Forward 40: What Became of the LOGO Programming Language?

Geek Culture

Cross posted from our friend Aaron Rowe at Wired Science:


Forty years ago, researchers developed a programming language that would become a brilliant educational tool.

As I remember it, LOGO was a triangular turtle that roamed across the monochrome screen of an Apple II in my first grade classroom.
Wherever he went, a line of ink would follow him — it came from a pen that was tied to his tail.

My digital friend simultaneously gave me an intuition for geometry and how to think like a computer programmer.

I would type FORWARD 50 and the turtle would move forward. When I gave the command RIGHT 90, he would turn sharply to the right. If I prefaced those two commands with REPEAT 4 and surrounded them with brackets, the turtle would draw a square.

I was learning, but my experiences didn’t feel like a lesson. It was fun!

While I sat at my desk one day, two of my classmates figured out how to overwrite the entire screen, which seemed kinda naughty at the time.
They giggled, did it again, then giggled some more. From curious children, hackers were born.

I was desperate to know how they did it. Eventually, they told me.
Their method made sense: Tell the turtle to repeatedly move forward a very long distance and then turn very slightly.

With a plethora of high-end educational software packages to choose from, each with flashy multimedia and trademarked characters, parents and teachers may find the humble turtle a bit outdated. To the best of my knowledge, LOGO and other classics like the original Oregon Trail are rarely used in modern classrooms. Last year, David Brin wrote an essay that lamented the disappearance of simple programs that can give kids some experience at command line programming.

Thankfully, several fantastic programs are available for free through a variety of websites. Some of the latest versions are applets that can be used through a web browser without installation.

Please take a moment to share your own LOGO stories.

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