Contextualizing continuous education in logo via internet
José Armando Valente
Núcleo de Informática Aplicada à Educação - NIED
Universidade Estadual de Campinas - UNICAMP
Cidade Universitária, Prédio V da Reitoria - 2º Piso
13083-970 Campinas, SP - Brazil
tel: ++55 (19) 239 7350
fax: ++55 (19) 239 4717
This article describes an experience of using a contextualized- constructionist approach to Logo teachers' continuous education done via Internet. The standard Logo teacher training courses do not provide experience for the teachers to implement Logo in their classroom activities. This can be possible with the contextualized-constructionist approach. However, this alternative demands a full time presence of the Logo course professors in the school. To minimize the cost and time of maintaining the Logo professor in the school, we are interacting with the school teachers via Internet. This has created a continuous education process by which the teachers are able to debug and improve the process of integrating Logo in their classroom activities.
Teacher education, continuous education, distance learning, Logo, Internet
The constructionist learning approach means the process of constructing knowledge by making things. A contextualized constructionist teacher training course in Logo means that teachers are constructing knowledge about Logo and how to use it in their classroom by interacting with Logo and by using Logo with their students. This is possible by placing computers in the school and having the training course take place in the teacher's working environment . The reason for adopting this approach is that the implementation of Logo in a school requires much more than just learning Logo. It requires changes in the school's current administrative and pedagogical paradigms. The training course should be able to help the teachers and the administrators to make these changes. However, this solution requires full time presence of Logo course professors in the school. The Internet has shown to be a possible solution to reduce the physical presence of these professors. This article describes how Internet has been used to support a contextualized-constructionist Logo teacher continuous education program.
The improvement of education requires a series of pedagogical changes in order to accommodate the introduction of technology and the adaptation of the curriculum content to the reality of the 21st century. However, one of the most important factors for improving education is the preparation of teachers. With the dissemination of computer technology in education the teachers' role should no longer be to deliver information but to help the students to make sense of the incredible amount of information they may acquire through the various medias.
Most of the courses or workshops to prepare teachers to use Logo are decontextualized from the school reality. First, in general these activities do not take place in the teacher's own school. This means that the teachers have to leave their work setting and to attend a course that provides a different reality than that in which the teachers is immersed. Second, these courses were not designed to accommodate the teacher's specific pedagogical needs. In general, these courses consist of learning the Logo language, reading and discussing topics related to the Logo methodology and reviewing a particular subject such as math or science and integrating it with Logo. These courses do not create a situation in which the teachers learn how to use Logo with one student or with a class and to deal with administrative and pedagogical changes necessary for the teachers to implement Logo in their classroom activities.
In this sense these courses and workshops are decontextualized from the teachers' reality. The problems with decontextualized Logo courses are that, first, the fact that we know something does not imply that we know how to apply it. To be able to apply knowledge to a particular situation requires another type of knowledge . The application of a given piece of knowledge has to be exercised so we learn how to use that knowledge in different situations. Since the use of Logo in a teaching situation is not exercised in these standard Logo courses, the teachers are not prepared to do this task.
Second, decontextualized courses are set up with the premise that the teacher goes back to his/her work place and is able to adapt the knowledge acquired in the course to the working reality. And this task has to be done solely by the teacher, without the help from the course professors or from the school staff. The course professors are not there with the teacher to help him/her to go through the process of using Logo with the students. Moreover, the implementation of any pedagogical changes requires the involvement of other people in the school who, more often than not, are working at cross purposes. The other teachers, supervisors and students have to collaborate and be willing to embark on this new adventure. Without some changes in the teaching paradigm, Logo will not be able to fit into and to be effective in the current school system. It is hard to imagine that after a standard Logo course teachers would be able to implement the changes required for Logo to be part of the classroom activities. Either the teachers abandon the idea of using the computer or the computer is not integrated in the classroom activities. Most of the courses we have developed in Brazil, such as FORMAR  or the courses provided by the Centers of Informatics in Education (CIEd) used the decontextualized model (Em Aberto, Ano XII, nº 57, 1993). Research on Logo teaching training refers to this model and mention the difficulties teachers have to implement computers in their activities , ,  , ,  and the international literature describing Logo teacher training courses in other countries, specially in the US, report similar models , .
The solution for courses to prepare teachers without removing them from their classroom has been the distance learning courses. Instead of the teachers going to a particular place the course material goes to the teachers. These courses have evolved from the correspondence courses, to videotaped courses, to televised classes. Today with the Information Superhighway and dissemination of CD ROMs it is possible to replicate classrooms in remote locations. Most of the colleges today offers these type of service for teachers. In the Internet there are several teacher training courses offered, including courses about Logo. For example, the Laboratory for Cognitive Studies (LEC) at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul offered a course to Logo teachers called "Cognitive Developmental Psychology Applied to Computer Based Learning Environment." This was a 360 hour course, done through the Internet and offered to 20 teachers from Costa Rica, responsible for the National Program of Computers in Education .
