The Russian School System and the Logo Approach: Two Methods Worlds Apart
by Sergei Soprunov and Elena Yakovleva
Sergei Soprunov has led the Logo Group of the Institute of New Technologies of Education (INT) since its founding. He was involved in the localization of LogoWriter and MicroWorlds in Russian, Czech, Korean, and Lithuanian, and is presently developing IconLogo. He has been a part-time computer teacher at Moscow school #57 since 1989. Elena Yakovleva has been involved in the field of Computers in Education since 1989. She is a Project Director in the National Geographic Kids Network and a teacher’s trainer and consultant for the Logo Group of INT. Dr. Soprunov and Ms. Yakovleva were instrumental in initiating the Russian Logo community. They have published, separately and together, several Logo books for teachers.
In order to understand how the introduction of Logo into Russia took place, it is necessary to analyze the traditional Russian system of education. First, try to imagine 1.5 to 2 million eleven-year-old boys in identical suits and the same number of girls in identical dresses, all reading the same paragraph in identical textbooks. Now, replicate this picture tenfold with the appropriate coefficients of enlargement or reduction and you are looking at Soviet schools grades 1 through 10, albeit in a somewhat comic fashion.
Which aspects of the educational system could one call opposite to the child centered approach? The strict structure, the unified, predetermined program, these were trademarks of the Russian school system. In the Soviet Union all schools, excluding a small number of specialized ones, were subject to a single common educational plan. Every teacher was assigned to “cover” certain material by a certain week, using the same textbook in every corner of the country and complying with the methods prescribed by the “higher up” educational bureaucracy. The spirit of unity that ruled the schools was well-suited by the identical uniforms, worn from freezing Yakutia to hot Turkmenia. It was also supported by the required membership of every child in the junior political organizations, and the formal, semi-military “entertainment” provided by these organizations, such as “lining up and singing patriotic songs” and ideologically oriented “spontaneous” gatherings.
The idea of an individual approach rarely occurred to the teachers constrained from all sides. What could they do while carrying on with the strictly regulated progression of lessons? Possibly, they would give a challenging problem to an advanced student or spend an extra hour with one who had fallen behind.
Despite all this, educated people were highly valued by Soviet society. A quote from a movie of those times reads “Parents married their daughters to physicists without
asking about their salaries.” There was a number of special schools (spets-shkola) where a particular subject was studied in greater depth. Often times, university professors actively participated in teaching in these schools. Admission to these places, as well as to technical schools in higher education, was very competitive.
Another distinction of Russian education is its famous emphasis towards the natural sciences and academics. Children were brought up to become scientists. The methods of scientific research, the ability to use maps, and the work with dictionaries and reference literature were a central part of the educational plan. Emphasis was placed on understanding abstract, theoretical concepts. Not that the practical aspects were ignored; rather, they played a secondary, often illustrative role. Of course, experiments were conducted in physics and chemistry classes, and there were even special classes of practice, Technical Training for boys and Housekeeping for girls. However, even in these classes, before starting to use a sewing machine, one would be first required to learn in detail the principles of operation of the sewing machine and the technical parameters of the types of threads out of which fabrics are made (the difference between viscose and acetate silk), as well as the general principles of making patterns.
One must note that, all in all, this approach reached its goal. The school, as a rule, succeeded in promoting the students’ sometimes deep understanding of such concepts as mathematical proof, logical reasoning, and the ideas of classification and analysis of data. This was true not only in the natural sciences but in the humanities as well. To demonstrate the depth of the effects of this scientific approach, I recall an anecdotal example from my own experience. In 1988, one of my friends offered to “teach me” how to use a computer (naturally, without one at hand). I immediately imagined that, for a start, I would need to learn precisely how these computers function, that is to master the mysterious subject of electronics. Unfortunately, my friend began his lesson with a description of the tree-like structure of the file system. With my college education I immediately added the theory of graphs to my list of prerequisites, and was ready to forget about the idea of getting acquainted with computers completely. A singer (Boris Grebenschikov) rather popular in my generation for his thoughts, apparently, feeling the same, wrote, “If only I knew, what electricity is, if only I knew, how the sound travels, I could call you on the phone...” When the computer first appeared in Soviet schools, it fit into the system relatively harmoniously. Educators who worked on promoting the computer saw it, first of all, as an object of computer science, the science related to such important mathematical concepts as numerical systems, algorithms, and complexity of computations. Nowadays such a position would seem paradoxical: the computer, which is presently viewed as a practical instrument, was, at the time, primarily considered an object of theoretical study.
