We used to know how to teach CS in Logo

April 7, 2012 at 1:37 pm 22 comments

When I get into conversations about CS pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), I realize that Gary Stager is right (below).  We used to have CS PCK.  I remember “Ask three before me” and Logo songs and all the other terrific techniques that were created for teaching about Logo.  I remember square dancing at the East Coast Logo Conference, as a way of talking about procedures for turtle movements.  What happened to all those techniques?  Why did we lose them?  Gary thinks that we lost the battle when “technology” became a synonym for “computing.”  He may be right.  I also think Seymour got it right when he talked about how schooling carefully removed computing from the curriculum.  In any case, it’s a shame that we are now recreating what we once had.

Although I’m only 48, I have been working in educational computing for thirty years. When I started, we taught children to program. We also taught tens of thousands of teachers to teach computer science to learners of all ages. In many cases, this experience represented the most complex thinking about thinking that teachers ever experienced and their students gained benefit from observing teachers learning to think symbolically, solve problems and debug. There was once a time in the not so distant path when educators were on the frontiers of scientific reasoning and technological progress. Curriculum was transformed by computing. School computers were used less often to “do school” and more often to do the impossible.

Don’t believe me? My mentor, Dan Watt, sold over 100,000 copies of a book entitled, Learning with Logo in the 1980s when much fewer teachers and children had access to a personal computer.

Things sped downhill when we removed “computing” from our lexicon and replaced it with “technology” (like a Pez dispenser or Thermos). We quickly degraded that meaningless term, technology, further by modifying it with IT and ICT. Once computing was officially erased from the education of young people, teachers could focus on keyboarding, chatting, looking stuff up, labeling the parts of the computer and making PowerPoint presentations about topics you don’t care about for an audience you will never meet. The over-reliance on the Internet and the unreliability of school networks ensures that you can spend half of each class period just logging-in.

via Dumbing Down : Stager-to-Go.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

A nice definition of computational thinking, including risks and cyber-security Modern HyperCard for Today’s Schools: But Where’s the Community of Practice?

22 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bonnie  |  April 7, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    I agree about the technology classes in K12! However, I wonder how much penetration Logo ever really had. It certainly did not exist when I was in high school. I think programming classes in high school were very rare in the 70’s. When I started in the CS major in college in the 80’s, the professors assumed noone had ever touched a computer before.

    When I started teaching CS myself in the 90’s, I did have students who had programmed in high school, but it was always in Basic. My husband did teach Karel the Robot in a university class for nonmajors – wasn’t that somehow Logo-based? I think they only did it for a few weeks,though, and then switched to Pascal.

    So, I am really curious – did Logo really have any impact in K12?

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  April 7, 2012 at 4:54 pm

      Absolutely, but in patches. (William Gibson: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”) For example, St. Paul was the largest Logo implementation site, where the whole school district used Logo, and there was a sophisticated process of professional development and support for teachers incorporating Logo across the curriculum.

  • 3. Climeguy  |  April 8, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Whatever happened to the revolution (quoting Brian Harvey’s conference title) specifically in St. Paul? I’m sure its been written about. Mark – others – any good references to that story?
    (attended both MIT 84-85 Logo Conferences)

    • 4. numbat mark  |  April 9, 2012 at 11:20 pm

      What ever happened to the revolution ?
      We all got stoned and drifted away.

      Australian band Skyhooks
      Living in the Seventies LP

  • 5. Climeguy  |  April 8, 2012 at 9:08 am

    Woops. Sorry didnt notice the link in your previous post.

  • 6. mlassoff  |  April 8, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Karel the Robot is a Java tool. It’s best feature, in my opinion, is that it limits the problem scope to moving Karel around a predetermined space. This allows the teacher to focus on problem solving using the technical Java command structure. If you watch Stamford’s Introductory Programming Course, which is available free online, you can see an instructor demonstrate Karel.

    • 7. Bonnie  |  April 9, 2012 at 8:33 am

      Actually, I think Karel pre-dates Java. There may well be a Java implementation now, but when my husband was using it, Java did not yet exist.

      • 8. Baker Franke  |  April 9, 2012 at 8:42 am

        Karel does pre-date java…by many years, I think. I use the Java implementation (Karel J. Robot) for the first 8-10 weeks of my AP CS class. I have found no better substitute for teaching and learning the OO mindset and way of life. After the students are done with Karel they deeply understand inheritance and polymorphism, recursion, and OO design patterns. Learning the rest of Java always seems to be downhill from there. There is some skill (teaching skill) involved in making the transition away from Karel but it can be done.

        • 9. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  April 9, 2012 at 12:23 pm

          According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karel_%28programming_language%29) Richard Pattis’s Karel the Robot book was published in 1981 and Gosling started developing Java in 1991 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Java_%28programming_language%29), which means Karel is at least 10 years older.

        • 10. Bonnie  |  April 10, 2012 at 8:16 am

          I use Greenfoot to similar effect in my CS1 course. Though I don’t do design patterns – quite honestly, my CS1 students are not ready for that. We do that in a much later course.

