Logo, Papert and Constructionist Learning


Starting Out

Hi, I'm Cynthia Solomon and I worked closely in the development of Logo with Seymour Papert and Wally Feurzeig at Bolt, Beranek and Newman and then in1969 joined Seymour at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab where we started the Logo Group.

In August 2015 I was the invited speaker at Scratch2015AMS in Amsterdam. Here is a video of my presentation.

Today I have been involved primarily with Scratch, Turtle Art and Turtle Blocks. In July 2015 Artemis Papert, Brian Silverman, Margaret Minsky, Oliver Steele and I did a 3-day workshop with 10-14 year old girls in Kingston, Jamaica. Here is a video.

At the Constructionism 2010 conference in Paris Celia Hoyles interviewed Wally Feurzeig and me (Cynthia) on Logo with help from Gary Stager.

The first time Seymour and I used Logo with a class of children was the summer of 1967 at the Hanscom School on the Hanscom Air Force Base in Lincoln, MA. After that experience Logo was drastically redesigned and re-implemented.

Logo Class - 7th Graders at Muzzey Jr. High 1968-1969

The class met 4 periods a week in Lexington, MA and consisted of 14 students. We had teletypes (model 33 and 35) in the classroom. They were connected to a DEC PDP-1 computer at Bolt, Beranek and Newman. The computer was a dedicated Logo time-shared system. Seymour and I team taught the class. Much of what went on that year is foundational to Seymour's book, Mindstorms. Here are pictures taken in the Spring of 1969 by Frank Frazier.

These kids made up hilarious sentence generators and became proficient users of their own math quizzes.

Focus from BBN to MIT- 1969

I joined Seymour at MIT after the 1968-69 school year and so the Logo Group was started as part of the AI Lab. The immediate task was to get Logo to run on the AI Lab’s PDP-10 (made by Digital Equipment Corp.) A later step was to entirely rewrite Logo. Lab hackers were also creating a display turtle. The first display turtle ran on the Lab’s CRT display driven by a PDP-6 attached to the PDP-10. Marvin Minsky built a four-voice music box which had to be attached to a terminal.

The yellow floor turtle pictured here was a large cannister on wheels. Marvin Minsky found it in Taunton, Ma where there was a DOD stockpile of unwanted objects. This place was open monthly to DOD grantees. Marvin loved to find used equipment out of which he could build new things. When he spotted this canister he thought of turning it into a floor turtle. Marvin led the way and with help from lab engineers and machinists a turtle was born. It was designed to have touch sensors but they were too unreliable to use. It did, of course, have a pen in the middle of its underside and it could be put up or down and so the turtle could leave a trace of its path.

There was a small turtle in the works at BBN and also at the AI Lab, but the yellow turtle happened and worked! Seymour had asked Mike Patterson who spent 3 years at the AI Lab as an assistant professor before going back to University of Warwick to think about turtle behavior and turtle language.

If we wanted to use turtles with kids in a school (remotely) several problems had to be solved. The floor turtles had to be tethered, that is, attached to a terminal which was attached to a time-shared computer. The display turtle had a different set of problems. This was 1969-70. The display had to be refreshed. Seymour’s solution was to borrow a small computer from the Applied Math Department and have it drive a display. Hal Abelson, then a graduate student, was charged with figuring out how to do it. Nat Goodman an undergraduate worked with Hal in executing this task.

By the 1970-71 school year we had a floor turtle and a display turtle. Later in the year a small round plastic floor turtle joined the yellow one. These turtles had to be attached to a terminal. Thus sharing the turtle was an important aspect.
The display turtle was designed to let users at four different terminals alternately take control of the turtle.
Thus by 1970 we had a computer environment for kids that included
  • A programming language designed specifically for children
  • A way to write stories
  • A way to draw with a programmable object
  • A way to have the programmable object explore an environment
  • A way to make and play music

This system was in play for the 1970-71 and 1971-72 school years at the Bridge School in Lexington, MA.

By summer 1972 Ron Lebel led the development of a new Logo and AI Lab staff member, John Roe, built “portable” turtle graphics terminals running on a DEC PDP-11.

In the mid 1970s Marvin Minsky designed a commercially available portable turtle graphics station.
By the late 1970s Texas Instruments had commissioned Seymour to build a Logo for the yet to be finished TI 9900. This small single user computer contained a sprite board and thus 28 turtles could exist at the same time.
A Logo for the Apple II was also created.

Logo, Turtles, Music and Kids

In 1970-71, the next year long Logo class that Seymour and I collaborated on was with 5th graders at the Bridge School in Lexington, MA. The Logo Group was formed as part of the MIT AI Lab and both floor and display turtles existed.

Intermixed with debugging their Logo programs we encouraged children to apply procedural thinking and debugging to developing physical skills as well.
Here is Seymour (circa 1971) on a bongo board with me poking him periodically. This video was given to me by Hal Abelson.

