Whatever happened to …

… Logo?

And, I don’t mean the Instagram logo that seems to be the topic of conversation this weekend.  I mean Logo as in the programming language.

In terms of timelines, I was late to the game with this one.  It never was an option at university or at the Faculty of Education.  In fact, it wasn’t until the Unisys Icon showed up in the school that I had my first kick at it.  I’m the type of person that likes to poke around and investigate and Logo was one of the topics of my investigation.  It actually was a great deal of fun.  You loaded the program and essentially got this blank screen with a triangle on it.  At the bottom, you could type commands and make the triangle do things.

As I came to know, that triangle wasn’t a triangle.  It was a turtle!

The Logo (as you may know, there are various implementations of it; I don’t know which one this was) that came with the Icon computer came with a huge manual.  I skipped over the introductory part and got right into the coding.  I still remember my first Logo program.  I told the turtle to draw a box on the screen.

It looked a bit like this, if memory serves me correctly.

It wasn’t long before my lunch time computer crew was sitting in the lab with me and we all were learning to code in Logo together.  Design after design flew from our fingertips.  Of course, it wasn’t “real programming” – that was reserved for the assignments given in class.  This was just fun, trying to design the most intricate things that we could.  It would probably come as no surprise but the students involved were really strong in mathematics and the conversations as constructions were made were delightfully mathematical.  As I started to read and research the design and philosophy of Logo as a language, I realized that we had it all backwards.  It was “real programming” indeed that we were doing.  We were also applying our mathematics knowledge and learning new ways to apply that knowledge.  Imagine if we had had this tool as we were learning the concepts.  We might have had a different appreciation.

I also had an opportunity to program Logo with a “real” turtle connected to my computer at a conference.  Pen Up and Pen Down took on new meaning when you’re programming over a sheet of paper.  There are no second chances.

Had I had access to these computers and this language, my introductory course most certainly would have been considerably different.  Why wasn’t Mindstorms a required reading when I was learning how to teach Computer Science?  Is it a required reading today at Faculties of Education?  Why not?  You see enough people quoting bits and pieces from the book.  Have they even read it?

Like any other formal programming languages, there were constructs and instructions to learn.  I made a few copies of the manual and left them on the tables in the room.  They quickly wore out.  I should have laminated them!  I also recall a few of the students wanting another challenge and tried to write their own version of Logo.  I don’t recall it ever being finished but they did enjoy the ride.  Today, you can find various online implementations of Logo.  The one I used to draw the above image is available here if you want to give it a shot.  No download; code in your browser.  There is a Logo Foundation devoted to continuing the support for the cause.

Today, I suspect that very few students or teachers experience the joy of discovery that we had with Logo.  We had no idea of what Logo was, what we could do, where we were going, what we were going to learn.  But, learn we did. 

Today, things are so much more colourful and so different.  Students might get a chance to learn using Lego Mindstorms or any of the other languages that have been created with developing coders in mind – Hopscotch, Scratch, and so much more.  With the right budget, you might even get a programmable device like Sphero.  There is a renewed sense that programming/coding is good for kids.  The Hour of Code has made it easy to get started.  (My Hour of Code Flipboard is here.)  I would argue that the experience is different.  Whereas my experience was one where we just explored and learned as we played with Logo with no end goal in mind, there are so many lessons and templates just a click away for use in the classroom.  It begs the question about enduring learning after the hour or the project is complete.  Does the experience lead to an increased interest in pursuing more studies in Computer Science or an application of the skills in studies?

How about sharing your thoughts about Logo or the landscape today?

  • Have you ever programmed in Logo or another similar language?  Which one?
  • Have you ever programmed a robot?
  • Is the Hour of Code just a digital worksheet that’s over once the activity is complete?
  • In your experience, is this a launchpad to bigger and better things in Computer Science?

OTR Links 05/15/2016

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.