Problems of Teaching Logo as a Part of Informatics

Valentina Dagienė
Institute of Mathematics and Informatics
Akademijos 4, Vilnius 2600, Lithuania
tel: (370-2) 729606,
fax: (370-2) 729209,


Informatics has been a compulsory school subject in Lithuanian secondary schools for ten years. Two years ago Logo was recommended to be included into the syllabus of informatics for lower level students (6th or 7th grade). It gave a possibility to provide the children with knowledge from various areas of activities, to develop their creative skills, logical, critical thinking, and to prepare them for using computers in the future. Problems connected with software teaching materials have been solved: "LogoWriter" system (version 3.10) was translated into Lithuanian, a reference guide to Logo was published, a project book for teaching was written. The main two trends in teaching Logo – Logo as a tool for projects and Logo as a tool for programming – are discussed in detail. At the end of the paper the Logo teaching syllabus is presented.


Logo, teaching methodologies, informatics as a school subject, creativity

1 The present state of education in Lithuania

The Lithuanian school education consists of three stages: primary (1st-4th grades), secondary(5th-9th grades), and upper secondary (10th-12th grades). Full-time education is compulsory for all children from the age 6 or 7 to 16. Almost all the secondary level schools are state schools. There are 696 upper secondary schools (grades 1 to 12) with more than 400 000 students in total and 587 basic schools (grades 1 to 9) with over 58 000 students in total, in the country.

At present an all-round Educational Reform is in progress. The Ministry of Education and Science decided to extend the secondary education up to the 10th grade. It will be put into practise from the next school year.

The education system in Lithuania is centralised. Most of the decision making policy is controlled by the Ministry of Education and Science. Following the Reform, the system of school education is changing from a state-controlled model towards a state-supervised model.

The primary and basic education comprise the comprehensive school, where students follow a uniform curriculum of general education that allows but little differentiation. All students in the upper secondary school follow the core of common courses and some optional courses. The subject curricula and the number of subject lessons per week for optional courses are determined by the type of school and students' abilities. Examinations are taken at the end of grade 9 and grade 12. Students receive a Basic School Certificate after passing exams at grade 9. It is necessary to pass school-leaving exams at grade 12 to receive a Secondary Education Certificate. The native language, mathematics, and a modern foreign language exams are compulsory school-leaving exams. The student also has to choose at least two optional subjects. Informatics is among them.

2 Early activities in informatics and Logo

The very first acquaintance with Logo ideas began in the early 1980's when S. Papert's philosophy reached us through "Mindstorms" [11]. At this time (1981) the Young Programmer School by correspondence was organised. This school was the only educational institution giving a chance to get a primary acquaintance with algorithms and computer programming for most school children in Lithuania especially for those living in provinces.

From the very beginning of teaching of informatics we emphasised that the computer, and information technology in general, was not the goal in itself, but a means to express oneself, and a tool to create something. For example, the ultimate goal of the Young Programmer School was to develop habits of creative thinking, intelligence, and work discipline. Therefore programming itself may be treated not as a goal but as a tool to achieve yet another goal - to develop problem solving and creative thinking [6, 7].

While establishing the Young Programmer School the question which programming language should be chosen for teaching purposes became the topic for a lot of discussions. There was more than one programming language that suited for teaching purposes, the best of them being Pascal and Logo, the latter was especially suitable for young children. Also there were other programming languages wide used in teaching at this time, e.g. PL/1, Basic. On the one hand, we realised that Logo suited very well for achieving the goal formulated above – to develop problem solving and creative thinking. On the other hand, we knew that teaching of Logo was inseparable from using the computer.

After heated discussions it was decided to choose Pascal as an algorithm representation language in the Young Programmer School. Some years later, due to the same reasons, Pascal was chosen as a language for writing algorithms in the compulsory course of informatics for secondary education. Therefore, using Logo was left at teachers' own discretion.

Until 1993 only a small number of teachers used Logo in classes and taught students of their own choice without any pedagogical or psychological background.

In 1993 a Special Interest Learning Group of the Lithuanian Computer Society started organising workshops on the Logo methodological background. As usual, merely the teachers of informatics and scientists took part in the workshops.