Certainly distance learning courses minimized the problems that occur by removing teachers from their working setting. However, these courses are also decontextualized from each teacher's needs since they are set up to reach a large number of teachers and from different places. In addition, these courses do not contribute to creating in the teacher's working place, an environment that is congenial to the changes necessary for Logo to be integrated in the classroom activities. The teacher has to face these difficulties on his/her own.
The solution to the problem of decontextualization of Logo courses is to develop a course that uses a pedagogical approach tailored to teacher's needs and that takes place in the teacher's working setting. The educational changes necessary to implement Logo in a school have to be constructed in the working place, as part of the teacher's training course and to be implemented within the course structure. The contextualized-constructionist approach to Logo teacher training was designed to overcome the contextualization difficulties.
2 Contextualized-constructionist teacher training
The idea that a teacher training course should support the implementation of Logo in the school is not without precedent. In 1986 Papert submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation  whose objective was to prepare science teachers to be able to integrate Logo into their classroom activities. This training course had several important innovations. First, the teachers had to construct knowledge through the process of building something. Learning occurred through hands on experience, and the object built should be personally meaningful. These were the two major characteristics that distinguish Piaget's constructivism and Papert's constructionism. Second, the course had moments in which the teachers came to MIT to be engaged in intensive activities of building their objects, and moments they would go back to their schools and try to implement some of the ideas they had developed. These schools activities were accompanied by MIT staff and the teachers had a chance to come back to MIT to discuss and share their experiences.
Another project that helped the teachers to construct the implementation of Logo in their classroom activities was done by Hoyles, Noss and Sutherland . In their project mathematics teachers had to learn Logo, to develop Logo microworlds and to use these microworlds in their classrooms. This course took place during the course of an academic year during which the teachers had to come to the university for periods of intensive activities such as learning Logo and designing their microworld, and had to continue teaching so they could implement Logo in their classroom activities. During the period the teachers were teaching they had to come once a week to the university to work on the implementation of their microworld or learn more about Logo and to discuss their classroom activities. Also, course professors visited the schools and observed the teachers working with their students.
These experiences show that the implementation of Logo in the classroom needs much more than a contact with Logo or the fact that we follow up what they are doing with Logo in their classroom. It is important to integrate the contextualized experience with the constructionism learning approach.
The teachers need to have a deeper experience with the constructionism ideas. This means that in addition to the points made by Papert, it is important to emphasize that the teachers are building something by programming the computer. The Logo program that is defined plays an important role in the process of knowledge construction. It allows the teacher to engage in the cycle description-execution-reflection-debugging-description. In this way the computer becomes a very effective learning tool . The Logo procedures are a description of the problem solution through the Logo computer language. The computer executes these procedures and presents a result on the screen. The teacher can look at the picture being constructed or to the final result, and can reflect upon it. This reflective activity can lead to either doing nothing, when the teacher's original ideas correspond to the result presented or debugging, when the results are different from what was intended. The debugging means that the teacher has to look for new information to fix the previous solution. This could be information about a subject area (the teacher does not know about angles) or about some convention in the Logo language, or about strategies (the teacher does not know how to apply a particular concept). Thus, it is through the debugging activity that the teacher has the opportunity to acquire new knowledge or to restructure old knowledge. However, the debugging activity is facilitated by the existence of the computer program - the description of the teacher's ideas in terms of a formal, precise and simple computer language.
The objective of the contextualized training course is to provide the teachers with the ability to use the computer in the classroom and to help the student using the computer to construct his/hers knowledge. In order for the teacher to facilitate constructionist learning for the students, the teacher must know about constructionism, experience it, and know how to use it in his/hers teaching practice. Thus, the teacher training course must provide the teachers with the conditions to act, reflect and debug their own knowledge in all the phases of the implementation of Logo in the school: to learn the Logo language and the Logo methodology, to learn how to use Logo with a student, to learn to use Logo in a classroom, and to integrate Logo into the teaching practice. This means that the teachers and the course professors have to experience the same situation so each one can understand each other and provide the solutions that are effective for the school reality.
However, this kind of training course requires a very special involvement on the part of the teacher. Without an attitude of openness and availability the constructionist learning approach breaks down. In this case, the paradigm lacks the motivational component which is fundamental to learning. Thus, it is necessary to develop a working synergy between the course and the teachers' personal interests.
