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Logo circa ‘97, Worth A Closer Look
By Gary S. Stager

This paper is intended to respond to a provocative Logo Update article, “The Case for Classic Logo” written by Dorothy Fitch and David McClees and to discuss the latest generation of Logo environments developed for school children, MicroWorlds. The development and thoughtful classroom use of MicroWorlds is itself, a convincing response to Fitch and McClees.

MicroWorlds meets the expectations of children in the care of teachers committed to child-centered learning and constructive projects. I believe that there are many more teachers who would love to teach in a Logo-like way (or secretly do already), than our educational system supports or acknowledges; teachers who believe that children who learn best when immersed in a rich intellectual environment and engaged in thoughtful projects.

A bit of historical perspective is useful in understanding MicroWorlds and in evaluating its developer’s claims that it is the “Best Logo Ever.” For the past several years computer-using educators have found it difficult to defend and promote Logo against a commercial onslaught of edutainment, watered-down business tools, and more recently, multimedia. Serious papers about Logo-use have been indiscriminately rejected by educational computing conferences. In an attempt to legitimize Logo, many of our well intentioned colleagues have declared that lots of software is “Logo-like.” In the early nineties, numerous articles in The Logo Exchange attempted to convince us how paint programs, word processing and HyperCard were Logo-like. Of course, most of these packages lacked the flexibility and computational richness of Logo. LCSI’s initial attempt to market MicroWorlds as ready-made curriculum software failed to convince non-Logo users that Logo was “like everything else.” Both approaches marginalize Logo.

What sets Logo apart from other software is:

  1. a coherent and consistent learner-centered philosophy of learning - with and without computers
  2. a design goal of “no threshold and no ceiling. Logo does not suffer from the arrogance of developers who presuppose what children will do with the software. Therefore Logo is flexible and its use grows with the learner. Adults and young children alike find Logo to be challenging, expressive and rewarding.
  3. nearly thirty years of research and development in creating constructive computer environments for children

“Classic Logo” represents an important historic period in that continuum.

While it may feel nostalgic to suggest that “a traditional Logo matches the environment described in Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms...,” (Fitch and McClees. 1995) that is not the entire story. Logo was not meant to be static. It has evolved since the idealized Reagan-era “Morning in America” image Fitch and McClees project. Long before Mindstorms, Papert expressed “...a vision in which the computer would be used as casually and as personally for an even greater diversity of purposes.” (Papert. 1981)

It is true that Papert provided many turtle graphics example in Mindstorms, but he has since participated in the development of software environments like LogoWriter, LEGO TC logo and MicroWorlds. Papert has always viewed computers as objects to think with that could be used in wondrous and imaginative ways by children regardless of the imposed curriculum. In 1972, Papert and Cynthia Solomon wrote:

“Why then should computers in schools be confined to computing the sum of the squares of the first twenty-odd numbers and similar so-called problem solving uses? Why not use them to produce some action? There is no better reason than the intellectual timidity of the computers-in-education community, which seems remarkably reluctant to use the computers for any purpose that fails to look very much like something that has been taught in schools for the past centuries.”
(Papert and Solomon. 1972)

More than twenty years later, in the introduction to the second edition of Mindstorms, Papert expresses his concern that “programming had become structured to meet the conditions of work in school, leading many to question whether programming was worth the trouble.” Papert also supports my argument that neither the designer use of Logo was to remain static. He describes the development of Logo from “Classic Logo” through LogoWriter and LEGO TC logo to MicroWorlds by stating that “each of these steps lowered the effort of learning to program and raised the interest and complexity of what could be done with a given level of skill.” (Papert. 1993) Who could argue with that?

With “Classic Logo” is is difficult to simulate any behavior, connect Mozart to linear equations, create interactive storybooks, design video games or animate life in ancient Egypt. This is precisely why MicroWorlds should be used instead. A goal of constructionism has always been to provide kids with a vehicle for expressing themselves with any of the media available in the world. The opportunity to express one’s self through something that looks and behaves like software should be as comfortable as crayons and construction paper.

