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.
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.

1969 The Start of the Logo Group at the MIT AI Lab


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.)




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.
http://vimeo.com/69471812
Here is the piece with Allison Druin talking to Seymour