From Papert to Why the Lucky Stiff: What’s Out There Today for Young Programmers?
As the 2014 Hour of Code challenge offered by Code.org draws near (Dec. 8-12), I wanted to spend a little time with the history of what has gotten us to the place we are in today. To many educators, the ideas of edtech and coding in schools still seems far off and mysterious. However, the innovators who embrace these ideas are incorporating them into learning experiences and seeing children become inspired and motivated by code.
From 1980 to 2003, technology moved forward, but what moved backward? Examined through the lens of two thinkers: Seymour Papert and Why the Lucky Stiff
Why the Lucky Stiff (_why) was “a prolific writer, cartoonist, artist, and computer programmer notable for his work with the Ruby programming language” (Wikipedia). Seymour Papert was a mathematician and professor at MIT. He was one of the creators of the Logo programming language (remember the turtle?) and author of the 1980 book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas (and others).
Papert and _why are indeed very different types of thinkers. Papert was a scholar, rooted in academia and with time logged collaborating with constructivist learning theorist Jean Piaget. _why was a self-proclaimed “freelance professor”, who created art, code, and everything in between as tools for social provocation and advocacy. I refer to them both in the past tense because while both are still alive, neither are actively engaged in the contemporary public conversation. Their work and legacies are what live on and serve as inspiration.
In 2003, _why wrote an essay titled: The Little Coder’s Predicament, specifically calling to task all the companies who have systematically been adding layers of features, regulation and security to their technology. These anti-piracy measures had resulted in a societal distancing from the understanding of code, and a lack of ability to access actual code.
…I’m thinking a toy language for consoles and desktops alike could be monumental…
…You’ve got to be able to write a single line of code and see a result. We need some instant results to give absolute beginners confidence…
…Tinkering with hardware is learning. Lobotomizing and renovating is meaningful, magical. On behalf of those who prefer to code, I make these wishes. Not to take away jobs from the Phillips screwdriver…. (2003 essay)
In my post on the Logo, I share that Papert advocated for his dream of children being able to program. He called for easy and accessible tools almost 20 years before _why’s plea. In his essay, _why reminisced about the era of being able to program directly from your Commodore 64, or Atari 800 (which was the very same era that Papert was working on Logo with his MIT team). So what happened between Papert’s call for accessibility in 1980 and _why’s call for accessibility in 2003?
Advancement. Piracy. Fear.
Innovation has driven a more user-friendly experience. However, the more user-friendly the experience, the deeper the code becomes buried. Companies are creating better and better tools, and protecting them more and more fiercely. The more protections, the harder the code is to access. Everything in technology has gotten faster, better, closer, more useable, more understandable…except the code. In the 2003 environment in which _why wrote his article, there were many barriers to children getting involved in coding because it was so hard to get to the code and be able to play with it.
Fast forward to June of 2009 Continue reading
A Disequilibrium Reprieve and a History Lesson: Logo
I have been focusing pretty singularly on learning Ruby, but have noticed that the tutorials are getting harder for me to work through. Of course this is expected, but I find that when my brain gets overloaded, it’s helpful to take breaks. I try to keep my breaks productive by and working on something easier, totally different, but still coding: Logo.
I’ve worked through the Logo lessons on Turtle Academy, and think it’s fun to go back to the Logo play ground and draw pictures. This gives me a chance to give my memory a workout, do something I love (draw), and feel successful.
A friend who knows I’ve been playing with Logo lent me a great book called Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas, by Seymour Papert, one of the inventors of the Logo programming language. I started reading it today, and was blown away by the relevance of the ideas, even though the book was written in 1980. Continue reading
Programming 101 or Programming ADD?
I’ve been at my self-challenge of learning to code for a few weeks now. I figured it was time for some self-reflection on what I’ve actually been doing, because I’ve been doing a lot of different things including online tutorials, human interaction, reading, and self-reflection. Part of me feels really good about what I’ve been doing, and part of me feels concerned that I’ve going about this in the wrong way. Is this how it always feels when you decide to learn something completely foreign and hard?
So far, I’ve played with lots of different strategies for learning. I really like bulleted lists, so I’m just going to make a whole bunch that detail my attempts at learning to code:
Logo: Something to Get Excited About!
I received a comment on one of my posts, suggesting I take a look at Logo.
“You should have a look at LOGO, the turtle graphics language. Here is a link to a very good site for this, with interactive action”: http://turtleacademy.com/index.php (Comparing Logo to Ruby, he goes on) “The Logo turtle graphics is more fun, and will develop your understanding very quickly. It will do arithmetic, but its main purpose is to move a “turtle” around the screen, drawing or just moving, by specified amounts. the tutorial stuff is excellent.”
This is why I love crowdsourcing! I never would have thought of Logo, but I remember it! I think I was exposed to it sometime in middle or high school the 90s. I can’t remember too many details, but the memory is enough to give me SOME kind of reference point for this thing called coding.
I took the advice and started playing with this little tutorial, and realized this was perfect because it really taps into interest-based learning for me.
First of all, it’s “vintage”.