In the workshops most attention was paid to the analysis of S. Papert's point of view on school in the age of the computer, his methodology and philosophy presented in his book [11, 12]. The concepts of well-known psychologists (J. Piaget, F. Erickson), mathematicians (G. Polya), pedagogues and philosophers (J. A. Comenius, J. Dewey) were discussed there. Logo links with artificial intelligence, logical and object-oriented programming (e.g. Smalltalk) were analysed. Teachers who had some practical experience with children in teaching Logo shared their knowledge and especially their feelings with others. These workshops were of great importance for spreading Logo ideas among the teachers of informatics.

3 Logo summer workshops for teachers and children

The workshops organised by the Special Interest Learning Group were important from the methodological point of view, but there were few practical activities with computers in the workshops, so teachers did not get enough information on practical work in the classroom, or answers to concrete questions connected with practical usage of Logo.

Questions like where to start teaching from, what to teach today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, arose to every teacher wishing to work with the Logo system. Apparently every such teacher was willing to see how teachers who already had some practice worked. He/she would also like to use the methods of experienced teachers’ first and only after some time to create his/her own methods.

To fill the gaps of practical teaching methods of Logo, summer courses-workshops were started to be organised.

There were long discussions how to organise work in the workshops to improve their efficiency. Several work organising and participant selection models were considered. It was decided that it would be much better if not only teachers but also students took part in the workshop.

The main arguments for students to participate together with teachers were the following:

Approximately equal number of teachers and students participated in the summer workshops of Logo.

Further discussions concerned the teaching methods to be applied during the workshops. Three basic models of teaching were discussed:

The first national summer workshop was organised in Vilnius in 1994. Teachers and students from various towns and country areas were invited. The first model was chosen as the method of work.

During the whole week four hours a day children were taught to use the Logo system. At the end of their classes they tried to convey their knowledge to the teachers, i.e., to teach them. Some students succeeded better, others – worse. However, due to this model it was possible to observe how a child thinks, how he is learning, what points seem to be main to him/her in the classroom, how he is trying to convey his knowledge.

A year later, the second Logo-workshop accepted the second model: teachers and students were taught separately, after the classes there was given time for discussions. Teachers with traditional views preferred this model to the first one, in addition, they learned more elements of the Logo programming language, however, they experienced a less emotional impact of S. Papert's methodology.

During the following summers, various towns and regions started organising their own Logo workshops. The third model was tested in one of them. It appeared to be the most economical one, because at the same time the work was carried on with two groups of students: the teachers and the children.

The teachers highly appreciated this model. The most valuable thing for them was that they could observe lecturers teaching children and could join the teaching process. This model was supplemented with lectures before the classes and discussions after them.

The workshop of the Special Interest Learning Group and Practical summer workshops prepared teachers to work with the Logo system and it became possible to start thinking about including Logo into the course of informatics.

4 Informatics as a school subject

The introduction of computers into the secondary education in Lithuania was started more than 10 years ago. The approach of teaching of informatics as a separate subject was used. In 1986, informatics became a compulsory school subject for all secondary schools. By now computers and other information technologies are mostly being used for teaching and learning informatics. Only a small number of advanced schools have been using computers for teaching other school subjects, in most cases, English and mathematics.

At first the contents of the subject of informatics was the same as in the former USSR. Initially, the textbooks translated from Russian were used in the teaching process. In 1990, the national curriculum of informatics was developed. In 1991, the first Lithuanian textbook of informatics was published [5].

The new conception of informatics as a subject is under development. In the autumn of 1997, the elaboration of a new informatics subject curriculum, syllabus, and education standards will be completed. All the documents regulating this will be based on ACM, IFIP and UNESCO recommendations [1, 8, 9, 10].

Thus, informatics will remain a compulsory subject in the upper secondary school (11th and 12th grades) until the next year. In total, it requires about 70 hours of class time and lasts for one or two years.

Since 1990, the compulsory curriculum of informatics has covered three main topics:

The textbook [5] covered only these three topics. In addition, teachers used other books as well as materials developed by themselves to elaborate student's practical skills with computers.

