Posts tagged ‘Logo’
Interesting essay from Neil Brown who decided to try to resurrect some of the best of CS Education research software from the past. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I have found that Logo code from the past doesn’t run as-is on modern Logo implementations. I was just talking to a colleague about how great it would be to be able to run Boxer and HyperCard again. (Yes, I have a license for Livecode, but it’s not the same interface as HyperCard.) Etoys still runs on everything, but it’s a rare exception. It’s important to make progress that we build on the past, and not simply re-invent it, forget it, or mis-remember it.
I did have one or two successes, such as getting a version of the GENIE editor running in an emulator. And it was a revelation that greatly pushed forward my understanding of old structured editors. By modern standards, they were awful. The papers’ descriptions didn’t make clear how tedious and fiddly the navigation was, how unhelpful the editor was, how awkward it was to deal with errors. Running the software was an absolutely crucial step to comparing our work to theirs. It allowed me to understand the design and critique the editor’s operation for myself, rather than relying on the authors’ incomplete descriptions of their own software.For all the other editors which I couldn’t run, there are these reviewers asking the perfectly valid question in research: “How does your work relate to previous work X?” And the honest answer is: I don’t know. Perhaps nobody can know any more — the paper wasn’t very detailed and the software is lost in time. This is no way to do research.
Until I heard this recent Freakonomics podcast, I was not aware of this response to innovation and entrepreneurship trends. The quote below speaks directly to engineering education, but is as much about computing education.
The value of engineering is much, much more than just innovation and new things. Focusing on taking care of the world rather than just creating the new nifty thing that’s going to solve all of our problems. If you look at what engineers do, out in the world, like 70-80 percent of them spend most of their time just keeping things going. And so, this comes down to engineering education too, when we’re forcing entrepreneurship and innovation as the message, is that we’re just kind of skewing reality for young people and we’re not giving them a real picture and we’re also not valuing the work that they’re probably going to do in their life. That just seems to me to be kind of a bad idea.
The quote is from Lee Vinsel who was a co-author on a thought-provoking essay, Hail the maintainers, sub-titled: “Capitalism excels at innovation but is failing at maintenance, and for most lives it is maintenance that matters more.”
To take the place of progress, ‘innovation’, a smaller, and morally neutral, concept arose. Innovation provided a way to celebrate the accomplishments of a high-tech age without expecting too much from them in the way of moral and social improvement.
It’s easy to see this emphasis on innovation over maintenance. We talk about disruption and transformation much more than reforming, repairing, or improving. We talk more about creation than understanding.
We increasingly teach computer science to prepare students to be innovators and create new things (e.g., join startups), when the reality is that most computer science graduates are going to spend the majority of their time maintaining existing systems. (See the papers by Beth Simon and Andy Begel tracking new hires at Microsoft.) Few who do enter the startup world will create successful software and successful companies, so it’s unlikely that those students who aim to create startups will have a lifelong career in startups. In terms of impact and importance, keeping large, legacy systems running is a much greater social contribution than creating yet another app or game, when so few of those startup efforts are successful. Aren’t we then as guilty as the engineering educators, described in the first quote?
In terms of what we teach in computing and how, innovation and maintenance is a hard balance to strike. As Alan Kay has noted, “The computing revolution hasn’t happened yet.” We’re still inventing and innovating because what we have isn’t good enough. But, that desire to value what’s new leads us to overvaluing the fad of the moment, rather than exploring, developing, and understanding what we have at-hand. Why do we have to keep changing the introductory programming language, when it’s clear that we don’t understand how students learn (and don’t learn) the programming languages that we currently teach? Why did we give up on Logo when it’s still better than most languages for children today? It’s a tough balance — to strive for better than we have, but valuing, developing, and improving what we currently have.
As readers of this blog know, I started in computing education working in Logo. My first published paper ever was at Logo84, the International Logo Conference at MIT, and an early paper I wrote on using Logo to teach music to young children is still available. I did a post here on all the great interdisciplinary curricula that existed for Logo. There are still Logo workshops available for teachers, and there are slots open for this summer.
The Logo Summer Institute is an intensive workshop in creative computing for K12 teachers, parents, and technology integrators. Our project-based approach supports computational thinking and STEAM learning and teaching. The program is highly individualized to accommodate novices as well as more experienced participants, teachers of different subjects, and those who work in informal settings as well as in classrooms.Learn to code as you explore and create projects using Scratch, Makey Makey, Hummingbird, Arduino, LEGO and a many other hardware and software platforms.The Logo Summer Institute provides a relaxed atmosphere with a small group of colleagues and a great deal of personal attention from experienced workshop leaders. We have a low participant to facilitator ratio and daily advisory meetings to insure that participants’ individual needs are met.
