Seymour Papert on Logo: New Mindstorms Tape 1 – Resonances (1986)

New Mindstorms: Resonances

Narator:             The following is a video tape module from the learning system Seymour Papert On Logo. The tape series has two parts: the first, New Mindstorms, focus on the process and the principles of learning. The second, Logo Hurdles, focuses on specific technical aspects of logo. In this first module, Resonances, Papert introduces the video tape series and guides viewers to consider the place of the computer in the lives and fantasies of children. 

 Author of Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas, and father of the Logo Language, Seymour Papert. 

Seymour Papert:           Welcome to the Logo tapes. These tapes are about Logo, but they’re not just about Logo. Beyond Logo, they’re about thinking. They’re about how to think about computers and how to use computers to think about other things. They’re about how to use a logo experience to develop new thinking skills for yourselves as much as for your students. Even beyond thinking, the tapes will have much to say about feelings. People, adults as well as children, have strong feelings about computers and their experiences with computers influence the way they feel about many other things. For example, about school and about learning and most relevantly here, people’s experience with computers often influences the way they think about themselves. 

                                    There’s excellent documentation of how Logo can be a natural component of the highest quality of learning experience both in school and out of it, but I have a quarrel with the many studies which pose what I think of pseudo scientific questions lied “What is the effect of Logo on the cognitive development of the child?” As a matter of fact, most set studies have come out with positive answers, just a few have reported negatively. Positive or negative, they’re answering the wrong question. The question is not what Logo does to a generalized, passive person who undergoes a Logo experience. The question is what an active learner can do with Logo, what an active teacher can make out of it. We never ask what the computer does to people, we always ask what can people make of the computer. 

Speaker 3:                    You understand how it works?

Speaker 4:                    That’s good. I was wondering why it was [crosstalk 00:03:52]. 

Seymour Papert:           Of course what you make of the computer depends on what resources you have. Intellectual tools, people, cultures, Logo is just such a tool, a tool that you could use to make great works, or to make mediocre works, or to make nothing at all. The young woman at the keyboard chose to follow a path which I’d like to encourage teachers not so much to admire as to emulate, not so much as to try to get their own students to follow as to follow themselves. She made a programming, a personal learning experience so joyful, so rich, that the line between work and play dissolved. 

                                    Logo is a programming language and in these tapes, we’ll be getting down to the nitty gritty of writing computer programs as the young lady was. When we talk of programming, we won’t be talking of a transaction between the keyboard and the screen. Type forward “50,” turtle moves. We’ll be talking about what happens in the head. If you like a transaction between feelings and thoughts, between desires and their realization. Now since the audience of these tapes has many teachers, before talking about actual programming, I will say something about the vision of learning that leis behind Logo and especially something about the principle of learning that has most been commonly associated with it, what is known as discovery learning. 

                                    In a Logo environment, children learn about angles by exploring. They don’t have to be told the mathematical effects, they discover them. 

Speaker 5:                    How about 50? Or, no. Wait, what was our last test, 75? Well we’re doing a turn out. 

Speaker 6:                    I know. 

Speaker 5:                    You were supposed to make that small. 

Speaker 6:                    No. RT [crosstalk 00:06:15].

Speaker 5:                    Because the sides are bigger. 

Seymour Papert:           Of course the teacher plays a role. 

Speaker 5:                    How about 55? 

Speaker 6:                    Okay. 

Seymour Papert:           The teacher guides the discovery and reinforces it by talking about it afterwards. 

Speaker 5:                    That’s too small! 

Seymour Papert:           Logo does lend itself to discovery. So well that there’s a danger of exaggerating and oversimplifying. I myself have said something like “The scandal of education is that every time you teach something, you deprive the learner of the pleasure and the benefits of discovery.” While this is a good principle to serve as a heuristic to guide teachers, it seems obvious that you can’t take it literally. It would be neither possible nor desirable never to tell a child anything. 

                                    I see discovery as subordinate to some other principles. For example, it’s subordinate to the principle I call “Appropriation,” making knowledge your own, feeling good about it. Everyone knows what it’s like for a piece of knowledge to feel good in your head. It feels cozy, warm, sort of cuddly. You also know what it’s like for the opposite to happen. Sometimes something you learned doesn’t feel like you, it feels alien. It feels like it was forced there inside a foreign body in your mind. I think the difference between learning through appropriation, when it becomes your own, and learning in more alienating ways is a more important principle than discovery. They’re connected, discovery leads often to appropriation. When you’ve discovered something, you often feel good about it, but not always. You might have been forced to discover it by a teacher who said to a class “Everybody discover how to program the computer to make a house.” I’ve seen some terrible situations in which a child was almost at the point of completing a beautiful project, needed one fact, the teacher wouldn’t give it. The teacher said “Let’s think that through together.” I thought this was a terrible thing to do to the child. The child needed to be told it, the teacher wouldn’t in the name of some principle that discovery is good. 

