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iPad Knowledge Machines & Autism

Published on August 16, 2012


No matter what the stress and distress of life is, we need to move forward no matter what—especially if children are part of our lives. For my part I am pressing forward with the best that life has to offer in the area of education. This past week brought me some unexpected delight—the realization of an old dream—the creation of the Einstein Galileo School, which is based on the use of knowledge machines as predicted by Seymour Papert, co-founder of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT almost 25 years ago.

“Monotonous and uninteresting classes repel students and make it unpleasant to learn. The possibility of freely exploring worlds of knowledge calls into question the very idea of an administered curriculum. There is no doubt in many people’s minds today that traditional modes of learning just do not work anymore. Schools will either change very radically or simply collapse,” wrote Papert.

I had to wait many years to find what qualifies for a knowledge machine. Recently I had to purchase an iPad for my staff, which is busy building newly-formatted ePub files for the iPad and the Kindle. I was so impressed that I bought a second one and hired a teacher to come in and facilitate the use of two I now own with my three young children for learning English, which is a second language for them.

The iPad & Autism

The autism community has already discovered and used these machines to help lift their children out of their foggy mental and emotional states. Autism experts like Dr. Martha Herbert, an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical, agrees about the iPad’s usefulness for autistic children. The disorder, which affects as many as one out of 100 children or more in the U.S. according to the latest CDC information, is providing us an education for what the iPad can do for every child.

Dr. Herbert said that these kids have “no control over the pace of information coming at them.” But the iPad remedies the situation for them so they begin to learn and express themselves with this communication interface, one that will eventually sweep away the world of education.

Essentially the iPad makes the difference between communicating with the outside world and being locked into a closed state, not only with autistic children but also with children in general who can all benefit enormously from this fantastic educational tool.

The iPad lets kids have direct control over the interface, unlike a laptop that uses a keyboard and a mouse. For autistic kids, different programs provide ways for kids to communicate desires and feelings in a way that would not be possible otherwise. For young children, including toddlers, it is no different. This is a tool for even the youngest and will stimulate all who use it to grow and expand their awareness.

For severely autistic people, communication is often impossible, leaving them unable to convey what they want or need. The touch-screen apps designed for tablet computers like the iPad are now giving autistic people new ways to express themselves, some for the first time.

But it’s not only autistic children who cannot express themselves well. Depressed children are often as hopelessly locked inside themselves as autistic children can be and parents often feel that their kids understand more and know more than they’re able to communicate.

It turns out that autistic children show a real interest in the iPad with its easy touch-and-swipe screens. With specially-designed applications, or apps, these computers are helping these children communicate and escape from the isolation they feel.

The iPad gives a sense of control to children at all levels and phases of development. They know when they touch it that something is supposed to happen—and for them it happens upon first touch.

Electronic tablets like the iPad are a revolutionary educational tool and are becoming part of childhood. According to a late 2011 survey of 2,200 parents and children in Britain and the United States, 15% of kids between three and eight had used their parents’ iPad; 9% had their own iPad.

Descrição: A Brazilian boy looks at an iPad

Educators are finding a lot of practical applications for it. Jamestown Elementary School has a growing cache of iPads, about 100 for 600 students. The school uses its tablets for everything from writing to math to reading graphic novels. Special education assistant Lesley McKeever uses an iPad to get her student, an affectionate autistic boy who can’t speak, to learn to connect words with images by touching the right picture on the screen. Touch technology has been so helpful for students with autism that the school provides enough iPads for every student in the special education classroom.

Professor Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self says, “I think that the touch pad is a very important moment because the touch pad makes our devices feel more like an extension of ourselves.” The touch-screen devices appeal to a sentiment that pretty much everyone can relate to, which is the desire to directly touch the universe through exploration through the senses. The iPad thus hits directly on the hearts of adults who desire to be a kid again.

“The fantasy of using your body to control the virtual is a child’s fantasy of their body being connected to the world. That’s the child’s earliest experience of the world and it kind of gets broken up by the reality that you’re separate from the world,” says Turkle.

Music teacher Adam Goldberg in Queens, NY has successfully integrated the iPad into his class. Most of Goldberg’s students are on the autism spectrum and often have difficulty communicating, socializing and concentrating. Yet, with an iPad in front of them, they have been able to play complex music compositions.
The iPad’s intuitive ease of use enables the students to get past the technical hurdles and steep learning curves of traditional instruments so they can start expressing themselves through music straight away. “So many barriers are broken,” Goldberg says.

And beyond the physical constraints the iPad has helped lift, Goldberg says he’s witnessed a social phenomenon occur in his classroom. Students who traditionally had issues communicating their wants or needs seemed to suddenly be unlocked by their music, expressing themselves creatively. “I see them supporting each other. They compliment each other. They help each other out,” Goldberg told “It is just magical, really a beautiful thing to see.”

The iPad has become a voice for students as well as their eyes and memory and many other things that children cherish. How we learn, who we learn from, how much we love the process, the flow of it all, and the result is what is important, and these factors are all maximized with what becomes the cherished use of the iPad.