The next video is of the Yellow Turtle built at the MIT AI Lab and programmed by children in the 1970s. (A display turtle was working on the AI Lab's PDP-10; it was driven by a PDP-6. I am looking for film clips of turtle behavior on this display screen.)

The next video shows what Logo programming looked like in 1970.

1970-1971 Logo, Turtles, Music, and Children

In 1971 Channel 5, a local Boston TV station, produced a program on children in new learning situations and included a segment on Logo. Here is that segment. My one regret is that Seymour was not talking with a child during the filming. By the way I am indebted to youTube and one of its participants for this clip because I misplaced my copies as did Seymour.

Here is a video of outtakes made by Channel 5 in 1971. Children are talking about their turtle geometry projects with Seymour and Cynthia. Another group is using the Logo music box and drum machine with Jeanne Bamberger. The four-voice music box was built by Marvin Minsky and programmed by the MIT Logo Group.

The Exeter Congress 1972

In August of 1972 a math education conference was held in England at the University of Exeter. At MIT the Logo Group was just finishing a new version of Logo running on a DEC PDP-11 with its own time-sharing environment. Ron Lebel was the chief programmer with lots of advice from Hal Abelson and Tom Knight and others. Attached to the computer were turtle graphics terminals built by Ron and inspired by Tom Knight's graphics stations for the AI Lab's PDP-10.

Digital Equipment Corp. had coincidentally sold a PDP-11 computer to the University of Exeter. So a light went off in Seymour's head connecting the conference and the sale. The result was that several of us went to Exeter England at the beginning of August in preparation for the conference at the end of August. DEC transported a PDP-11 and all our peripheral equipment. I arranged to work with 10, 11, and 12 year olds prior to the conference. We had 4 display turtle stations, 1 floor turtle, and 1 4-voice music box. The crew consisted of Hal Abelson, Tom Knight, Ron Lebel, Margaret Minsky, and me. Jeanne Bamberger was there a week before the conference. Seymour came in time for the conference. Some of us brought family members.I brought my 12 year old nephew, Erric. He and some other 12 year olds took over computer management during the conference. (They put out a small fire while we adults were at dinner.)

1972 Exeter Mathland Demonstration Flyer

Tribute to Seymour Papert at IDC 2013

Paulo Blikstein organized a panel including Edith Ackermann, Uri Wilensky, Mike Eisenberg, Mitchel Resnick, and Allison Druin.
You can view the session here.
Here is the piece with Allison Druin talking to Seymour

Papert and Talking Turtle

Talking Turtle is a 1983 video made by the Open University and the BBC. The video captures Papert's thinking about learning and Logo and turtles. Talking Turtle shows children actively engaged. The video was sent to me by Russell Warfield in Australia. Here is an excerpt.

Here is the entire video broken up into five pieces.

An Experiment in Constructionism: Dance and Computing

As Talking Turtle illustrates, Papert was interested in engaging the whole child in the Mathland offered by Logo. Twenty years later in 2003 he continued to pursue this integration.

Seymour Papert with Jacques d'Amboise and their gangs of people set up a stage with sensors to control sound, lights and animations at the MIT Media Lab in the summer of 2003. Children were to learn and invent dances that they would coordinate with music, lights, and action.

Here are some slides of the children.

You can learn more about this project here and see the children in rehearsal here.

Why this Wiki?

I started this wiki because of Seymour Papert's accident and because I had begun work on another wiki containing example Logo projects including video tutorials, images, and text. It got me thinking about the past. I encourage contributions and have set up space in this wiki for other people's contributions. (See Logo.Adventurers.) You are welcome to add to that page or create a new one.

In looking for early records of the past I found very few pictures and videos, but posted what I had. (We mostly had taken screen images.) Although I started Logo with Seymour Papert and Wally Feurzeig at the research lab of Bolt, Beranek and Newman around 1966, I have absolutely no pictures from that time. I did find a few from the early 1970s. Here are Marvin and Seymour in 1971. headshot.jpg
I also found a video I made in 1984 when the Atari Cambridge Research lab closed. I've split the video, which shows Logo-based research conducted from 1982 to 1984 at Atari Cambridge Research, into seven clips.

This wiki is an experiment in collecting and presenting material on Logo.

Logo, the Language

The Logo language went through several iterations; four or five by 1972. The MIT version culminated in a dedicated Logo environment running on a Digital PDP-11 with special turtle graphics stations which we showed at a math education conference in Exeter, England. It was the summer of 1972 and a group of us including Hal Abelson, Ron Lebel, Tom Knight, Margaret Minsky, and Erric Solomon went with the equipment four weeks before the conference. We set up Logo classes working with Exeter kids. Jeanne Bamberger and Seymour joined us a week before the conference. (Ron Lebel was the major hardware and software person. He chose to adapt Tom Knights graphics stations for the MIT AI Lab to this dedicated Logo system. Of course, Hal Abelson was involved as were a number of us in the language specifications. Each new implementation gave the Logo Group a chance to review and revise the language.) I always thought it was especially helpful that during the first few years Logo was not widespread and thus could go through several transformations.