          • 11. Baker Franke  |  April 10, 2012 at 8:28 am

            I would push you on Design Patterns, you might be surprised. For first time students the notion of design patterns is actually quite natural, I’ve found. Humans are used to solving problems in terms of patterns. When design patterns are in play it gives them a place to start thinking about how to solve a problem with code, which is a better starting point than worrying about syntax issues.

  • 12. Baker  |  April 8, 2012 at 11:35 am

    This is what I think about every time I think about my own “innovative” teaching for CS. I think, hasn’t someone done this before. Is it really a new idea that’s it possible to get kids excited about problem solving and abstractions (or whatever else you want that’s computing related) when you’re able to get the machine to do something impossible? Two points…

    1. If Logo really was successful at creating magic for kids, it went away, not only because of something schools did (or didn’t do), but when having a computer in and of itself became less magical. In the age of the iPhone making a turtle dance seems less magical. Seems trivial and stupid, but the promise of computing has always been to control the machine to do the impossible (or magical). Perhaps that will change one day. But is it any wonder that things like App Inventor or libraries that make using the Kinect tractable for K-12 are catching on. You own Media Computation was essentially barking up the same tree. I would argue the pedagogical techniques need not change, but the magic does.

    All that being said, it is sad that we seem to have very little institutional knowledge of those techniques. They need to be relearned and retaught. Which brings me to…

    2. If we want to reclaim these techniques we need REAL professional development for teachers. Almost prof. dev. opportunity for K12 that I see right now is basically treating the teachers as undergrads to learn the CS content of some course. THAT’S NOT WHAT TEACHERS NEED. We need to learn how to teach. How to inspire students to think in computational ways. How about professional development workshops in which teachers actually craft lessons and deliver them in front of peers and get feedback….they’ll learn the CS content along the way — better even — since they’ll understand what they need to know in order to teach authoritatively.

    This, by the way, is what we’re doing in Chicago as part of Taste of Computing (http://tasteofcomputing.com) It works.

  • 15. nickfalkner  |  April 8, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    Would it be fair to say that when we had all the techniques, our community dissemination mechanisms weren’t as effective – but this became a focus and a filter in many ways? The requirement to have face-to-face gatherings, square dances (???) and personal interaction to convey knowledge meant that good teachers taught other teachers. Even then, it was success ‘in patches’. Those of us who were geographically distant were even less likely to have this success.

    These days we have trivially easy dissemination but I wonder if we don’t necessarily have the overview and mentoring available to pass on the good techniques and, under the banner of ‘teaching technologies’, a lot of people do SOMETHING rather than the right thing. This is, for course, not to say that this ease of dissemination is a bad thing – but I know from experience that people will often run off and do something, because it’s novel and ‘e-enhanced’, without really understanding the context or being linked to the community.

    Sorry, I’m harping on about community as a grand challenge again – but I think that, if we want to preserve ‘good’ culture and practice, the only way to do this is to form a cultural exchange and maintenance community. Now, of course, some of us get to go to SIGCSE and ICER but that’s not all college-level educators, let alone K-12, in this climate. Baker’s #2 comment rings very true for me here.

    I agree with the rest of what you’re saying but I wonder if some of it can be traced back to the ongoing, and difficult, issue of making distance education work – and so much of our learning as educators is no longer carried out face-to-face?

    (I note that my experience, growing up in isolated Australia, was not one of Logo and, to a great extent, had very little formal computing exposure at all. We had machines but not the educational software community – at least in my experience in the early to mid 80s. Alice and Scratch appear to have far more penetration now than Logo or Karel ever did.)

  • 16. ǝɥʇooq ɹǝʇǝd (@pboothe)  |  April 9, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    Python has import turtle

    I have been using it for homework and projects in my CS1 class and it seems to be a good thing. And because people are using a “real language”, it seems sustainable.

  • 17. numbat mark  |  April 9, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    In western australia there was a group really keen on using mswlogo out of MIT.

    we could program stepper motors out of the serial port. from there, picaxe chips and basic, now it is arduino and c.

    mswlogo is really cool in the way it passes parameters into procedures and the easy way you can program input boxes. No need to teach kids about negative numbers with the sexy command. still try to sneak it in to maths lessons when noone is looking.

    • 18. Brian Harvey  |  April 16, 2012 at 4:12 pm

      “mswlogo out of MIT”

      Sorry to nitpick on an attribution issue, but MIT had no direct connection with MSWLogo. The Logo language was created at BBN, then Seymour Papert started the MIT Logo group, which notably added the turtle graphics capability, but MSWLogo was a Windows-specific fork, by private developer George Mills, of UCBLogo, my project at the University of California, Berkeley.

  • 19. Tattatu  |  April 11, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Logo would show how little our students know aboUt mathemati cs. What killed cs in the us were the lousy math textbooks churned out by ann arbor and the standards based movement. if schools cant find a way to package curriculum into a can they purge it.

  • […] of my recent posts on teaching with Logo and the culture of older programming languages, I’ve been poking around the Logo sites.  My […]

  • […] mathematics educators know how to build on innate understanding of number.  We call that knowledge pedagogical content knowledge.    How do we best teach computer science?  How do we help future educators develop the unique […]

  • […] the Computer Education Blog reflection on these changes and teaching with logo in the old days! Read more… In category: Edition #9, TeachersTags:Articles , Education , learning , News ad here ad here ad […]


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