Microworlds, Powerful Ideas, and what do we do Monday? Part 2

A workshop led by Michael Tempel and Michelle Hughes


Saturday, March 11, 2023, 10:00 am to noon EST


Everywhere via Zoom


$10 per person
Free for people who participated in the 2022 Virtual Logo Summer Institute or Part 1 of this workshop

The subtitle of Seymour Papert’s 1980 book Mindstorms is “Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas.” Chapter 5 is “Microworlds: Incubators for Knowledge.” We pretty much know what children and computers are. But what are Powerful Ideas, and what are Microworlds?
A Microwold is a streamlined environment constructed to support learning in a particular domain. The Turtle World and a set of kindergarten blocks are two examples.

The term “Powerful Idea” has not been so well defined. Rather than start by trying to arrive at a definition, start with an “I know one when I see one” approach. We’ll accumulate instances of what we think are powerful ideas and then generalize from there. This method of arriving at a definition by looking at specific cases is, in itself, a Powerful Idea.

During the first session of this workshop on February 11, 1023 we talked about how Microworlds and Powerful Ideas can be incorporated into classroom activities and projects. In Part two we'll expand on the ideas that emerged in the first session including:

  • Do Microworlds have to be domain specific, like Turtle Geometry and Cuisenaire Rods, or can they be broad and include many areas?
  • Is Minecraft a Microworld?
  • How can the Powerful Idea of feedback be explored by students through robotics projects?
  • We'll look at emergent phenomena, which determine the organization of an ant colony, how some traffic jams form, and how we can organize our classrooms.
  • What are some other Powerful Ideas and how they can be nurtured in Microworlds that we create for students?
  • Can Microworlds be created by students without teacher intervention?

You can participate in this workshop without having attended the first one. The description of that session is here. Also, when you register for Part 2, you will receive the link to the Zoom recording of the first workshop.


Lawler, Robert (1981), "Some Powerful Ideas" Logo Memo No. 60 (you may download a copy here).

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful ideas. Basic Books. (you may download a copy here).

Resnick, Mitchel (1994) Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Resnick,  Mitchel and Rusk, Natalie (1996) "The Use of Biological Metaphors in Thinking About Learning: Some Initial Thoughts About 'Emergent Learning'" (you may download a copy here)

Rieber, L. (2004). "Microworlds" In D. Donassen (Ed.), Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology
(2nd ed., pp. 583-603). Mahwah, N. J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. (you may download a copy here).

Sanders, Bryan P. (2021),  Could Minecraft Be a School?: What Are the Transdisciplinary Implications of This Game-based Learning Environment? in Game-based Learning Across the Disciplines (pp.383-393), by Carmela Aprea Dirk Ifenthaler (Editors), Springer

About the workshop leaders:

Michelle Hughes has been a teacher and teacher leader in a variety of educational settings for more than thirty years. A graduate of Bank Street College of Education in Elementary and Museum Education, she began her career in Museums, but soon fell in love with the classroom. Michelle joined the public school teaching corps, where progressive-constructivist practices formed the foundation of her teaching. For twelve years she co-taught in a collaborative inclusive learning environment. In her twelfth year of teaching she was recruited to found a middle school program in an independent school, High Meadow School in Stone Ridge, New York, where she eventually became Head Of School for ten years. Michelle became interested in the different ways boys and girls learn, and took the opportunity to join The Albany Academies where she was director of lower and middle schools for the past five years. She is now launching LARC an education coaching and professional development consultancy.

Michael Tempel is president of the Logo Foundation. You can find out more about him here.