Seymour Papert – Programming Language for Children, Logo Essay

It was in the late 1960`s and early 1970`s that Seymour Papert began developing a computer programming language for children, Logo. Papert had been working in Switzerland for several years assisting the famous psychologist Jean Piaget.

As part of his research Piaget had discovered that children don’t think in the same way as adults think. In order to develop his hypothesis, Piaget constructed a now famous for stage theory of cognitive development. His research supported his belief about how children acquire their skills. Piaget broke down his theory into 4 distinct areas.

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1. Sensorimotor Development – 0 to 2 years of age.

2. Preoperational Thinking – 2 to 7 years of age.

3. Concrete Operations – 7 to 11 years of age.

4. Formal Operations – over 11 years of age.

Papert found after working with Piaget that many of his own views about how children learned and acquired skills reflected what Piaget had found. Papert thought he might be able to develop them further into a learning tool for children.

Over several years Papert developed LOGO, which became a programming language specifically designed for children. It was simple, which allowed it to be easily understood and used by children, yet powerful enough to offer solutions to many programming problems.

One of the strongest thoughts Papert had while developing Logo was that like Piaget, he felt it was wrong to tell children that their answer was “right” or “wrong”. He felt that by the use of programming a child could discover that the best or correct way to complete a task was rarely achieved the during the first attempt. As trials continue, he argued, the child will be able to see their own development and progress. He also felt that children should be praised for offering thought out and logical answers to a problem even if their answer was incorrect. This, he stated, was better for them than telling them that they were right or wrong.

One of the main uses of LOGO in today’s education field is with turtle graphics. The foundation for this is with the aptly named Turtle Geometry. The turtle offers a graphical representation of a point in space that the child had to previously imagine. This makes the use of turtle graphics and LOGO the perfect choice for children, as it is easy to understand and to learn from.

Turtle Graphics showed the learner that changing and re-applying the same command again could easily rectify mistakes. It also allowed the child to teach the program new commands. This introduced a new level to the learning experience as the child had to thing about the information it was going to “teach” to the computer.

Before this, a floor turtle was used in a similar way, a very visual way to make children understand the mistakes they were making and the steps they needed to take to solve those problems.

There are several different LOGO based computer programs available. They offer a similar interface to the turtle graphics but differ slightly in that they also offer very powerful list processing. With the advent of the world wide web, logo reached an even greater audience. It has found its way into educational establishments in countries all around the world. It has also allowed the integration of certain web based elements to logo. This allows students to display their work online and take part in discussion forums about their projects with students from different schools and even different countries. Another development in Logo is the ability to make three dimensional models and paintings.

However current education trends to more behaviorist approaches have resulted in a small decline in the popularity of Logo in the classroom. The concept of TSWBAT or “the student will be able to….” is partly responsible for the decline in its use.

Logo has been responsible for a plethora of similar packages that are either extensions of logo or are based closely on similar principles. Three of the main competitors to logo are;

1. Boxer – Developed by Andrea DiSessa in 1986

2. YoYo – Developed by the epistemology and learning department at MIT where Seymour Papert currently works.

3. Cocoa – Developed by Apple in 1996

One of the original team that worked with Papert was Andrea DiSessa. DiSessa felt, along with some other colleagues, Logo could be further expanded upon. They wanted to keep the same basic principle to Logo but add some further elements that they felt would enhance the learning experience.

Two of the improvements they made on the original idea of the logo programming language leaned heavily on visual aids.

Adding a visual element to logo allowed children to see the variables at all times and to manipulate them directly. The students are also able to double click any line of code to check its function within the main program they are working on.

After seeing the success of Logo some of Papert`s cohorts decided to try a similar approach to teaching programming to children. YoYo was developed to be a “Java for Children” but also incorporates several elements of the original logo language.

Although not yet available to the public, yoyo has already made some startling advances in programming for children. Students at MIT have used the yoyo language to program versions of the star logo software package.

Cocoa is again similar to the original design of logo but with the advantage of having a compiler which works in a similar way to Microsofts Front page allows users to construct websites without actually needing to write any html code. The code in cocoa package is generated in response to the requirements of the end user.

However, the main disadvantage of Cocoa is its failure to teach any basic skills. As it uses no writing, even those who are illiterate can still use the software. With Logo, boxer and yoyo the student is still practicing basic reading and writing skills. Although it still may have a place in education today, but because of its lack of basic skill use it is suggested it has no real place in today’s ICT curriculum.

Bibliography

Ginsburg, Herbert. – Piaget’s theory of intellectual development: an introduction, 1969, Englewood Cliffs (N.J.): Prentice-Hall.

Papert, Seymour. – Mindstorms: children, compLanguage uters and powerful ideas. – 2nd ed. – New York; London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993

Secondary Sources

Brownwell, Gregg. LOGO AS A LANGUAGE TO TEACH NON-MAJORS THE ESSENTIALS OF PROGRAMMING. Taken from http://www.gise.org/JISE/Vol1-5/LOGOASAL.htm – Accessed 15/03/2004

Information on Logo Alternatives – http://www.logosurvey.com – Accessed 16/03/2004

INT 163 – Duncan Fairhurst – Logo Essay (1000 Words)

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