A Logo Postcard from Argentina
by Horacio C. Reggini
Horacio C. Reggini is a consulting engineer and professor in education, computers, and telecommunications. He has recently published two books relating to telecommunications: Los caminos de la palabra. Las telecomunicaciones de Morse a Internet (1996) and Sarmiento y las telecomunicaciones. La obsesion del hilo (1997). He is a full member of both the Argentine National Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences and the Argentine Academy of Information Arts and Sciences.
No author can escape his singular first memories of a subject. To recount my own involvement with Logo in Argentina, I must remark upon my perceptions of its development, techniques and beauty. I must also go back to the early stages of computers.
THE START OF MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH COMPUTERS
My initiation into the revolutionary world of computers took place nearly four decades ago. In 1959, while on a scholarship at Columbia University, I came across the discovery of the century at the IBM Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory in New York. At that time, computers were not only extremely expensive but also virtually impenetrable. Computer programming was an interminably tedious task. Yet it was through this initial contact that I became aware of John von Neumann’s fascinating book The Computer and the Brain (1958), which shed new light on the computer’s potential:
“... Since the orders that exercise the entire control are in memory, a higher degree of flexibility is achieved than in any previous mode of control. Indeed the machine, under the control of its orders, can extract numbers (or orders) from the memory, process them (as numbers!), and return them to the memory (to the same or to other location); i.e., it can change the contents of the memory -indeed this is its normal modus operandi-. Hence it can, in particular, change the orders (since these are in the memory!) -the very orders that control its action-. Thus all sort of sophisticated order-systems become possible, which keep successively modifying themselves and hence also the computational processes that are likewise under their control.”
Captivated by these concepts, I decided to delve into the bold new computer era. Back in Argentina in 1960, I began to work as a university professor on different projects in the computer field. One such project was the establishment of the first Computer Center for Undergraduates (based on the IBM-1620) at the School of Engineering at Buenos Aires University. In 1963, as a member of the MIT Interamerican Civil Engineering Program, I encountered many pioneers of the digital world, including Marvin Minsky, J. C. R. Licklider and Robert Fano. I was also lucky enough to bear witness to one of the most wondrous phases of computer evolution: the MAC Project at MIT. (The acronym MAC stood for both “Machine Aided Cognition,” the general goal of the project, and “Multiple Access Computer,” its operative mode.)
My belief in the power of computers prompted me to become involved with the MAC Project itself. By 1964, I was able to log into the MIT IBM-7094 time-sharing system from Buenos Aires, Argentina — thousands of miles away — via a radio teletype link. This experience had a profound impact on me and was the impetus for my research on how technology contributes to people’s intellectual and creative development.
In the ‘70s, the invention of small personal computers enabled these machines to escape the narrow confines of laboratories and large organizations. It was then that I met Seymour Papert whose philosophy and research on Logo strengthened my commitment to help unleash the power of computer technology. Focusing on education, I was especially concerned with how information technology could help children find new and better ways of learning. Logo, with its wealth of possibilities, pointed the way. For me, Logo was a form of poetry which has the same relation to the prose of computing as poetry has to prose in any other language.
LOGO LAUNCHED IN ARGENTINA
Among Papert’s Logo projects that I visited were the Brookline Public Schools in Boston and the Computers in City Public Schools in New York. In 1980, I also observed the Logo pilot project at the Lamplighter School in Dallas, Texas, where I was delighted to see students and teachers excitedly running Logo procedures on Texas Instruments TI-99 Home Computers. Although the TI Logo software had many drawbacks — drawings could not hold many lines because the turtle would “run out of ink” and decimal numbers were not accepted — it paved the way for those hoping to run Logo in a personal computer. I soon came to an agreement with the Texas Instrument Argentine branch to develop a Spanish Logo version for their TI-99 Home Computer. With the Spanish Logo available in Argentina and neighboring countries, including Uruguay, I considered it essential that Logo’s ideas be printed in Spanish. So I founded Ediciones Galápago, a small publishing company that translated and published numerous titles: Mindstorms (under the title Desafío a la mente. Computadoras y educación) by Seymour Papert in 1981; The Second Self (El Segundo Yo) by Sherry Turkle in 1984; The Society of Mind (La sociedad de la mente. La inteligencia humana a la luz de la inteligencia artificial) by Marvin Minsky in 1986; and The Media Lab (El laboratorio de medios. Inventando el futuro en MIT) by Stewart Brand in 1988.