                                    Besides discovery, many other factors favor appropriation of knowledge. One of these I call “Resonance,” a term borrowed from physics. Another metaphor for resonance is creating good vibrations in your head. 

Speaker 7:                    It’s like somebody playing the violin! 

Seymour Papert:           When this happens, learning is easy and good. When it doesn’t happen, learning is much more difficult. Of course, which experiences will give good vibes will vary from individual to individual. To see how this works, I’d like you to visit with me some sites in the city which can serve as windows onto how the interests of different groups of children resonate with their computer experience. 

                                    My vision of learning is not an abstract theory of interactions in an instructional situation. Theorist and teacher must learn to understand how the immediate learning experience meshes with the larger experience that makes up the learner’s life. 

                                    I believe that for many children, the computer strikes vibrant chords of excitement and sense of importance because of its association with space technology. Think for a moment about the role of space in the imaginations of children. [Now 00:11:08] long before modern technology made it feasible, people dreamed of touching the stars. Today, the material manifestations of our conquest of space are everywhere. In the remotest countryside, there are dishes looking up at the satellites. Children see movies. I know many who’ve seen Star Wars ten times and more. No, it really isn’t hard to believe that there are deeper yearnings for a more direct, a more hands-on, even symbolic participation in space technology. It really isn’t hard to believe that when children work with computers there are vibrant chords of excitement and sense of importance that derive from that yearning and that association between the computer and the Space Age. The computer is a piece of the Space Age that you can hold in your hands. 

                                    You might like to think that young people who dream of space would experience school as a step on a journey into the future. Some do, but alas, many, probably most, experience school as more continuous with the past than with the future, as more of a chain to what was than as a preview of what’s to come. I say alas, but aren’t those children right after all in their instinct? Aren’t they right to find it more exciting to be in a learning environment in touch with the world they dream of? Aren’t they showing a better instinct than many of the teachers who designed their schools and their curricula? I think so. 

                                    You can guess, but you can never really know what feelings, what fantasies, feed the excitement and feel the energy of children at work and at play. 

                                    We’ve come to the zoo to remind ourselves of one more way in which computers could engage with deep feelings. For children and for me, for many of you, animals can be profoundly deeply fascinating. They’re what I’ll call “Evocative Objects.” For those of us who resonate to animals, we can spend hours looking at them, thinking about them, feeling in touch with something we don’t quite understand, but we want to stay with. 

                                    Where is fancy bred? In the eye or in the head? [Or 00:14:46] gazing fed? Must minds be tamed in school or can they keep the depth of savage wonder? I’ve used the computer as a material out of which to fashion a new micro world in which learning could retain these qualities of intimacy and engagement. 

                                    Of course you don’t have to go to a zoo or a museum to see objects to which children resonate powerfully. There are some in every house: television set or the neighborhood theater. Screens on which images are projected or generated electronically are among the most powerful evocative cultural objects in the lives of today’s children. Looking at television is not always passive or even escapist. For many children, the video game offers one extra degree of active control over the screen. Movies, television, or video games, these are screens other people made. I think children have a yearning for a real appropriation of the screen and this can come only when they have mastered the technology. 

Speaker 8:                    Uh-oh. Ah! Help me here! Help me! 

Seymour Papert:           Well, our tour of the city brought us in contact with three kinds of possible sources of the energy that fuels children’s enthusiasms for the computer. In the space museum, we speculated about the role of dreams of space. At the zoo, we discussed the possibility of the same kind of evocative fascination that animals have contributing to the computers controlling power. Then we looked at manifestations of the screen with moving images in it and talked about how the presence in our culture of screens gives us a sense of urgency and of importance to children’s work with computers. I don’t want to suggest that these three are the only sources. On the contrary, in a while I’m going to talk about some others. Nor do I want to suggest that they act independently of one another. They’re tightly connected. We see images of spaceships at the movies. We see animals on television. I’m not trying to give you a theory of what causes children to be so involved, engaged with the computer. I’m trying to encourage a way of thinking. A way of thinking that attaches importance to this kind of thing, that looks beyond the role of the computer in teaching one or another corner of a curriculum and tries to look at the emotional roots of what’s going on. 

