Logo for the illiterate programmers
K. Alexandrov, S. Soprunov, E. Yakovleva.
Institute of New Technologies of Education
10 Nizhnaya Radishevskaya,
109004, Moscow, Russia.
tel: (7095) 915-1394,
fax: (7095) 915-6963,
PervoLogo is an iconic version of the MicroWorlds™ from LCSI. This software was developed especially for children aged 4-8. Children that can't read yet can compose programs from commands as from toy bricks.
Visual programming, iconic interface, MicroWorlds.
The usefulness of Logo for the children's development needs no arguments. We believe that the proper using of computer helps children to get many important skills for their day-to-day life and which is more to explore surrounding word and to understand it better. In the terms of professor Papert programming plays an important role in "computer fluency" . Our personal experience shows that even very young students can easily master and put into practice algorithmic constructions of different difficulty levels -- from simple linear instruction sequence to such latest programming conceptions as parallel processes or event-driven programming.
LCSI made a big step when created its MicroWorlds. Besides Logo this software includes word processor, graphics package, melody editor and sounds recording. These additional features turn MicroWorlds into the software, which is first easy to get started with even for very young kids and second gives students a usual for an adult set of tools for everyday work. From the other hand MicroWorlds is equipped with a modern and powerful programming language and therefore is a proper instrument for the full of creative ideas children to be expressed.
We have tried MicroWorlds in grades 1 through 3 and found out that it is amazing and attractive enough to satisfy a small user and at the same time is corresponding to the eternally aspiration of us teachers and parents to provide our children with a creative atmosphere for their growing.
Moreover we have found that the main drawback preventing young students from the fluent work with MicroWorlds is not conceptual but syntactic one. Many children aged 4-7 are interested in programming much but they can't read not to mention they can hardly type. They spend much time typing commands, they misspell commands, then try to read error messages, etc. So with the kind permission of LCSI we developed iconic interface for simplified version of MicroWorlds. The Russian version of this software was named PervoLogo, which means something like "The First Logo" and was designed as a Logo-environment for a pre-school education and an elementary school.
2 Iconic-style programming
Our student or programmer is not supposed to read or even to be familiar with letters. So the MicroWorlds' Command center was transformed. Now, it's not a place for typing commands but a set of icons to choose from.
Figure 1 Command center
Each box in the Command center represents one of the available pre-defined (primitive) procedures or user-defined ones. So every instruction may be run at a click. There are 30 boxes in the upper line of the Command center. They support a set of simple Logo primitives such as forward, back, right, left, wait, pd, and so on. A number of blank boxes remain for user-defined procedures and new album pages. The lower line contains 60 boxes for turtle's shapes and (or) 20 boxes for sounds and composed music. For the lower line of the Command center you can choose between shape and sound modes by clicking on the moon or note buttons.
Any command you can use in two ways: to run it immediately or to use it in a procedure description. To run a command in an interactive mode just click mouse on the box. Turtle shapes, melodies, sounds and album pages are considered as commands in this software. This is to say that clicking on a particular shape icon you can change active turtle's shape immediately or include the command set_shape in your procedure. Sound or music box plays a corresponding sound or music. If particular command needs parameter (e.g., forward primitive) a dialog box appears to set parameter value up (Figure 2).
Figure 2 Forward command dialog box
In the MicroWorlds there are several different ways to make your instructions run. You can create a new procedure in the Procedure page, attach a message to a particular turtle or create "demons" by programming the buttons and colors and so on. To simplify and make editing process more obvious for a child we introduced in PervoLogo a special tool. You have a magic key in the toolbox. This key opens almost every kind of objects for editing and/or assigning instructions. This obvious metaphor helps children to understand what they are doing and makes programming more visual and clear. To assign instruction to the particular turtle or button or color, you take this key from the toolbox, then open the object you need to program -- dialog box appears -- and place "inside" it whatever you want. When your list of instructions is ready you either click OK button in the dialog box (green light of the traffic lights) or, if you dont want to save changes - red one.
Figure 3 An example of a turtle instruction. The cyclic arrow means that we ask a turtle run the instruction many times.
This key lets you to open objects for various kinds of editing also. Just open a box in the Command center and you can change your procedure, draw a page label or turtle shape, compose music or record sound.
3 Extra features for little ones
For PervoLogo our core ideas were simplicity, safety and friendly interface.
3.1 As safe as possible
Its not so easy to do something wrong with your project by a mistake or an accident. The main part of pull-down menus, as default, is disabled so you cant cut something accidentally or quit program without saving your project. The spilt ice-cream (undo icon), which was introduced in MicroWorlds graphics package, is now extended and works on removing almost all kinds of objects - turtles, buttons, procedure boxes. Besides, you can paste only into an empty shape box or a procedure box.
3.2 No syntactic errors
You just can't write syntactic incorrect PervoLogo instruction. The only kind of error messages you can get is about computer resources limitation.
3.3 Word processing
There is a simple word processor in PervoLogo for adding text windows to a project. It has KidPix™ style letter boxes so you can type text by keyboard or clicking in boxes. PervoLogo Macintosh version follows typing with pronouncing letter names.
A beta-version of the PervoLogo for Macintosh computers was made in 1995. We tested the software in the first and second grades in one of Moscow schools. As a support for the software, we have published a book "LogoMozaika" what means LogoTile of Logo ideas for the elementary school. The book has a supplement -- a diskette with samples of described projects. Some of presented projects were made by elementary students.
Now Institute of New Technology of Education released Macintosh and MS-DOS versions PervoLogo. English version of this software mentioned in  as "Iconic MicroWorlds". You can find an English demo version as well as LogoTile project samples for Windows computers on the site http://www.ConnectedFamily.com/Demos
Figure 4 An example of student's album