WINGS FOR THE MIND
In 1982, I wrote my first book on Logo, which was widely used in Spanish speaking countries: Alas para la mente. Logo: un lenguaje de computadoras y un estilo de pensar (Wings for the Mind. Logo: a Computer Language and a Style of Thinking). An English translation of the prologue follows:
“This book is addressed to those who wish to
explore the new concept of computers as extensions of the mind. In choosing the title
of the book Alas para la mente (Wings for
the Mind), I deliberately avoided the words
“computer” or “computation.” Although
these terms are becoming part of our daily
vocabulary, for many people they are still
obscure words that conjure up the mysterious
and the unattainable. In the past, specialists
employed such esoteric language to restrict
their spheres of knowledge to those in the
same fields. Alas para la mente, on the other
hand, attempts to demystify the world of
computers, making it accessible to everyone.
Critical thinking and the exchange of ideas
are key factors in the process of learning.
Young people often rise to meet new challenges,
but sometimes their ideas are not
powerful enough to take wing. So it was with
Icarus who, in escaping from imprisonment,
fell into the sea when the wax of his wings
melted as he flew near the sun. Alas para la
mente attempts to provide students with
effective “wings” for thinking. These “wings”
are intended to take readers on journeys of
their own choosing: far away in the analysis
of external phenomena or deep within themselves
in contemplation of their own styles of
Alas para la mente is a step-by-step introduction
to the fundamentals of Logo as well
as an account of experiences I have had
watching children learn with Logo. One of
the book’s major premises is that to use computers
creatively we must follow two paths —
that of our innermost intuitive thoughts as
well as that of logical analysis. Many of the
book’s other chief principles stem from
Seymour Papert’s beliefs outlined below:
Alas para la mente was translated into French — Logo, Des ailes pour l’esprit, Cedic/Fernand Nathan — in 1983, and into Italian — Logo, Ali per la mente: il linguaggio di programmazione ideato per l’educazione e il gioco creativo, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore S.p.a., Milano — in 1984.
THE LOGO SPIRIT CATCHES ON
With personal computers gaining popularity in Argentina in the early ’80s, I began to organize numerous workshops, courses and seminars for teachers across the country. Three enthusiastic assistants helped me during this period: Teresa Carabelli, Mercedes Torino and Paula Bontá, presently Director of Design at LCSI in Quebec. To help spread the news of Logo, I wrote many articles for national and local newspapers and did interviews for magazines and TV programs. Teachers and other educational experts were eager and enthusiastic to participate in the new digital world. Most of what has been done with Logo in Argentina grew out of the dedicated efforts of small groups, mostly school principals, teachers and parents from family school associations. One school in particular, the Instituto Bayard (Bayard Institute), led the way. The principal and owner of the school, Annelise Henriksen de De Forteza, ensured that all teachers were trained in the Logo method, after which the students began to develop Logo projects. The Instituto Bayard became a Logo “lighthouse” for many educators in Argentina and South America in search of innovative changes in education.