It is true that many of the examples I mentioned could implemented to some extent in lots of different Logo versions. However, those uses might not have seemed obvious to children or would have been beyond their technical grasp. If we focus on the needs of kids we won’t sink to the technocentric depths of worrying about who is a good enough programmer to manipulate “Classic Logo” to suit their needs. If this is our goal, then we should just teach kids to program in machine language. This is an peculiar stance to take in an educational climate that abhors programming. Make it harder and they will learn something! The versatility of the MicroWorlds environment inspires kids to make connections between bodies of knowledge that are personally powerful and perhaps not found in the syllabus.

One of the long-standing design goals of Logo was for it to have no threshold and no ceiling and for it to be able to be used by children never imagined by adults. If as a teacher, traditional turtle graphics is important to you, teach it. MicroWorlds does the job. Most importantly, your students will not have to learn a collection of other software packages to express themselves or narrowly investigate other aspects of the curriculum.

The parallelism of MicroWorlds allows for the exploration of mathematical concepts unlike those typically associated with “Classic Logo.” One example is the geometry toolkit project I have led with students as young as seventh grade. Students collaboratively build their own tool for exploring Euclidian geometry by turning turtles in to points that can be moved, connected and measured. The “points” run independent processes that let them communicate with other objects in the microworld - thereby allowing figures and measurements to be updated if a point is moved. The “dueling fractals” screen shot (below), inspired by Michael Tempel, shows how similar fractals can generated simultaneously by algorithm and chaos. Other versions of Logo allow you to draw each fractal separately (if multiple turtles are supported at all), but I believe that the juxtaposition of emergence and algorithm is made more powerful when presented in parallel. On a more elementary level, the exciting animations children create with MicroWorlds is really turtle graphics and some physics thrown in with the pen up. The addition of sliders and text boxes to the Logo environment allows for the visual control and display of variables. Spreadsheets and all sorts of simulations can be built by kids.

I was surprised at the 1995 Logosium by several colleagues who wanted to use “Classic Logo” to teach turtle graphics and separate multimedia software for preparing reports. It seems to me that having all of the desired features in one easy-to-use and affordable package would be desirable. In my experience, the most powerful Logo learning occurs when students are able to make serendipitous connections to different intellectual domains while creating a Logo project. Fluency in the environment allows students to find their own voice.

The multimedia “authoring” packages sold to schools do not allow for the range or depth of projects or the intellectual challenge possible with MicroWorlds. These packages are very good at cranking out a handful of screens with a bit of text, “borrowed” clip-art and perhaps some multimedia effects on them, but not much more. Three screen/fifty word “horse reports” are the type of projects commonly presented to much applause at educational conferences. I remember being asked to write note cards in school in order to prepare for a more extensive and coherent exposition. Now kids just have to create the note cards - in a good font of course!

Make no mistake about it. MicroWorlds may be used to create beautiful multimedia reports and presentations complete with video, music, speech, text, graphics and fancy transitions. Hopefully along the way, the students will learn more than just how to use the tool.

The discussion at Logosium made me start to think that there are two groups of Logo-using educators - those who think Logo is for teachers wishing to teach a particular set of facts and/or skills and those who believe Logo is for kids. Perhaps the conflict is between teaching vs. learning, instructionism vs. constructionism or teachers vs. kids.

The one positive thing to say about the good ‘ol days of the “Classic Logo” era is that Logo-use often benefited from the enthusiasm of a great teacher and some flexibility to take the time necessary to create quality work. The handful of school computers found in the early eighties were controlled by teachers excited by potential. These teachers saw Logo as a vehicle for intellectual empowerment and allowed students to spend extended periods of time programming projects of personal significance. It is ironic that much of today’s yearning for “Classic Logo” seems to be rooted in impatience and curricular mandates, rather than the bygone spirit of intellectual adventure and creative expression.

It would be tragic for kids to miss out on the magic of “Classic Logo,” but it would be even sadder if the overemphasis on “Classic Logo” made Logo appear irrelevant in a marketplace filled with flashy curriculum software. MicroWorld’s improved user-interface and the quality of output appeals better to the aesthetics of educators who never invested the time to understand the deep learning processes underlying great Logo projects. This superficiality may actually engage teachers in more constructive computer use.