INFORMATICS THE SOVIET WAY
In the early 80’s, the government announced that the Soviet Union lagged behind the United States, Japan, and the other Western European countries in developing and applying information technology in industry, management, and education. In order to improve the situation, the government made a bold decision: it decreed the introduction of a new subject, “informatics,” into the uniform, rigid curriculum of all high schools across the country. It was a truly unprecedented step for no other subject had been added to the curriculum since its inception in the mid 1920’s. Even then, the subjects were identical to the pre-Revolutionary ones, except that the Doctrine of Scientific Communism replaced God’s Law.
As we said earlier, originally, the word “informatics” implied something similar to information technology or computer science. In reality, it often reduced to an elementary course on general principles of programming, presented in the most abstract fashion, uninviting to all but a few computer addicts. Textbooks were written with no attempt to make the subject more attractive or interesting to an average student.
On the other hand, in spite of the absence of special pedagogical training and of a centralized curriculum, the majority of teachers had a solid idea about the role of computers in schools. They viewed computers as a tool for teaching programming or as an instrument for developing the children’s algorithmic and logical thinking. They did have a point, since computers, as we mentioned earlier, are closely related to these concepts and skills. Many educators turned out to be capable of explaining or at least conveying an idea of what good programming is, because they themselves were professional programmers. In the Soviet Union it was difficult to find a person who worked with computers but was not a computer programmer to some extent. In the same way as it was difficult to find a driver who was not a skilled mechanic.
Back then, foreign software, especially localized versions of it, was not used in schools. A reason for this was that the popular user programs such as word-processors and databases were considered superficial, while software aimed at education was unknown.
Also, in those years, only verbs like “get hold of” or “find” were used in relation to obtaining software in our country, but never the verb “buy”. This was almost a linguistic phenomenon. The only legal usage of foreign software known to us was the case when Alexander Shen, a teacher of Moscow School #57, convinced the representative of Borland at a computer show to give Pascal to the school for free.
Naturally, the most widely used software in schools were programming languages such as Basic and Pascal. These often lacked proper documentation and description. Russian software aimed at teaching algorithms and programming such as MicroMir, Algoritmica, and Robotlandia were also common. Besides being written specifically for teaching, these had the additional advantage of taking into account the specifics of the Russian educational system.
Unfortunately, except for a select few, no secondary school in this country (there were about 100,000 of them) was provided with computers to run the programs that the students were supposed to write. Special informatics centers were established in some big cities, but not in the small towns and villages where half of the population resided. Thus, once a week (or once a fortnight, or once a month) the students of a particular school would take a field trip to such a center to operate the computers and run the programs written beforehand. Most of the time, however, the students would simply watch while this work was done by instructors. E-mail and inter-school computer networks did not exist. All that we have said so far could lead the reader to think that informatics in schools during this period was a dull, tiresome and tedious subject. Maybe so, but students liked it nevertheless. Between a Russian and a geometry class, informatics entertained just as a physical education or a technical training class.