FIRST INTERNATIONAL LOGO CONFERENCE
In 1982, the Asociación Amigos de Logo (The Friends of Logo Association) was founded by an ardent group of Logo enthusiasts, including myself. A non-profit organization with little outside support, the association aimed to promote the growth of Logo ideas. Our first big step was the organization of an international conference held on September 16/18, 1983, at the Instituto Bayard in Buenos Aires: Primer Congreso Internacional Logo. Las Computadoras en la Educación y la Cultura (First International Logo Conference. Computers in Education and Culture). It was sponsored by the I.B.I. Intergovernmental Bureau for Informatics (Rome), the UNESCO (Paris), Subsecretaría de Informática, Ministerio de Educación, Secretaría de Cultura, and Secretaría de Educación de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires. Included below is part of my opening speech, which captures the spirit of the conference and stresses the educational philosophy underlying Logo:
“Dear ladies, gentlemen and children, On behalf of the Asociación Amigos de Logo, I welcome you to this conference. Many people, from neighboring and distant countries as well as from other cities of our country, have come to join us on this occasion. Some time ago, when seeking a venue to hold the conference, we first thought of theaters, auditoriums and other places often used for these kinds of activities. But we wanted a different kind of place for this conference. We fancied a natural setting with trees, plants, and flowers. And, as it often happens, the nearest, most loved and familiar things are those that we disregard, those which we are not aware of. It is only when they are no longer with us that we start to miss them. One day, while coming out of the main office, we became aware of this patio. A place with plants, flowers and a magnificent tree. A place full of life, joy and love. This patio became the right place for our conference. Some of you here today want to know more about a new kind of computer language, Logo, which may have applications in many fields — professional as well as commercial and industrial. Other people believe that Logo is more than a mere technological innovation and that it can open new paths in education.
The purpose of Logo is to contribute to overall human development, a primary educational goal. Through Logo, computers can lay the groundwork for such learning, while respecting students’ linguistic and cultural identities. From an early age, children draw from the environment around them to develop coherent theories about the world — i.e., naive theories — as an aid to understanding. Since the knowledge acquired is limited by environmental boundaries, however, children may lack the resources to turn certain concepts into concrete ideas. The computer — a modern Aladdin’s lamp — provides children with those models they cannot find in the real world. Because the machine can transform formal thinking into concrete thinking, it can help children acquire this type of knowledge more quickly, thus stimulating their intellectual development. In an ideal educational environment:
1. Children reflect on what they know and
express it in a coherent way in order to be
understood. In explaining and defending
their ideas, children gain self-confidence and
an awareness of the power of their own ideas.
Putting such educational principles into practice is difficult to achieve in ordinary classes. This is where computers — equipped with a suitable language — can help. A Logo procedure — teaching the machine how to do something — is the formalization of a piece of knowledge. This formalization can be tested, executed and verified. For the computer, a procedure is a sequence of intelligible and executable phrases. For the computer user, the procedure is the expression of the user’s understanding of a concept. As that understanding can change, a procedure is also subject to change, improvement and ongoing revision.
In the Logo environment, it is vitally important for students to discuss their work with teachers and classmates. For the student, building a procedure is not only naming a series of instructions: it is an initiation into the abstract world and the subsequent concrete manipulation of ideas. With Logo, students learn to analyze problems, deal with abstractions and formalize solutions to problems. Students also learn to apply constructive self-criticism and to regard errors not as disasters, but as temporary obstacles to be overcome.
Frequently, success in learning depends on both intellectual and emotional factors. Children’s preference for a particular area of study depends on their ability to assimilate this special type of knowledge into their own set of models. These intellectual models, different for each person, are acquired in the course of a lifetime. Learning comes more easily when the subject matter is of personal interest than when it’s unpleasant or incomprehensible. What children learn depends on the models available to them. Because the computer adopts innumerable forms and offers a wide range of models to suit individual interests, it helps to overcome such barriers to learning. Also with the computer, the steps of learning are inverted: students come into contact with the practical uses of knowledge before being exposed to its formal enunciation. A primary goal of education is to help children use their freedom in a responsible way. From an early age, children assume responsibility for their actions as they exercise their right to choose. With Logo, children freely organize their microworld while assuming responsibility for what happens within it — i.e., the formulation of their course of study according to their own needs and the steps they will follow to reach their goals. Working with Logo, children may form a mental image and then design ways to create that image. Or they may begin with no definite goal but then, with each step, discover something new. Such activity resembles both scientific research and artistic creation, in which the learning process becomes a personal adventure marked by the element of surprise. In Greek philosophy, the teacher is the guide who helps the student to discover essential truths. The teacher does not present the truths but rather encourages the learner to discover them. The same concept applies to Logo.”