I find the history of both computer science and education fascinating, so this keynote by Audrey Watters is particularly interesting for me because it’s on both. The most often highlighted line in the article is this one:
Education technology is, despite many of our hopes for something else, for something truly transformational, often a tool designed to meet administrative goals.
Audrey shows how educational technology has been used to mechanize our theoretical understanding of what’s the best kind of education.
Now some of these strengths of tutors may be supposition or stereotype. Nonetheless, the case for tutoring was greatly reinforced by education psychologist Benjamin Bloom who, in 1984, published his article “The Two Sigma Problem” that found that “the average student under tutoring was about 2 standard deviations above the average of the control class,” a conventional classroom with one teacher and 30 students. Tutoring is, Bloom argued, “the best learning conditions we can devise.”But here’s the challenge that Bloom identified: one-to-one tutoring is “too costly for most societies to bear on a large scale.” It might work for the elite, but one tutor for every student simply won’t work for public education. Enter the computer — and a rekindling of interesting in building “robot tutors.”
But as she points out, what we end up losing when we mechanize education is the part that is most important. The best part of a good educational experience is the most human part, which is the part which we cannot put into the computer. I recommend the whole article.
I’ve always been a Logo fan. After WIPSCE and my thoughts about the value of resurrecting Logo (see the post), I decided to download some modern Logo implementations and do the classic square.
to square :size repeat 4 [fd :size rt 90] end
The basic square works perfectly fine in Brian Harvey’s Berkeley Logo (see here) — it’s a straightforward implementation from the past. That means that you’re missing more modern and more platform-dependent features (e.g., no sound at all, no networking primitives, etc.).
Next, I tried StarLogo. Took me awhile to figure it out — I had to put the pen down (PD) because it wasn’t by default, and then I had a hard time getting the procedures to work, so I just typed in the code directly. I think I drew a square, but I think I was actually controlling thousands of turtles, because the effect was not at all what I expected.
I then tried NetLogo, which changes turtles from the old days. When you start out, you have no turtles at all. You have to create a turtle, and then you can ask the turtles to do something. I did it, but I didn’t get a square. Or maybe it’s a square but just wrapped around a lot?
The point is that modern Logo implementations were developed for different purposes than older Logo implementations. StarLogo and NetLogo are modeling platforms that support thousands of turtles. That makes it confusing for an oldster like me who wants to do the old things. If we want to be able to use the old curriculum, we’ll have to make some new Logo implementations that work like the old ones but provide the kinds of facilities that we’d want to play with today. Shouldn’t Logo know about the Web? I’d like to be able to manipulate pixels in a picture and samples in a sound — probably no surprise.
Larry Cuban is a remarkable educational historian. He’s written an article about why requiring coding is a bad idea, and links it to the history of Logo in the 1980’s. I think #1 is the most important, and is similar to Seymour Papert’s “Why School Reform is Impossible” article and to Roy Pea’s concerns about requiring computing.
The reasons are instructive to current enthusiasts for coding:
1. While the overall national context clearly favors technological expertise, Big Data, and 21st century skills like programming, the history of Logo showed clearly, that schools as institutions have lot to say about how any reform is put into practice. Traditional schools adapt reforms to meet institutional needs.
2. Then and now, schools eager to teach coding , for the most part, catered to mostly white, middle- and upper-middle class students. They were and are boutique offerings.
3. Then and now, most teachers were uninvolved in teaching Logo and had little incentive or interest in doing so. Ditto for coding.
4. Then and now, Logo and coding depend upon the principle of transfer and the research supporting such confidence is lacking.
This is wonderful for several reasons. So great to see a new version of Logo available that runs in a browser. So really great to see something new from Brian Silverman, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Brian has taught me a lot about education and computing, and he does wonderful work. Thanks to Gary Stager for pointing me to this.
I’ve been teaching a lot of Logo lately, particularly a relatively new version called Turtle Art. Turtle Art is a real throwback to the days of one turtle focused on turtle geometry, but the interface has been simplified to allow block-based programming and the images resulting from mathematical ideas can be quite beautiful works of art. you can see some examples in the image gallery at Turtleart.org. Turtle Art was created by Brian Silverman, Artemis Papert (Seymour’s daughter), and their friend Paula Bonta. Turtle Art itself is a work of art that allows learners of all ages to begin programming, creating, solving problems, and engaging in hard fun within seconds of seeing it for the first time. Since an MIT undergraduate in the late 1970s, Brian Silverman has made Papert’s ideas live in products that often exceeded Papert’s expectations.