In 1995, the Expert Group on teaching informatics initiated a discussion on which age would be best to start the compulsory course of informatics. Three options were analysed:

It has been ascertained that the best time to start teaching of informatics is grades 6 and 7. The students would acquire the necessary skills of information technology at the beginning of a secondary school and later could apply their knowledge when learning other subjects. From the psychological point of view, younger students are more capable of acquiring practical skills rather than theory. Due to this, the course of informatics for the 6th and 7th grades should be based on teaching how to use the computers. However, due to the lack of hardware and software in schools, the course of informatics is more theoretical than practical. (In spite of a large 1996-1997 computerisation project "Computers for Secondary, Vocational and High Schools of Lithuania" only about 30% of secondary schools will be provided with 10 or 6 units of computer labs, in addition, every secondary school has a computer [13]).

The decision was made to start teaching the compulsory course of informatics from the 9th grade. It corresponds to the Education Reform which foresees an extension of secondary education from 9 to 10 years and to shift the basic teaching subjects downwards to the 10th grade. So, informatics will become a compulsory subject in the last year of secondary education. The compulsory course of informatics in a secondary school takes 70 hours in total. It can be arranged in 2 years with 1 hour per week, or in a year with 2 hours per week.

If we wish to make the studies of informatics accessible to all students, we have to think thoroughly about the methodology, course materials, and supporting equipment to be used in such courses. What should be our goals?

The main goals of our course of informatics are:

The project of the new curriculum of informatics for the 9th and 10th grades covers the following main topics:

The contents of the first two topics remained the same as it was before. However, the material are adapted to students' age. There was an introduction to computers was in the former, curriculum, too.

This part is extended in the new course making an assumption that every secondary school will be provided with at least one computer. The fourth part is quite new. It is devoted to teaching cognitive knowledge and practical skills in the information technology.

If a school has got a computer lab, the Expert Group on teaching informatics recommend to start teaching the information technology in the 6th grade and to choose "LogoWriter" as the main software for this purpose. In our opinion, Logo is very suitable for teaching the information technology as part of informatics as well as other conventional subjects, including mathematics.

The well-known LCSI software "LogoWriter" (version 3.10) was translated into Lithuanian last year and given to all schools having a computer lab. A reference guide to "LogoWriter" was published [3].

5 The main trends in teaching Logo

As it was mentioned above, Logo is recommended to be taught starting from the 6th grade at schools having a computer lab. The methodology of presenting learning materials is very important and has a considerable impact on the future development of children's thinking.

Quite often a Logo course consists of just teaching of programming. Such a tendency has been observed in many countries and schools. We won't discuss the reasons for this, but it is obvious that traditional usage of programming languages is one of them. The ideas of S. Papert that children should be taught to program the computer also add to it.

Programming skills are very useful for developing creativity and logical thinking but their development should be adapted to the age, capabilities, motivation, and a general level of the class being taught.

Some students who have no turn for mathematics are not very keen on programming. Trying to force such students to learn programming can lead to the opposite effect: they will not only improve their knowledge of mathematics, but also form a negative attitude towards computers in general.

The creation of various projects like drawing, text writing, conveying of music and motions is a much more acceptable way of working with a computer for such children.

Two basic trends in the teaching of Logo are:

When working on projects children deal with different forms of information, collect and process data with the appropriate interpretation. In projects children develop their intellectual capabilities, exploratory skills which have proved to be useful in learning not only informatics but also other subjects.

Algorithmic thinking and programming skills are taken imperceptibly. The project creation trend covers drawing, text processing, sound effects, animation, and, naturally, simple programming tools. This trend puts more emphasis on the developing of aesthetic taste, artistic and humanitarian qualities.

Logo as a tool of programming requests for ability to think abstractly and formally, to have a deeper mathematical knowledge and to be capable of applying it properly. The emphasis is put on the main points of solving, correct data and control structures instead of stressing the visualisation of results. Logo programming could be called a moral bridge between what children already know about mathematics and some more advanced concepts, such as the understanding of plane and space, symbolic procedural descriptions of mathematical shapes, recursion and other control statements.