1987 - 1995: ENTER LOGOWRITER
Naturally, many teachers and educators considered the situation in education unsatisfactory, feeling the incompatibility of the uniform, rigid system with the rapidly progressing world. The beginning of radical changes in Russia during the “Perestroika” years stimulated the transition from the vague understanding that a different sort of education could be more effective to searching for practical solutions. Possibly, under other circumstances, the dissatisfaction of the people involved in education with the “what and how” of the teaching process would have remained unrealized or would have lead to insignificant changes. Perestroika, which shook up absolutely all aspects of life of Soviet society, helped to turn the hidden yearning for change into energetic attempts to reorganize even such a conservative institution as education. One must note that at the time, a “scale of values” had not yet been developed to assess how productive a particular idea was or how radical certain changes were. Thus various ideas were brought to life, some completely insane and some that later proved to be quite useful. The people concerned with the condition of education and who believed in both the necessity and possibility of positive changes included not only professional educators, but also a substantial number of respected scientists and public figures. In 1984, a temporary science and technology team was formed under the Academy of Sciences to develop a project named “School-I.” The main task of “School” was the development and introduction of new ideas and methods related to using new technology in school education. Later, in 1989, this group transformed into the Institute of New Technology in Education (INT). In practice, “School” was in charge of many affairs that concerned the educational institutions which formed the alternative to “official” education. These institutions were regular schools which declared their desire to reorganize the teaching process under new principles, as well as many organizations outside of the school system, that offered extra-curricular education, such as youth clubs. Many of these clubs were related to computers. One of the first computer clubs in Moscow, club “Computer,” created by the combined efforts of the “School” project and the chess world champion, Gary Kasparov, exists and functions to this day. Characteristically, the range of the club’s activities, which at the beginning was restricted to using computers, has significantly shifted, and is currently composed of projects such as organization of a lycee of “complementary education” that besides computer programming teaches linguistics, economics and youth journalism. One of the most important and efficient types of support was the establishment of contacts with foreign educational organizations. These were mostly American schools and universities as well as such large organizations as TERC and NGS. Naturally, the types of contacts also varied from simple meetings of teachers, exchanges and correspondence to joint educational projects, such as Global Lab and National Geographic Kids Network. Other people’s experiences were thought-provoking for the teachers: “How can this be called teaching?” or “Show me what these kids learned?”. Then there were responses like this one: “For me your proposal to participate in this project (Kids Network) is like a proposal to take my class on an excursion to Mars”.
On the whole, however, international contacts served as groundwork for future changes rather than leading to immediate imitation. An important result of meetings, discussions and correspondence with foreign colleagues was that Russian teachers could see that there was choice. The results could be intriguing or completely unacceptable, but along the way the “theorem of existence” of different educational approaches was being proved in practice. This created the feeling that giving free rein to one’s thoughts and ideas could be quite productive.
Note that most of the projects that are flourishing to this day, as well as those that vanished without a trace, were based on the same ideas which are usually attributed to Logo. Among these were general concepts, such as the individualization of teaching and an integrated approach to education because of its closer relation to real life, as well as the idea of the involvement in education of “outside” professionals.
The teachers who were ready for change were mostly from informatics since this subject was new and had not yet assimilated the traditions of the old school nor had yet to develop new traditions of its own. This was probably related to the very essence of informatics, which stood apart from all the other school subjects. Vyacheslav Aspidov, a young educator from Perm, talked about this: “I am certain, that we, informatics teachers, somewhat differ from all other school instructors. We have at our disposal a room full of modern, often state-of-the-art technology. Whether we want it or not, this by itself changes the traditional ways of our work.”
Those teachers who were thinking about change were looking for the possibility of project-based education and an individual approach to every student. They were ready to accept the ideas of Logo as natural, consistent with the processes they observed.
In other words, Logo as an educational philosophy met a receptive audience in Russia. The ideas were in the air; “the soil ready for sowing.” Thus the meeting between Aleksei Semenov, the general-director of INT, and Seymour Papert in 1987 in Bulgaria at the conference “Children of the Information Age”, which marked the starting point of the history of Logo in Russia, took place at the right time.