The Knowledge Machine

Long before the World Wide Web or even PCs were, Seymour Papert was proclaiming the educational value of computers. He said, “Children, of course, come into the world as very powerful, highly competent learners, and the learning they do in the first few years of life is actually awesome. A child exploring the immediate world does that pretty thoroughly in an experiential, self-directed way. But when you see something in your immediate world that really represents something very far away—a picture of an elephant, for example—you wonder how elephants eat. You can’t answer that by direct exploration. So you have to gradually shift over from experiential learning to verbal learning—from independent learning to dependence on other people, culminating in school, where you’re totally dependent, and somebody is deciding what you learn.”

“So that shift is an unfortunate reflection of the technological level that society has been at up to now. And I see the major role of technology in the learning of young children as making that shift less abrupt, because it is a very traumatic shift. It’s not a good way of preserving the kid’s natural strengths as a learner.”

With the iPad children are much freer to explore knowledge by direct exploration, whether it’s information or exploration by getting into his sources, or finding other people to talk about it.

Papert from the MIT Media Laboratory long ago proposed the term “Knowledge Machine” to describe the ultimate product of the present efforts oriented towards modern knowledge access systems. Primitive harbingers of the Knowledge Machine have already arrived in the form of the World Wide Web, multimedia CD-ROM knowledge systems, and interactive television, but now we have the iPad, which is an excellent educational and childhood developmental amplification tool that lets children touch their way to information, wisdom and experience.

According to Papert, we are entering the “age of learning” during which time the “competitive ability is the ability to learn.” It is the revolution in technology that has simultaneously brought about the need for improvements in learning as well as providing the opportunity to improve “learning environments.” New technologies will enhance learning particularly for children through “the creation of personal media capable of supporting a wide range of intellectual styles.”

Apple says quite correctly that the iPad inspires creativity and hands-on learning with features not found in any other educational tool—on a device that students really want to use. Powerful built-in apps and apps from the App Store, like iTunes U, let students engage with content in interactive ways, find information in an instant, and access an entire library wherever they go. And with iBooks textbooks, iPad takes learning to a whole new level.

For hundreds of years, textbooks have put a world of knowledge in the hands of students. But while the way people learn has changed dramatically, the traditional textbook has stayed the same. Apple has created a tool for publishing textbooks that kids will not want to put down.


A Multi-Touch textbook on iPad is a gorgeous, full-screen experience full of interactive diagrams, photos and videos. No longer limited to static pictures to illustrate the text, now students can dive into an image with interactive captions, rotate a 3D object, or have the answer spring to life in a chapter review. They can flip through a book by simply sliding a finger along the bottom of the screen. Highlighting text, taking notes, searching for content, and finding definitions in the glossary are just as easy. And with all their books on a single iPad, students will have no problem carrying them wherever they go.

Don’t laugh at this ease of mobility. Heavy backpacks literally weigh students down. It’s no secret that paper textbooks are heavy. But what you may not know is that backpack weight is an increasing problem among kids. Studies show that heavy backpacks can lead to both chronic back pain and poor posture—and many kids are carrying a quarter of their body weight in textbooks.

The iPad as a learning machine provides a more engaging learning experience, which improves student performance. Students at Riverside Unified School District have said that using an iPad makes learning and doing homework more enjoyable. Their teachers confirmed that students seem more eager to participate thanks to the iPad.

The iPad makes a great tool for self-directed, independent learning. There’s no shortage of educational apps on any given subject, from American history to advanced biology. Anybody interested in learning music theory or brushing up on a particular instrument has a wide range of tablet-based tools to help them do so.



It is truly difficult for us to face the truth that education, as we know it, does more harm than good. Today the word “education” means something quite different than what it means in the dictionary. Instead of being a productive and thought-stimulating process wherein the desire to learn takes place, it is often hurtful and abusive to our children. Schools, instead of creating ideal conditions for learning, create environments for the retardation of learning. Students themselves feel the wrongness of education and respond accordingly.

No matter what tests show, very little of what is taught in schools is learned, very little of what is learned is remembered, and very little of what is remembered is used. – John Holt

What students are forced to learn they forget quickly! The prime directive of my school for my own children is to find each one’s unique passion for learning—find and guide each child along a path that shines of their love of learning what they want to learn in ways that work best for them.

Then I will bring what we do into the far interior highlands of Brazil to a little sleepy town at the end of the world, which is where I built my Sanctuary. There our project will support the public school by giving out an iPad to as many students as we can afford.

Perceptual Psychology – The Rainbow Body

The foundation of the Einstein Galileo School rests on top of revolutionary insights gained through a multiple view of intelligence. It is not just about computer-based learning with advanced knowledge machines.

I have designed an educational approach that will bring out the latent talents and enthusiasm for learning in each student and we will do that by “blending intelligence in education.” This means our school will pay attention to physical, social, intellectual, emotional, conceptual, intuitive, and imaginative levels of teaching and learning. Each of these perceptual levels has an associated color that very much determines our inner processes in both personality and being.

One of the great aspects of the whole iPhone and iPod Touch eco-system, from which the iPad evolved, is the number of free and cheap apps written for these devices. The iPad takes advantage of this existing situation and, given the current financial situation for most schools, the resource of free and affordable software

Dr. Mark Sircus AC., OMD, DM (P)

Professor of Natural Oncology, Da Vinci Institute of Holistic Medicine
Doctor of Oriental and Pastoral Medicine
Founder of Natural Allopathic Medicine

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