‘Logo Turtle’ and the ability to learn through play

If I state that people are both world makers and beings-in-the-world, so in other words that they – at once – create their habitats when inhabiting their creations, and becoming “inhabited” by them on a second step, what do you think or loudly say about it?

We, human beings are embedded in a world where we adapt to live thanks to some cognitive abilities that define our way to handle and perceive things. Such as formal knowledge, abstraction, logical intuitions and imagination that we mix together in a balanced (hopefully) way. Both of these features contribute to our (inter)personal cognitive growths.

The example of children in action during an experimental activity is slightly different. Despite the formal content technically acquired, they want to “feel” the enclosed knowledge by the precision of the technique saw and repeated. In fact, our nature is the one of very special species pertinent to highly intelligent and over imitative mammals, remember?

Thanks to this attitude we build our reasoning and all sort of cognitive connections that seems to us valuable and repeatable. Not for fancy, but for their efficiency! Since childhood period, the development of the ability that will allow us to manage all sort of precise movements require further exploration and reflections.

A larger percentage of our nowadays abilities derive from how and when a set of daily performances took place during our pedagogical formation. In fact, something happens where young eyes and little tiny hands started to interface a new environment: fun, pro activity, curiosity, failure and full engagement are able to produce and create a full envision on what the space may be. And of course to track the role of the object in this environment and participants perception. Even our “adult” bodies hold quite a bit of knowledge about space in their movement. Yet, much of this knowledge remains tacit, hidden in the beholder’s habitual activity or experiences.

One of Seymour Papert (American mathematician, computer scientist and educator) greatest insights in the constructionist movement in education and artificial intelligence was the idea that all sort of commands and procedures available to drive a logo turtle are fairly intuitive to the child. They are also carefully chosen to enable the design of a new generation of many mathematically relevant and intriguing figures in space! The guiding principles behind Turtle Geometry are simple and much in tune with our views: Papert’s turtles become extensions of self that the child controls using words.

Giving directions – remote driving – encourages the participant child to reflect upon a sort of inner know-how and to express it precisely enough so that the machine can carry it out. “In teaching the computer how to think, children embark on an exploration about how they themselves think” . More important, Papert’s turtles are designed to be “egocentric”.

turtle logo

Directions are given in reference to a turtle’s position and heading and not as a function of some external reference system (Cartesian axe with x,y coordinates). This requires that users (not only children) start to change their mind, literally putting themselves in the turtle’s shoes, to figure out where they want to move. One strategy can be design a software environment for building geometric shapes and use this knowledge as a tiller to help them explore all sort of new spatial relations and possible transformations.

Thanks to turtle geometry procedure, children start their own path to interact with this computational creature, moving in prescribed directions and starting to draw precise amounts of possible shapes. If you are curious, this turtle can be represented by one cursor on the screen or, even better, allowing a realistic embodiment as a mechanical toy-robot. The logo programming language is so intuitive and simple for the motivated children, that it is possible to communicate with the turtle using this understandable language.
Following these instructions, our turtle will move into the space by typing commands at the remote keyboard. Do you want some examples?

Typing ‘FORWARD 100’ makes the turtle move in a straight line, ‘RIGHT 90’ will lead the turtle to pivot in place through 90 degrees, choosing ‘PENDOWN’ will cause our turtle to lower a pen, while ‘PENUP’ will leave a visible trace of the same pen raised up, as commanded. In fact the turtle is highly reliable ;-).

The commands and procedures available to drive the turtle are fairly intuitive to the child. They are also carefully chosen to enable the generation of many mathematically relevant and intriguing figures in space.

The guiding principles behind Turtle Geometry are simple and much in tune with our
views. This is because Papert’s logo turtles become extensions of self that the child controls using words.
The syntax of Turtle Logo is able to provide a variable toolkit easy to refer it when assembling basic available operations (rotations/translations) is required. The result is interesting and surprising: using computational tools and object responsiveness offers instant feedback, which helps protract all sort of different interaction. In this flow of input and outputs, children can identify with the turtle and become able to bring their knowledge about their bodies and how they move into the work of formal geometry.
Children’s sense of themselves (resuming what children’s point of view or ‘stance in the worlds’ can be) would complete the cycle between moving one’s own body, driving or programming the instrumentation available to play or give it a precise set of instructions. Switching back and forth (doing it oneself philosophy) is a way to engage one’s body and mind and the secondary step to learn how to give precise instructions to others (principle of instructing someone on quantitative responsive artifact) is what will lead to a deeper understanding Either about geometric or arithmetic operations in series.
The dynamic properties of interactive tools are used to tickle learners’ ‘knowledge in action’ allowed to ‘learning by doing’ procedures. In both cases, the idea is to give children a way of thinking of themselves as beings capable to “do science” by different practical experiments and social activities, such building technological devices that function following some rules interpreted by logic, intuition and body experimentation.
Children are engaged because they appreciate this learning occasion to use their own experience (present and past) as a lever to actively explore mathematical ideas. Playing together, learning from each other stating the ‘what if’ logic, establishing a dialog between what it is or even what it could be, is the means by which children (as well as adults!) go through difficulties, searching for possible achievable solutions and even new challenges.
Play is a fundamental tool to be engaged, and represent (think on the history of science and all the discoveries that be refined after several handling) an important aspect in human learning, from identity building to constructing knowledge about the world.
Erick Erickson defined play as a toy situation that allows us to reveal and commit ourselves in its unreality, because it operates within a transitional space.

More than in the past, performance and simulation are granted a new place alongside language. In fact, the things that will come in the upcoming future will depend on the effort that international educators, cognitive scientists, researchers in machine learning and human perception, will dig and probe definitely valuable to find out.
Even this highly specific point is something everyone should reflect about, because the principle to set priorities is fundamental to build all sort of valuable theoretical knowledge.




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