INT, which became the center of dissemination of Logo, had a diverse profile. INT actively supported various educational projects, believing that they were the key to diversity in education. On the other hand, INT always emphasized a specific educational philosophy, the fundamental principles of which were similar to those of Logo. These principles are formulated in the core documents of INT as follows: “The development of the students’ abilities to seek and uncover the truth on their own, acquiring and applying skills for solving novel problems is of utmost importance to the educational philosophy of INT. This approach brings the activities of the teachers and students closer to those of scientists, engineers, artists, and professionals in general. It is akin to the modern constructivism which grew out of the Piaget school. On a more general level, this is in accordance with the general development of the modern school, characterized by a problem-oriented, project and research-based approach.” Thus, INT’s efforts in promoting and supporting Logo in Russia was in essence a continuation, and a practical application of its educational philosophy. Logo was the realistic model which successfully illustrated the idea of the project based approach and the benefits of using computers. From this point of view it was fortunate that the first Logo program in Russia was LogoWriter. This program was definitely a good instrument for the realization of the project based approach (apart from turtle graphics and a programming language) through the turtle shapes and the possibility of working with text and sound. Its oldfashioned reliability and flexibility also deserve to be mentioned. Note that LogoWriter is still being used in many Russian schools and prompts exceptionally positive comments from teachers.
There is a principle: the quality of the instrument defines the style of work and the quality of the resulting product. The history of using LogoWriter confirms this observation. Often teachers of the old tradition, who at first used Logo exclusively as a language for teaching children computer programming, gradually, starting with the “democratization” of programming exercises, “condescended” to using computers and Logo for such practical purposes as preparation of physics and biology projects. We should mention that versions of Logo for different computer platforms from various unknown sources appeared before LogoWriter officially came out in Russia. The fact is that Logo does not spread easily “on its own.” Certainly, informatics teachers willingly exchanged software and therefore would see Logo at one point.
However, this did not result in any substantial application of Logo in the classroom. Logo was only used for a short time: teachers would try Logo without finding “anything special” in it.
The reason for this appears to be simple. The views about what to do with software in the classroom were still rather narrow at the time. There was not much need for using Logo in the traditional way, as yet another environment for teaching computer programming. Basic, Pascal, C, and Modula were satisfactory; the “ecological niche” had been filled. When used as a programming environment, Logo was introduced by the teacher as one more computer language, albeit a somewhat exotic one. The idea of using Logo as a new approach to education, such as programming for solving problems in other subjects (supporting other subjects), did not occur to teachers upon becoming familiar with the software. They were able to appreciate and understand these ideas, however, once they were expressed explicitly.
The practical application of Logo in Russia clearly demonstrated that Logo is a complex instrument composed of many organically interconnected parts, such as the software itself, a set of educational concepts, exchange of ideas and others. If you separate the material part, i.e. the software, from the rest, then it becomes clear that the non-material parts, i.e., the educational concepts, seemingly very “light” at first glance, outweigh the material part by a great margin. The software on its own did not have much meaning in the eyes of the teachers. The value of the software increased enormously when it was accompanied by the explanation about how education could be organized differently, examples of teachers working with Logo, and, finally, teaching guides and examples of projects. The “talk” about Logo and the relationship between educators convinced by it, the existence of the Logo community of teachers, all played the role of that detonator which is responsible for the explosion that took Logo into classrooms, as well as into the minds of teachers and students. After being introduced to the ideas of Logo, there were cases of teachers who would radically change their teaching techniques, without necessarily using actual Logo programs (for example, because the school did not have computers). Thus, it was obvious that distribution methods, applicable to usual software, would not work in the case of Logo. Since INT considered its major goal to be the distribution center of new educational technologies, it put a lot of emphasis on all activities related to Logo, not limiting itself to the sale of the software. The ideas of the Logo approach to education were an organic part of the set of views promoted by INT. Similarly, the practical affairs of INT related to the distribution of Logo became a natural part of the institute’s everyday work.