The contextualized-constructionist teacher training course takes place in the teachers' school after the computers are installed and consists of the following 5 modules:
This Logo teacher training course was used in one special school for physically handicapped children and is still in progress in several other regular schools. In "Colégio Mãe de Deus" a kindergarten-12th grade regular school in the city of Londrina, located about 700 kilometers from Campinas, the teachers training course started in 1995 and we worked with 45 people (35 teachers and 10 administrators). They took module 1 (25 hours). After this experience 21 teachers began working with one or two students. This was a very short experience because the students who were not involved in this activities demanded the right to use the computer. A 25 hour Advanced Logo module then took place. After this module was over, the teachers started using Logo in their respective classrooms. For each of these modules a group of professors from NIED would go to Londrina to work with the teachers.
During the 1996 academic year most of the school teachers used Logo in their classroom. To follow up the teachers' activities professors from NIED had several encounters with a school teacher responsible for the computer project in the school and contacts through the phone with this teacher. The teachers documented the student's experience and at the end of the 1996 academic year the teachers sent a full report of their activities. They described the projects they developed, how the computer was integrated in the classroom curriculum, the success and the difficulties they encountered. This report was analyzed and discussed with the teachers in a meeting that took place at the school, involving all the teachers and two professors from NIED.
This analysis indicates that, this contextualized-constructionist approach to the Logo teacher training introduced Logo in the school activities as the product of a construction process. School teachers and administrators are constructing pedagogical and administrative changes, and overcoming several obstacles so Logo can be part of the classroom activities. These changes are gradually being implemented because the preparation of the teachers is happening in the context of the teachers' working place. First, the knowledge acquired is contextualized. The teachers` familiarity with the computer happened through the use of the school computers, operation system and local computer network. The experience of learning and using Logo also happened at the school setting using the school population as a means to exercise and to construct the teacher's knowledge. Second, the teacher did not have to leave the school and to stop his/hers teaching practice. The course activities could be organized around the teaching schedule. Third, the course professors were more effective in helping to implement these changes. The professors experienced and came to understand the school idiosyncrasies so that the pedagogical or administrative solutions proposed were based upon the school's reality. This made the proposed solution much easier to be implemented.
However, not all the teachers from this school are using the computer in their activities. The decision of using the computer has to be made by the teacher and this is happening when the teacher shows interest and feels comfortable with the integration of computers in the classroom activities. This is a gradual process that we hope will eventually involve all the teachers. Also, the analysis of the computer work developed during the 1996 academic year and the discussion of it with the teachers indicated several difficulties the teachers had. One was that they need to acquire more knowledge about programming and about the Logo language resources. The teachers felt that if they new more about Logo they could help their students to enhance the programming as well as the level of projects they developed. The teachers' goal is to be able to develop projects in which there is a real need for the computer and for programming instead of the computer activities be the cosmetic added to a project. Another difficulty the teachers indicated was that they need help with the integration of Logo in their respective discipline. The problem they encountered was not how to plan an activity using the computer but how to explore the opportunities that emerge in their daily classroom activities. They would like to be able to see that a particular subject can be explored with the help of the computer. Finally, there were several occasions they had to help the students with their programming and they had difficulty understanding how to be more effective in their intervention and how to advise the students.
The majority of these problems could be solved if there were a Logo expert full time at the school, helping the teachers in their daily computer activities. Unfortunately this is not the case. Professors from NIED are able to visit the school and develop workshops to overcome some of these difficulties, for example more Logo programming. But with the everyday computer activities one needs to stay at the school working on a one-to-one basis with the teachers.
The alternative to the lack of a full time Logo expert at the school is to establish communication through the Internet. Our goal is to be able to reproduce, via Internet, the same atmosphere that is created in the computer room when a Logo professor is there to interact with the teachers and help them with either Logo language problems or Logo methodology.
3 Supporting Logo teachers continuous education via Internet
The objectives of this project are, first, to help the school teachers to overcome some of the difficulties they encountered in doing Logo with their students. Second, to explore how to create a contextualized-constructionist Logo learning environment via Internet to support the continuous education process of these teachers. Third, to understand which activities require the presence of Logo experts in the school and which ones can be done through the Internet. Finally, how to use the knowledge acquired in this experience to set up teacher training courses combining presencial activities and activities that can be done via Internet.
This continuous education process via Internet has just started this year. What we have done so far is to use electronic mail as a vehicle of communication between the school and NIED. However, our goal is to explore the use of Internet.
The teachers were trained to use e-mail and to exchange messages and files with Logo programs or written material. The acquisition of these techniques were not problematic to the teachers. However, it took them sometime to get used to the idea that they could sit down at the computer and respond to a question or send a notice about a difficulty or a problem they were facing. The first messages came as formal letters that were first composed on paper and then typed on the computer. Gradually the teachers got used to the informality of the Internet messages. This gradual process showed that even though the teachers were used to the computer, they had to construct the knowledge of getting used to a new media and how to use it more effectively. In fact, we monitored the different phases the teachers went through in this process. First, they had to produce and to send a written report to NIED professors. This was a major break through since it is rare for teachers to write a complete report about their activities. Second, to compose letters on paper and then typed them on the Internet text editor. Third, to use the Internet as a means to exchange ideas in an informal way. The teachers feel very good about being able to overcome all the barriers and, as they said, "to conquer the use of e-mail." Also they mentioned that it is very important to be able to express and to share their daily concerns whether they are successes or difficulties they face.
