History Software Engineering

Programming for Children – 1967 AD

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Programming for Children

Seymour Papert (1928–2016), Wally Feurzeig (1927–2013), Cynthia Solomon (dates unavailable)

Seymour Papert, Wally Feurzeig, and Cynthia Solomon thought that programming could be a powerful tool for teaching children about thinking, planning, and abstract thought. So while working at the research company Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (now BBN Technologies®) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, they designed a computer language for children, with a few commands that could be combined to enable complex tasks. Programming in this language, called Logo, let children create instructions for the computer much in the way that they might string together many simple words to convey complicated thoughts. Some of the early programs that children wrote were math quizzes and chatbots.

Although programs in early versions of Logo could do little more than communicate with the user through text, the inventors soon made it possible for the machine to control a mechanical robot called a turtle, which the program could instruct to move forward, move backward, or turn. The original turtle was a robot named Irving; it crawled around on a piece of paper in response to commands from a machine nearby. Irving had a pen that it could drop and drag to make a drawing. Eventually, Irving became a virtual turtle on a computer screen, making it possible to share Logo with many more people.

Children were taught that the turtle understood certain words and numbers that they could use to make the turtle move around. To draw a square, for example, a child would learn through trial and error to type FORWARD 40 (or some other number) to go forward 40 steps, then type the command RIGHT 90 to turn to the right, and then FORWARD 40 and RIGHT 90 three more times to complete the shape. The child would get immediate visual feedback on the screen. Kids soon learned that they could “teach” the turtle a new word such as SQUARE and associate individual steps with that word, so that they did not have to type multiple commands to create an object. Often referred to as “turtle graphics,” teaching games and different flavors of Logo evolved over time and proved that, yes, children can program.

SEE ALSO BASIC Computer Language (1964), Object-Oriented Programming (1967), Nintendo Entertainment System (1983)

Seymour Papert shows two children the inner workings of a robotic turtle controlled by programs written in the Logo programming language.

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