In the 70s there were several new implementations which took into account new hardware capabilities. These included General Turtle's Logo for stand alone workstations, Logo for the Apple II, TI-Logo, and so on. Logo for the Texas Instruments 9900 (?) took advantage of the special TI hardware which provided sprites. Now, you not only had color (introduced by the Apple version) you had more than one turtle.

The First Year-Long Class

Our first full year Logo class was in 1968-69 with seventh graders at Muzzey Junior High School. We were at BBN at the time. In the fall of 1969 I became a member of the AI Lab and we started our Logo work there.
The first graphics turtle and a floor turtle were built and running by 1970. The graphics turtle was not portable. Its display was driven by a Digital PDP-6 connected to a Logo running on the lab's PDP-10. First programs were written by Bill Gosper and other lab hackers. The yellow turtle was assembled by Tom Callahan. yellowturtle1.jpg

In preparation for using turtle graphics with kids Seymour began planning a portable system. This is when Hal Abelson joined the group. He started the design and worked with Nat Goodman on getting the software to work.
Marvin designed and built a four voice music box for us. It was housed in a small black translucent plastic box.

Pictures from the Bridge School in Lexington, MA -- 1970-2

We were given 2 small rooms with a large window between them. The graphics turtle ran on a display powered by a Data General computer. The children used Logo over phone lines to a time-shared Digital PDP-10 back at the MIT AI Lab.

room.jpg room2.jpg room4.jpg

5th graders with our first turtle.


Seymour in the classroom
seymour3.jpg seymour1.jpg

Me with kids.

Teaching Assistants
Kiyoko Okumura, Rich Fryberg and Bob Mohl
kiyoko.jpg richbob.jpg

Turtle Graphics Ramblings

bird.jpg spiral.jpg graphicsspi.jpg

Our second turtle

turtle1.jpg turtle3.jpg

Work with Young Children

Radia Perlman's Button Box for Pre-Schoolers
radia1a.jpg radia2.jpg

Me with First Graders in 1971-2

1972 Logo Re-implementation

In time for an international math education conference held at the university in Exeter, England, Ron Lebel had led the implementation of Logo on a dedicated time-shared DEC PDP-11. This time shared system included "portable" turtle graphics stations based on Tom Knight's display stations running on the AI Lab's PDP-10. Hal and Nat were involved in the graphics. The language revisions were major and were based on feedback from work with children. DEC helped us in shipping equipment and setting up in Exeter four weeks before the converence. The computer would stay at the university but the graphics stations (5), floor turtle, and music box were returned to MIT at the end of the conference. Several of us went over with the computer. The group included Ron Lebel, Tom Knight, Hal Abelson, Margaret Minsky, Erric Solomon and me. I went to work with 9, 10, 11 and 12 year old Exeter children. Margaret, a high schooler, was my teaching assistant and Erric, a middle schooler, joined the Exeter children. Jean Bamberger came over later to use the music box with the children. Seymour.also arrived a few days before the conference. We were given a large room in close proximity to the conference rooms.
The kids became teachers to the math educators attending the conference. The kids were incredible. Rumors spread such as Seymour could teach anybody anything. When it was discovered that I did the teaching, the rumors changed to we bribed the kids with candy.

General Turtle

Something else happened that summer. Marvin, Seymour, and I along with Russell Noftsker and Seymour's brother Alan planned to make turtles available through a new company called General Turtle.

Later that year Marvin began designing a "portable" turtle graphics Logo station known as the 2500.

During the decade of the 70's Logo went through several re-designs and re-implementations and new
classroom teachings. There were three major projects that took place: the Brookline Project at the Lincoln School where Dan Watt taught the Logo classes; the Lamplighter School in Texas
where TI Logo was tested out, and the Hennegan School project in Boston. There was also the wonderful work of Jose Valente (also Sylvia Weir and her team, Ann and Sue )with physically challenged and learning disabled students at the Cotting School. Also, during the 70s Howard Austen made a study of juggling as his doctoral work. This circus art Seymour and I taught children as an example of recursion. We also included bongo boarding and unicycling. (Seymour tried balancing on a circus ball.) In the later 70s a group of MIT students became part of the Logo Group. This included Margaret Minsky, Danny Hillis, Gary Drescher, Jim Davis, Ed Hardebeck, Brian Silverman, Max Behensky and more. They were housemates.

TI Logo

One of the founders of Texas Instruments, an MIT graduate, tapped Seymour to make a Logo for the TI "micro" computer under development. The new machine introduced the sprite hardware allowing for multiple turtles. Ed and Gary were deeply involved in this implementation with help from the others.

Celebrating TI Logo in 1981

Atari Cambridge Research 1982-84