None of us could have anticipated the resounding success of the First International Logo Conference. One thousand participants attended from Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, U.S.A., France and Spain. (Many of these attendants were also present at the Logo conferences at MIT in ’84, ’85 and ’86.) The exchange of experiences and ideas was marked by a refreshing honesty that did not profess to have all the answers in light of Logo’s ongoing evolution. Also stimulating were the original and spontaneous remarks of the many children who displayed Logo projects. Julián Marcelo, with Rome’s I.B.I. Intergovernmental Bureau for Informatics, summed it up nicely during the closing ceremony: “This meeting has been an extraordinary blend of a scholarly seminar and a friendly weekend party.”
Although our keynote speaker, Seymour Papert, could not attend, Robert Mohl from MIT filled in with a strong case for the growing international status of Logo. This address, along with the conference’s other lectures and papers, were valuable contributions to the international community of Logo and helped to consolidate Logo’s position, not only in Argentina, but in all of Latin America. New Logo versions and new personal computer models, such as LCSI’s Apple Logo and IBM Logo, became available in Argentina. Building on the success of its Spanish Logo version for TI-99, Texas Instrument Argentina asked the Harvard Associates of Boston and my own team to develop a Spanish Logo software for its TI-PC model. In 1986, we also prepared the Spanish Logo vocabulary and documentation for a MSX computer, assembled by Telématica S.A. in Argentina. Based on the MSX-Logo developed by LCSI in Canada, this computer became quite popular in Argentina, where it has been used in many schools. More recently, LCSI commissioned us to adapt and translate its LogoWriter software into Spanish.
3D-LOGO: IDEAS AND FORMS
In 1984 and 1985, I developed a 3D-Logo version that attempted to bridge the gap between traditional methods used to represent three-dimensional objects and current computer techniques. 3D-Logo allows the user to build three-dimensional objects based on Logo’s intrinsic geometrical approach: the shape of any object can be described by defining the necessary movements of a turtle to trace its edges.
3D-Logo is body syntonic. One has to describe the object through the movements of one’s body in space. In other words, a drawing on the screen is the result of the description of a succession of movements. The image is generated by the trail the turtle leaves as it moves in space; the representation of the image on the plane surface of the screen — through a central conic perspective — is performed automatically by the system. The perspective drawing depends on the starting position and orientation of the turtle. The incorporation of a spatial dimension in the Logo microcosm represents an important qualitative jump in the conception of the turtle as “an-object-to-think-with.” The turtle movements are not limited to a plane surface.
By teaching the computer to produce three-dimensional objects, one can better perceive the elegance and complexity of shapes in space. In allowing people to play creatively with their chosen subjects, the computer becomes a medium for human expression, both intellectual and artistic. If offers the user the chance to experience the emotion and joy of the creative act. The construction of 3D-shapes soon captured the imagination of children and adolescents to the point that it was not unusual to see all kinds of 3D-objects on computer screens in the schools of Argentina. My 3D experiences also gave shape to my second book Ideas y formas:. Explorando el espacio con Logo (Ideas and Shapes. Learning to Build in 3-D Space with Logo). A French translation followed in 1986 — Logo dans l’espace, ACT-Informatique, Cedic/Nathan, Paris — as well as an Italian version in 1987 — Idee et Forme. Explorando lo spazio con il Logo, Edizione Sisco Sistemi Cognitivi, Roma.
The focus of the book is on the similarities between the methods of technological production, scientific research and artistic creation. A work of art and a scientific project both seek to create order out of chaos. Both are complex undertakings that require immense effort and resourcefulness, extensive planning and revision, and a vast body of knowledge. Michelangelo’s in-depth study of anatomy is reflected in the perfectly molded lines of his Moses or his David. So too, researchers and artists devote much of their time to countless tests, explorations and studies. I later used my 3D-procedures in Object Logo (Paradigm Software Inc.) for the Apple Macintosh to carry out research on the geometrical generation of polyhedra using intrinsic geometry. The results were published in my paper Regular Polyhedra: Random Generation, Hamiltonian Paths and Single Chain Nets. One major finding was the determination of the number and the structure of all possible different paths along all the faces of a regular polyhedron without passing more than once by the same face.