We have prepared a Logo project book [4] in which the teaching materials vary from very simple projects (greeting cards, visit cards, a page of diary, zoo, created by using turtle shapes and drawings with a mouse) to simple programming, and then, once again, from pure programming to complex projects (animation with the tiniest details of a picture, several page long essays, which include rhymed texts, creation of verses, and games). This book may be used as a textbook from the 6th to the 9th grade, i.e., when the compulsory course of informatics is started.

6 The frame of Logo syllabus

At school students study the living world in their biology courses, the formal number world in their mathematics course, the physical world in physics and chemistry courses, and so on.

The world of informatics is new. In it we can assess information directly, we can perform searches on a large number of documents, make copies, alter documents or generate new ones. It is not only a world we can observe and learn about, it is a world we can manipulate and participate in.

Logo is a very good tool for developing such activities with information.

The aims set out below describe the educational purposes of the Logo course. The aims are not listed in priority order and do not use up every possible means. Every teacher of Logo can supplement with the goals he/she seeks to achieve.

The main syllabus will be aimed at:

Some teachers, experts in Logo, have prepared their own Logo syllabus. As usual, Logo syllabus consists of the following basic parts:

One of the best detailed Logo syllabus written by teacher expert T. Balvočienė is published in [2]. There is a very detailed list of topics. Teachers who are going to teach children to work with the Logo system can create their own syllabus based on the syllabus presented in the book.

7 Conclusions

The course of informatics at Lithuanian secondary schools, regardless of whether the school has computers or not, is compulsory and is more oriented towards theoretical and cognitive knowledge. The main goal of the informatics course is to develop students' creative, logical, and critical thinking skills. The course of Informatics at schools with computer labs is based on a more extensive curriculum. In this case it is recommended to teach Logo for one or more years (according to the choice of the school) applying the method of projects in the lower grades of a secondary school. Teaching of Logo as a tool of programming can be performed in separate cases, e.g., working with the children having a turn for mathematics.

8 References

  1. ACM Task Force. ACM Model High School Computer Science Curriculum: Report of the Task Force on High School Curriculum of the ACM Pre-College Committee. – New York: ACM Press, 1993.
  2. Balvočienė T. Informatika (VI-VII kl.). Individulioji programa (Informatics for 6-7 grades. Syllabus). – In: Mokykla ir kompiuteris, 1996, pp. 26-38 (in Lithuanian).
  3. Balvočienė T., Dagienė V., Klupšaitė A. Logo žinynas (A guide to Logo). – Vilnius: Folium, 1996 (in Lithuanian).
  4. Balvočienė T., Dagienė V., Klupšaitė A. Aš mokausi Logo: Projektų knyga (I am learning Logo: Project book). – Vilnius: Folium, 1997 (in Lithuanian).
  5. Dagienė V. and Grigas G. Informatika X-XII klasėms (Informatics for X-XII grades: textbook). – Vilnius: Šviesa, 1991 (in Lithuanian).
  6. Grigas G. Informatics and Creative Thinking. – In: Third International Conference: Children in the Information Age, Sofia, Part 1, 1987, pp. 229-240.
  7. Grigas G. Integration of Informatics into Schools Based on the Goals of Teaching. – In: Informatics and Changes in Learning. Proc. of the IFIP Open Conference, Gmunden, Austria, June 7-11, 1993, pp. 11-12.
  8. IFIP Working Group on Secondary Education (WD 3.1), Informatics Education in Secondary Schools, IFIP, 1993.
  9. IFIP Working Group on Secondary Education (WD 3.1), Integration of Information Technology into Secondary Education, Main Issues and Perspectives, IFIP, Feb., 1993.
  10. Informatics for Secondary Education. A curriculum for schools. – Paris: UNESCO, 1994.
  11. Papert S. Mindstorms: Children, Computer, and Powerful Ideas. – New York: BasicBooks, 1980.
  12. Papert S. The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer. – New York: BasicBooks, 1993.
  13. Vaskela G. Mokyklų kompiuterizavimo projektas (School computerisation project). – In: Infobalt’96, No. 1, pp. 88-89 (in Lithuanian).