                                    To tie all of this together and to introduce some other possible factors, I’m going to reconstruct for you a programming project of my own. This began in a neutral sort of way. I wanted to test out the possibility that a new version of Logo would allow the programming of a kind of Pac Man game. As I became involved in programming it, the project turned into something other than testing, whether this was possible for 10 year old children, I found myself in the grips of the same kind of feelings that drive 10 year old children and many other people to sit for hours at the computer deeply engaged in what they are doing. Let’s go. 

                                    For me, the obvious first step is to put something on the screen. Don’t worry whether you know how to do this in your version of Logo. All I want you to do here is to follow the spirit of how a project can take on a life of its own. A possible next step would be to design the maze for Pac Man, but I like things that move. For me, it was natural to go for the ghosts. Next, I introduce an element of control. Hitting keys makes the Pac Man turn. I considered two ways to represent this. One represents the coming turn is a left turn, the other as down. I direct Pac Man, the ghost pursues following a strategy I’ll describe later. Note that the ghost thinks that the shortest route from top to bottom is across the screen. This is how we can get an advantage by using the sneak routes around the edges. 

                                    Well, let’s see where all this is taking us. Here we have the project quite a few steps further along. We’ve introduced pellets to be eaten by the Pac Man. For the first time, we have something like a real game. Clear the pellets before the ghost gets you. In bringing the game to this stage, we’ve had to make quite a few decisions of a rather more complex and subtle nature than how to control the Pac Man. In particular, we’ve had to decide how to represent the relationship between the ghost and the Pac Man so that we can specify in the form of program which way the ghost is to go. 

                                    I’ll show you how this works in a piece of paper. Let’s say we have the ghost over here and Pac Man down there. The ghost looks two distances. That distance, let’s call it the X distance and that distance, you can call it the Y distance if you like. Because the X distance is larger, the ghost sets off in that direction. If after a while it found itself there and the Pac Man suppose hypothetically was still here, the Y distance would be larger and so the ghost sets off this way. At each stage, it reevaluates its choice between movement in the X direction or movement in the Y direction and so, we can make sense of what we see on the screen. 

                                    Okay, we start with Pac Man and the ghost in the position we saw on the paper. Now Pac Man is creeping around the edge trying to take advantage of the ghost. They’re getting very close, we better fly. Despite the simplicity of the algorithm, these characters do take on a certain amount of life of their own. They have a certain personality. In the excitement of the chase, one easily makes a mistake and of course there’s instant retribution. 

                                    You’ve been looking at a slightly fictionalized, but fundamentally realistic account of the beginnings of programming project. I think I’ve carried it far enough to convey my essential message, to give you a sense of the intellectual excitement of the challenge, the mastery of this technology, a sense of empowerment, but I’ve also tried to convey something a little more subtle. Maybe call it “Identification,” you identify with the Pac Man, with the ghost, with the turtles of course, but you also identify with other things: the mathematical process, the kind of representation. Maybe it’s better to say you get inside it, you’re really there with it, you’re part of it. I think that factors like this play an essential role in what’s special about the best kinds of Logo Learning Environments. I think we’re a long way to go before we’ve learned how to master this medium for learning and teaching, but I think we’re getting there. 

                                    Of course not everyone agrees. There are critics who fear that computers might actually be harmful for children, that they might encourage an overly analytic and overly abstract way of thinking, that they might remove children from earthy contact with experiential reality and place them on some sort of airy, fairy plain of abstraction. I think the shoe is really on the other foot. I think that if these critics went into classrooms across the country, perhaps worst of all mathematics classrooms, but also where science and grammar and other subjects are taught, I think they’d see real examples of abstract in the bad sense, of knowledge that’s abstract in the sense of not being related to anything personal. Nobody cares about it, it’s children doing an arm’s length, they certainly are not inside it. 

                                    I’ve been trying to project a different image of relationship with knowledge and with learning. Some of this is learning about this which really are abstract and mathematics, yes, it’s abstract. Electrons, forces, the other entities that scientists talk about, sure, they’re abstract, but mathematicians and scientists experience them with love, with involvement, they identify with them, they feel them. I think that what we’re learning to do is to create environments in which children can experience the abstract as real and personal.

                                    A kite is lifted by the mind as much as by the wind, guided by strategies not unlike those we met in Pac Man. In my vision, the computer is used to join, not to separate such contexts for learning. Like kites, ideas fly because they’re grounded. If they’re grounded in experience, experience is enriched by a sense of the flight of ideas.