COMPUTERS: CREATIVITY OR AUTOMATISM?
In 1988, I wrote Computadoras ¿creatividad o automatismo? Reflexiones sobre tecnologia (Computers, Creativity or Automatism? Thoughts on Technology). It brought together a collection of articles and conferences on Logo, stressing the premise that only a wise use of new information technologies leads to freedom and creativity. The book also included an analysis of the ideas of Karl Popper and Seymour Papert. In the prologue, I reflect on the issues discussed in the book:
“Today, millions of people have an easy alliance with computers, which permit them to work, create and study autonomously. However, human interaction with computers is in its infancy and must await further developments for a true evaluation. What role will computers play in the future? We must search together for the answer. Those who are enchanted by the novelty of computers anticipate a golden era when technology will provide us with untold benefits. On the other hand, those who are resistant to change warn of the dangers of an impending “cybernetic slavery” that will strip us of our humanity. Only a thorough understanding of the significance of computers and their myriad applications will ensure that their enormous technological potential does not turn us into mere passive receivers of information. The road divides and we must choose between creativity and automatism. It would be erroneous to imply that the two are mutually exclusive, as they are alternative and complementary states. “Creativity” refers to the production of new or artistic ideas, while “automatism” implies a sequence of mechanical actions. Both processes are essential. Automatism, which is a result of previously acquired action scripts, requires creativity to set it into play. Automatism is a beneficial component of computers, as it sets free other parts of the mind. But it is insufficient without the sparks of creativity that allow us to change or modify our routines as previously unknown goals or new possibilities come to the fore. It is the responsibility of scientists to bring about the harmonious blend of new technologies and society. The more we learn about technology, the more we can perceive the essence of our humanity. For years, I have applied this principle to my different areas of interest: computers in general, computers in education, artificial intelligence, the design and construction of forms in space, the psychology of learning, and the development of scientific knowledge. It is also the basic concept that unifies this book and its variety of subjects. Emerging computer theories are of vital significance to the process of human evolution. More than ever before, a sensitive use of the new technology is essential to avoid cultural fragmentation. My own contribution has pointed me in two directions: to influence the educational process in an attempt to transform computers into tools for creativity and personal growth; and to diffuse through the mass media proper methods and means to apply computers in various areas of daily life.”
Logo’s expansion in Argentina arose out of small independent groups of people who embraced Logo not just as a computer language but as a philosophy. Thanks to this initiative, students reared on Logo have gone on to graduate from MIT and to land jobs in the computer industry. Such success, however, cannot be attributed to government support on a local or national level, since most official projects dealing with educational software have relied on computer companies for training and support. The status of Logo in Argentina has been constant for some time. Many schools continually strive to better understand Logo and make effective use of it, while others scarcely glimpse Logo’s potential. One of the schools that recognizes Logo’s value today is the Colegio Las Cumbres in Buenos Aires. There, Mónica B. Coni, in charge of staff development, conducts ongoing teacher training and makes innovative use of Logo applications. Although Logo was enthusiastically adopted in many Argentine educational institutions, this initial zeal has abated somewhat in recent years. A major obstacle has been the tendency to perceive Logo as a mere technological tool rather than an innovative approach that encourages individuality and autonomy. The Logo approach implies self-conscience -to be oneself-, to be in control -to be the owner of oneself-, and self-decision -to act by oneself-. These human attitudes require “personal reflection” and demand “thinking about thinking.” Because these traits are not encouraged in today’s society, they pose an obstacle to Logo’s continuous expansion. Better Logo versions and explanations of its meaning, the increasing number of people that have had the experience and pleasure of thinking and creating with Logo in their childhood, the evolution of society to better human life conditions, will gradually produce the necessary changes for Logo’s due appreciation and continuous success.