All this began with a limited, experimental distribution of LogoWriter by oral permission from LCSI and with Papert’s blessing. At this time, a few advanced schools and non-academic institutions were working with Logo. These were mostly in Moscow except for school #470 in St. Petersburg where Sofia Gorlitskaya taught.
What exactly were INT’s Logo activities? First, INT’s members themselves taught Logo classes in schools and computer clubs. The general-director of INT, Aleksei Semenov and both authors worked in School #57 in Moscow. (Sergei Soprunov still teaches there.) Since some of these schools were already experimental, Logo as a new technology fit in quite well. These schools had obtained official status that allowed them to choose their curriculum and teaching methods. Usually, the groups of students that had Logo classes were not taught according to a traditional curriculum in their other classes either. They were using programs developed by teachers as well as methodology offered by INT. The same could be said about computer clubs. The two major computer clubs in
Moscow, “Computer” and “Zodiac”, were, in essence, experimental grounds for the approval of various new educational technologies and many INT employees worked in these clubs on different projects. Secondly, INT organized forums to promote INT’s philosophy: various types of meetings with teachers, presentations, exhibitions, demonstrations of the software and the curriculum. Somewhat later, in December of 1994, a teachers’ club named “TechoLogia” was organized. Again, the main emphasis here was on discussions of alternative approaches to education including Logo and a wide selection of other programs. It was interesting that as teachers became interested in Logo, they were more open to other new educational programs. Different types of activities, in this case, complemented and enriched each other, so that a wide range of interests did not get in the way of a deeper understanding of Logo.
Thirdly, INT gave and continues to give many instructional workshops and consultations about Logo and numerous other subjects for teachers. The first Logo seminar was held by Seymour Papert and Brian Silverman in 1988. The audience included teachers and members of INT. The future members of the Russian Logo groups were introduced for the first time to various aspects of the Logo phenomenon, and, along the way, received a wonderful lesson on how to work with teachers. This seminar and the next one, held with the assistance of Michael Temple two years later, had a decisive effect on the development of Logo in Russia.
Most of the workshops that INT organized integrated Logo with other subjects, for example, “Language and Mathematics in elementary school” and “Integrated approach to teaching subjects in the natural sciences.” These workshops were very popular among teachers. From time to time, foreign educators took part: it is a pleasure to recall the spectacular presentations of Marilyn Shaffer from Hartford University and Monica Bradsher of the NGS. Naturally, such seminars could only provide an introduction to Logo. A large number of in-depth Logo workshops were held as well in Moscow and in other cities.
Apart from these activities, INT also took part in the localization of Logo. It seems to us that translation of software is in many ways similar to more traditional translations, such as translation of books, and touches on many of the same aspects, from purely technical points to linguistic and pedagogical ones.
Thus, in particular, although the developers of LogoWriter envisaged it as an educational environment, in the Russian schools the program ended up almost exclusively in the hands of informatics teachers, who tended to view it solely as a programming language. Of course, these teachers, mostly with a computer programming background, had a very definite picture of what a program of this style should look like. The idea that the child should interact with the computer in his native language, the very essence and goal of Logo, went against these views. The programming languages to which the teachers were accustomed were using English vocabulary, had formal documentation, etc. As a result, it was not feasible to simply translate the primitives and messages of the program into Russian. This would have prompted an instinctive protest from the teachers.
In order to make the transition to the Russian version smoother, we decided to make the program bilingual. This meant, that the users had at their disposal both the English primitives and their Russian equivalents. In the same program, both English and Russian words could be used. Some teachers made use of this feature in their methodology: the children had to write the body of the program in English, but give the procedures Russian names. They believed that this made structured programming more transparent and emphasized the difference between primitives and user defined procedures. This might sound nonsensical: imagine a classroom of American children sitting behind a computer and moving around a turtle on the screen with enthusiasm, putting together at the same time Russian words out of unfamiliar Cyrillic letters.
Logo in Russia is bilingual to this day, but now this is a relic of the past. Although some teachers still use English names for primitives, many, who were unhappy with the usage of the Russian “esli”, because they found the English “if” more scientific sounding, gradually made the transition to Russian in programming.
