Logo and Scratch: Coding Through the Generations

Logo, the educational programming language created in 1967 to teach kids how to program, was years ahead of its time. Using a “turtle”, the language had kids giving instructions to make it turn in multiple directions and create fascinating line drawings. Seymour Papert, one of the creators, explains how the language works in a wonderful, if very dated, demonstration. I remember hearing about Logo when I was in middle and high school in the 1980’s. It was almost like a mysterious power that would transform the world. Sadly, I didn’t hear that much about it later as I went on to college and majored in Computer Science. Languages like COBOL, Pascal, and C dominated much of my coursework.

Many years later after I moved from software development to teaching, I went to great conference in Savannah called Geekend. In the lobby of the conference hotel, I saw college students demonstrating a very colorful, drag-and-drop programming language called Scratch. Scratch, a descendant of Logo, was created at MIT Media lab to teach kids how to program. At many educational conferences after that point, I saw Scratch everywhere. I quickly brought the language to my classroom and have been amazed what the students have created.

With the technology tools today, students have a much more powerful tool in Scratch than we did with Logo. I am encouraged how quickly Scratch has grown in popularity. I’ve often said to my students,”I wish we had Scratch when I was your age!”  I believe tools like Scratch are very important because they spark the imagination of our kids and inspire them to create instead of just consume information. And with the computer-on-a-chip Raspberry Pi, kids are building their own computers and figuring out how they work inside. These are key skills needed in this generation and I love being a part of it.

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