Papert & Kay

I. How have Papert and Kay shaped the world of computing in education?

The major functions of education are to transmit the values, lessons and knowledge of the past to the current generation; and to prepare our children for the world in front of them. For many years we have tried to fix our society's educational short cummings through the use of technology.

In retrospect, there have been many changes that have significantly impacted the direction of modern education, starting with Papert and Kay.

In 1968, Kay met Papert and learned of the Logo programming language, a dialect of LISP optimized for educational use. Papert, a great influence on Kay, was creating computer systems for children to use creatively on the other side of the United States, at MIT. There, he developed LOGO.

Logo is an educational programming language, designed in 1967 by Wally Feurzeig, Seymour Papert, and Cynthia Solomon. Logo; deriving from the Greek logos, meaning word or thought. Papert made use of robots in the MIT Artificial Intelligence laboratory to create “floor turtles” (so called because of the hemisphere-shaped dome) that could be guided by children’s commands. These evolved into “screen turtles” that could draw mathematical patterns on the screen of a computer terminal. Papert's work in "teaching kids thinking" through giving them an environment in which they can write programs that are interesting and help them to focus (animations, games, etc.).

Alan Kay is known for his early pioneering work on computers, object-oriented programming and windowing graphical user interface design. In 1967 Kay started his first attempt at designing a metamedium (the FLEX machine), focused on children as the future “user community.” In 1968 Kay created a very interesting concept—the Dynabook. He wanted to make A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages—a thin portable computer, highly dynamic device that weighed no more than two pounds The ideas led to the development of the Xerox Alto prototype, which was originally called the interim Dynabook. Alan Kay expanded the notion of a 'user' to include children as well as adults. By incorporating theories of learning from developmental psychology and advances in interactive computing technology, Kay helped usher in the "user centered design" shift with the rise of personal computers in the late 1970s and 80s.

It’s been said that “great mines think alike”, it’s true in the case of Papert and Kay. Both had the passion and desire to create a platform that would allow teachers and students (mainly adolescents) to enhance and absorb knowledge by learning how to become critical thinkers. Because of their contributions to education and children have shape the way computers are used in the classroom and other educational platforms.





II. Has their legacy lasted?

The evolution of Logo was not linear or even primarily technical. Rather, it was a seamless web in which the technical was interwoven with the social, economic and political in ways that illustrate the dialectical interaction between historical contingency and the intentions and aspirations of individuals and communities. Papert wanted to see Logo in every classroom, this vision was successful. Descendants of Logo can still be seen in classrooms 50 years later, this blueprint to learning influence by Papert, is still something that educators have learned to respect and appreciate.

In 1971, when Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were still taking high-school classes and "portable computer" meant to "get the forklift" Alan Kay of the fabled Xerox PARC research lab sketched out Dynabook. It would be a light, intimate, keyboard less device that ran software based on his innovative Smalltalk language (a precursor of our now ubiquitous mouse-and-point systems). From science fiction (The tablet in the original Star Trek was a paperless pen/clipboard) to science fact (Dynabook or LOGO) the contributions made by Alan Kay and Seymour Papert has inspired millions to realize that the word impossible doesn’t mean that it can’t be done, it just means that it hasn’t been done yet.


III. What seems still relevant and/or outdated about their work and thinking?

Architectures and Systems Designers still find that Alan Kay’s Smalltalk is still relevant thinking, while programming is still relevant., because there’s not much around that’s like it, and system designers could still learn from it. Smalltalk was an object-oriented programming (OOP) language. Smalltalk’s purity and clarity in this regard made it the archetype for nearly all other OOP languages.

Papert believe in a constructivist approach to learning. But more than that, he believes in a constructivist approach not only to learning but to life. Believe that there is such a thing as becoming a good learner and therefore that teachers should do a lot of learning in the presence of the children and in collaboration with them.

Logo philosophy is based on the belief that Logo was not invented at all, but is the expression of the liberation of learning from the artificial constraints of pre-digital knowledge technologies.

    • Gerald Ardito
      Gerald Ardito


      Your response to these readings/videos (and these thinkers) is very thorough and thoughtful.

      I loved this in particular:

      Logo philosophy is based on the belief that Logo was not invented at all, but is the expression of the liberation of learning from the artificial constraints of pre-digital knowledge technologies.


    Computer Science for Teachers Spring 2019

    Computer Science for Teachers Spring 2019

    Here is the online home for CS for Teachers at Pace University for Spring 2019.