MIT has a long history of contributions to computing for children beginning with the creation of the LOGO programming language by Seymour Papert in the 1970s. Papert is a mathematician as well as a child psychologist and turtle graphics forms a core part of LOGO, allowing a child to control the movement of a robot with Move and Turn commands. These commands prove useful to a child’s understanding of geometry when used in combination with a pen to draw shapes on the screen or on the floor when using a physical turtle attached to the computer. Papert has identified ‘constructivist’ learning (Papert 1980) where a child learns by experimenting and observing and participating in a process. In this case, the child learns principles of geometry by playing with turtle graphics and creating different shapes rather than using a formula to calculate the angle required to draw a polygon. LOGO is easy to learn and Papert documents its use in playground games where LOGO commands are issued verbally during play as children move around the playground in a variation of the children’s game ‘Simon Says’.
LOGO has been used in many schools over the past three decades but has failed to fire the imagination of either the children or the teachers to the extent originally envisaged by Papert and his colleagues. Turtle graphics is ubiquitous now in all schools in the UK, as it forms part of the curriculum, but is often confined to the use of simple commands to move a simple robot and has lost the trappings of a proper computer programming language and the power of LOGO.
The MIT Lifelong Learning Group have continued the development of LOGO most notably by introducing block programming (in StarLogo) which uses graphical blocks to represent program commands eliminating typing and syntax errors. Block programming greatly improves programmer productivity, and removes a common source of frustration for novices, allowing programmers as young as seven years old to begin programming. Block programming is also used commercially in the LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Kits used by children and educational establishments all over the world to build and program toy robots made with LEGO bricks.
The MIT group has also been involved in running youth computer clubs for many years and has identified that multimedia applications, incorporating pictures and sounds, are a great favourite for children who can impress each other with the ‘cool’ creations that they make. It is the combination of this experience, together with thirty years of involvement with computer programming in education, that makes Scratch a contender for radically changing ICT in schools.