Another subtle point was attempting to keep the original style in the vocabulary of the translation. Wherever it was possible, the command verbs were given in imperative form to emphasize that the “child is controlling the turtle”. On the other hand, the error messages were made to sound as soft and friendly as possible, using formulations which did not make the children responsible for the mistake. It is well-known that children interpret any unexpected message from the computer as a bad grade, as a reproach rather than useful information. The younger ones often erase the messages without reading them, as soon as they appear. Unfortunately, this principle was not followed in all Russian versions of Logo. In some cases, a mistyped command name prompted the unfriendly and useless response “Incorrect name!”, without even pointing out the particular command.
The documentation also required adaptation to local customs. Russian informatics teachers were used to a more formal exposition and more detailed description of the structure of the programming language, than the reference guide provided. The style of the Russian version is characterized by chapter names such as “The structure of the system”, “Basic data types”, etc. This was not a change in the structure of the document, rather an adaptation of its style. Later, with the kind permission of LCSI, a few Russian textbooks were added to the original documentation.
The effort in resolving general localization problems of LogoWriter resulted in well-made decisions allowing the Logo group at INT to translate the subsequent Logo programs in the same style and traditions. This was clearly convenient for the users. The acquired experience also made it possible for INT to participate in various international projects: INT translated LogoWriter into the Czech, Lithuanian and Korean languages with the permission of LCSI.
The Russian translation of Mindstorms, which came out in 1989, had a huge impact on the implementation of Logo in Russia. Some teachers contacted INT and asked to be included in the experimental project after having read the book, because they were so excited by its ideas. It worked in the opposite direction as well. Teachers familiar with Logo, who were reaching a dead end on the road of “teaching programming for its own sake,” were directed towards project-based work.
The period of experimental distribution of LogoWriter showed that this program was interesting and useful for Russian schools. A large number of schools “joined” the experiment using illegal copies of the program, partly because of deeply rooted customs and partly because it was impossible for them to obtain the program officially with documentation and accompanying materials, consultations, and participation in the seminars.
This rather long experimental period ended in 1992 with the signing of a contract between INT and LCSI. The contract stated “that the Institute of New Technologies in Education of Moscow has been appointed exclusive distributor of Russian LogoWriter.”
In the same year, the Moscow Department of Education decided to help schools with acquiring software for their educational needs. Up to that point, this problem had to be solved by the schools themselves. The department decided to buy a city-wide license for the set of most popular programs. Which programs on the market were deemed to be popular was judged in a manner rather unusual for the Soviet Union. A long series of presentations was organized in the building of the Moscow Department of Education, where INT and other developers showed the products they were distributing to visiting teachers. The teachers were then asked to complete a survey evaluating the programs’ usefulness and feasibility for their schools.
LogoWriter was among the top choices in this survey. Thus, using this license, any Moscow school equipped with MS-DOS computers could become a registered user of LogoWriter if it wished to do so. At the end of the validity of the license, about two hundred schools had taken advantage of this opportunity.
The license included not only the software with all of the Russian language documentation and materials available at the time, but also instruction seminars for the teachers. In effect, this led to a new informal Logo-society of teachers, first concentrated in Moscow, but later extended to other regions of the country.
In the next few years, Logo became well-known in Russia. Most teachers were aware of Logo, even those who had not worked with it. INT’s method of distribution was still the most productive, leading to subsequent regular usage in schools. Naturally, the traditional software distribution of “you use it, give your friend a copy” also worked, but with much less efficiency. In this case, there would be no documentation or built-in support accompanying the software, resulting in an unhappy experiment of a teacher loading the program and being disappointed that he or she could not do anything with it.
We often witnessed “moments of enlightenment”, when an experienced informatics teacher would recall the first encounter with Logo: “Wait a minute! I cannot believe it: this is Logo? I did try it once ... and somehow could not see that it was so interesting. If I knew this THEN... This was exactly what I needed.”
