Logo and Turtles

I recently wrote of the constructivist underpinnings to a revised physical science laboratory. While updating the computer laboratory to Ubuntu 10.10 the other weekend I stumbled across kTurtle, a variant of Logo that is careful to note that kTurtle is not intended to be Logo and never will be. Apparently the issue is the command set, but I was up and running in kTurtle using the example programs provided without missing a beat.

Many long years ago I had spent many a happy evening programming a set of four turtles in a version of Logo that ran on the Atari computer system. I had the turtles flying in formation and performing fin-tip to fin-tip group loop-the-loops and other complex patterns. Pen down was "smoke on" and pen up was "smoke off."

I was surprised to learn that Logo is still in active existence as an educational project. When Logo was first introduced there were high hopes that Logo would make mathematics, geometry, and computer programming accessible and exciting for young learners. There were great educational hopes associated with the programming language. Logo was briefly a poster child for discovery learning, unleashing the creativity of children.

Even during my time in graduate school scholarly papers were failing to find a positive impact for pure discovery learning using Logo. The hoped for transferance of skills to math, geometry, and logic just were not there. Richard Mayer noted the failings of Logo is his article Should There be a Three Strikes Rule against Discovery Learning?

Mayer aside, I spent the next hour happily re-immersed in the world of Logo and discovery learning. Turtle flying is still fun. Countless educators have used one form or another of Logo over the years since Logo was first created 44 years ago, and nowadays Logo can even be run in one's browser.

Despite the complexities of showing transference of learning to allied field, the language was always fun and the results surprising due to its natural ability to call routines recursively. Clearly others benefited from contact with Logo, maybe the transfer was not a skill but a realization for some that they liked programming and this led to a career in programming. Maybe the language produced programmers.

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