As a university teacher, I use MicroWorlds as a vehicle for helping teachers learn about learning. I am consistently frustrated by the fact that the only depictions of Logo in contemporary college texts are “classic” procedures to draw squares, houses and spirals. There is seldom a mention of the contributions LogoWriter (incidentally, the first site-licensed school software) made to educational computing, the 1.1 million Logo using students in Latin America, the use of Logo on Australian laptops or the great Logo learning that takes place every day in American classrooms. Roy Pea’s decade-old simplistic attack on Logo is substituted for the ground-breaking research of Idit Harel. The Children’s Machine remains invisible in the education press. One new university text ignores thirty years of Logo use and research entirely and then has the temerity to criticize research by Doug Clements and Bonnie Nastasi in the reference section of the book by saying, “Relies too heavily on Logo-based ideas and solutions as a constructivist alternative to drill-and-practice approaches too often foisted on young children.” (Dublin, et al. 1994) Texts like Computer Education for Teachers by Vicki Sharp do not even bother to get the name of Logo versions correct when they gratuitously mention them. (Sharp, 1996. page 184)

Holding on to “Classic Logo” holds us back by ignoring a decade’s worth of research and rejects the fantastic work done by hardworking students and teachers in LogoWriter and MicroWorlds. Those educators committed to Logo find it increasingly difficult to preserve the role of Logo in their classrooms due to the absence of Logo learning stories in the educational community.

One school has been using MicroWorlds in the fifth grade for six months. A young sixth grade teacher raised an objection to continuing its use in the sixth grade because she wanted “a more non-linear environment that did not require mathematical thinking.” You would think that such a statement would be dismissed immediately or at least a definition sought, but no. Since administrators have little experience with Logo, and technology in general, this concern nearly destroyed the school’s three campus investment in software, laptops and professional development. Had it not been for a forceful argument presented by myself and the school’s computer curriculum, Logo might have been abandoned due to one uninformed and misinformed opinion. Schools routinely spend more time debating which spelling workbook to adopt than they do defining their philosophy of educational computing.

The amusing part of this true story is that the day after the meeting at which we preserved MicroWorlds in the school, this teacher attended a three day residential MicroWorlds workshop with teachers from across the state. She quickly became and excited and engaged by MicroWorlds. On the last day, she said to the computer coordinator, “Wow! MicroWorlds is great. I really only ever spent about fifteen minutes with it. We don’t need any other software.” A similar scenario is played out at schools around the world at an alarming rate. Logo-using educators need help and sharing good models of contemporary Logo use would be most beneficial.

I would hate for turtle graphics to become as joyful as learning long division. Turtle graphics should be viewed as a set of strategies for solving a problem of personal relevance. A dozen years ago, “Classic Logo” was the best we had and teachers were excited by its potential for liberating children from the restrictions of curriculum. MicroWorlds is a Logo for kids today and for teachers who understand the distinction between school and learning.

Cannings. T & L. Finkel. (1993) The Technology Age Classroom. Oregon: Franklin Beedle & Associates, Inc.
Dublin, P. et al... (1994) Integrating Computers in Your Classroom - Elementary Education. NY: Harper Collins College Publishers.
Harel, I. (1991). Children Designers: Interdisciplinary Constructions for Learning and Knowing Mathematics in a Computer-Rich School. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.
Harel, I. & Papert, S. (editors) (1991). Constructionism. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.McClees, D. & D. Fitch. (1995) The Case for Classic Logo, The Logo Update. NY: Logo Foundation. Fall 1995.
Papert, S. (1993) Mindstorms... (second edition). NY: Basic Books.
Papert, S. (1993) The Children’s Machine... NY: Basic Books.
Papert, S. (1996) The Connected Family - Bridging the Digital Generation Gap. Atlanta: Longstreet Press.
Pea, R.D. & D.M. Kurland (1994) Logo Programming and the Development of Planning Skills, Technical Report No. 11. NY: Bank Street College of Education.
Sharp, Vicki. (1996) Computer Education for Teachers. Chicago: Brown and Benchmark Publishers.

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