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