At the current stage of the project the teachers are sending messages about their plans on how to use the computer in a classroom, computer activities students have done, problems the teachers are facing regarding their programming activities, working methodology and theoretical issues, and difficulties students are having in terms of programming and development of projects using the computer. These messages are rich in content and reflect the ongoing development of difficult ideas in everyday reality. At the NIED site we set up a group of Logo professors who analyse the material received from the teachers and provide answers to particular questions, suggestions for projects, programming ideas, reading material, working methodology and changes in the plans.
Although it is too early to know what will be the repercussion of this interaction via e-mail on the teachers' and students' performances we have already seen several positive outcomes from this experience. First, we feel today that we have a better sense of what is happening at the school regarding the computer activities. It is different from waiting until the end of a semester or an academic year, when the students' activities are over, to receive a report informing what worked and what didn't work. Second, the e-mail communication has made possible intervention into the cycle description-execution-reflection-debugging-description that happens at the level of implementation of computers in the classroom. The teachers have produced a plan or a description of what they would like to do with their classroom. Their classroom actions are the execution of this plan. Certainly, the teachers can reflect upon and debug this plan. However, they have to do this on their own. On the other hand, by describing the results through the e-mail the teachers can deepen their reflection upon their work. They have to think about what they have done so they are able to express it through the net. Also, by describing what they have done they are making available to us the results of their actions (it is like the student showing to a Logo teacher what is in the computer screen). Our role is to understand this description and to intervene by interacting with these teachers in such a way that we can help them to debug their performance and their knowledge about how to use the computer in their classroom. In this sense, communication via e-mail is making possible to reproduce a similar type of interaction that takes place in a Logo learning environment (although not exactly the same because of the response delay).
At the same time we have seen some handicaps in the communication through the e-mail. First, it is very hard to establish a communication with a teacher who we have not met personally. We need the physical presence before we are able to share ideas through the net. Second, from the written message it is very difficult to "read" teachers' moods, even when we know them personally. In order to get this information we need to have a conversation over the phone or we need to visit the school. Teleconference could help to solve this difficulty but the current state of Brazil's communication system does not support this facility in an efficient way. Third, there are other technological facilities that need to be incremented in the Internet communication system so the level of interaction could be improved. For example, to use the same computer screen to share a Logo screen at the same time the teacher is exchanging messages via Internet. This way we could see the teacher's program result and talk about it. As it is today, the teacher has to send a file with a picture and a message separately, which we try to integrate and interprete at our end and then discuss them.
In the next phase of the project we want to explore the use of Internet so the teachers and the students can look for information, do teleconferencing, create the school site and integrate the Internet activities as part of the classroom activities. The challenge is to help the teachers to acquire skills about how to create learning environments in which the teachers and then the students learn how to gather information, how to transform it into knowledge and how to apply this knowledge to solve real problems.
The contextualized-constructionist continuous education via Internet has shown to be an interesting alternative to the Logo training courses we have developed in the past. These traditional Logo training courses produced teachers with knowledge about the Logo language and Logo techniques but with very little experience about how to implement Logo in their school. The end result of this experience was that Logo assumes the reputation of being hard to be implemented as part of the classroom activities. In this case, either the teachers abandoned the use of Logo and shifted to the use of instructional software or the school administration contracted a computer expert who stays at the computer laboratory working with the students on computer literacy, independent of what happen in the classroom.
The use of the contextualized-constructionist approach via computer network has produced a more rewarding results. We are seeing Logo being used by the teacher as part of his/hers classroom activities. Although this approach demands much greater and more intense involvement from the Logo course professors, part of this involvement has been minimized through the use of the network facilities. By interacting with these teachers via e-mail we are able to help them to debug their knowledge about the use of Logo and reduce the time and the cost of the presence of Logo professors at the school.
Another important result from this continuous education work is that we were able to identify and understand several handicaps in the Internet communication facilities. These technological as well as human limitations of the use of this media have to be properly overcome so we do not let them affect the interaction and the way we intervene in the educational process. This means that Internet has to seen as a media that has particular characteristics that add to the already existenting interactions rather than substituting or diminishing the others.
I would like to thank Fernanda Maria Freire and Maria Elizabette Brisola Brito Prado, two Logo professors from NIED for their insights and expertice in the implementation of the project and the development of these ideas. I am grateful to the teachers from the Colégio Mãe de Deus who have cooperated in this project. My participation in this project is supported by the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) grant # 301657/84-0 for which I also extend my gratitude.