In summary, the first stage of the introduction of Logo into Russia gradually transformed Logo from something exotic into a working instrument. After changing its “immigrant status” to “citizenship”, Logo received all the benefits and the liabilities of the new status. The appearance of new, more modern versions of Logo in the West generated a lot of interest among Russian teachers. They now lived in a more open society and had access to various sources of information. INT, which claimed the role of coordinator of the Russian Logo community, encouraged this process, promoting independence and contacts with the West, aiding the application of information technology and establishing connections with the world’s Logo society.
Under these conditions, a probation period of five years, as was in case of LogoWriter, would have been unacceptable for the new versions.
Fortunately, the conditions have improved since the beginning of the LogoWriter era. LCSI, despite all notions about “sharks of capitalism,” showed a lot of trust and compassion towards the Logo group of INT. This enabled us to begin the development of the Russian version of the software right after the completion of the English one, sometimes even in the process of its creation. On the technological side, the equipment in the best Russian schools was not much behind that of the West by that time. INT established close relations with the Apple, and promoted Macintosh computers in Russian schools. IBM-compatible computers also appeared in Russian schools. Russian schools were often in a better situation than the Western ones. New computers could be installed at once, since the Russian schools either had no computers to begin with or computers that were obviously obsolete.
Thus it was not surprising that the next generation of Logo software, MicroWorlds, appeared in Russia within a reasonable, relatively short delay. The Macintosh version was introduced in 1994, and the MS-DOS version in 1995. The Russian version was named “Logomiry”, which means “Logoworlds.”
At the same time, the attitude towards computers in schools gradually changed. At first, a computer was thought to be a complex device that could only be understood by a small group of experts: “It would certainly break if an outsider approached it.” Or computers were viewed as forbidden fruit since the students would play dreadful games on them whenever the teachers were not looking. Now the school principal used the computer to type up orders, mathematics teachers made up tests, students printed out homework assignments. In advanced schools, e-mail was actively used for correspondence. Teachers slowly became convinced that working with computers does not require extraordinary abilities or intelligence.
In earlier times, the teachers in computer classes either were knowledgeable about using and programming computers, but did not know how and what to teach to children, or had an education degree but were uncomfortable with using and operating computers. Usually, the onesidedness in both cases resulted in a nervous indecisive atmosphere in the classroom. There was a tendency to conduct classes in a fashion similar to “Now press this button. See what happens?” Obviously, this gave little opportunity for children to express their creativity. Now, teachers appeared who were confident in dealing with the computer, thus less “technology-oriented,” and put much effort and thought into how and what to teach. This, naturally, affected the attitude towards Logo. Logo was no longer a secret available to a few, but it still kept its status of an emotional “personal discovery” for many fans. Learning Logo was not part of the mandatory preparatory course work for teachers; teachers were never forced to take Logo classes. The teachers themselves took an increasingly active role in the dissemination of Logo (the ideas and not the software). This was demonstrated by a scene at a presentation of INT’s products. A few teachers gathered in a circle and one of them announced: “They are going to try to dump all this software on you. Believe me, it’s all worthless. The only software that is really useful is LogoWriter. Try to get it. I can teach you how to work with it.” (The speaker obviously did not know that INT is connected to LogoWriter.) At this stage, one of the most serious problems of the promotion of Logo in Russia became very visible. This was the acute shortage of literature for teachers. We will not tease our reader: this problem still has not been solved. There was little reading that explained the ideas of Logo, described successful examples of the project-based or the child-centered approach of teaching in a regular classroom. And there were not enough curriculum guides and sample exams, traditional to Russian schools either. These guides and materials were the “crutches” for many teachers, which helped them feel confident before they started working on their own.
To a small extent, the teachers themselves helped to compensate for this deficiency. As we have noted above, Logo was a very personal thing for many teachers. No one thought of Logo as something imposed upon them or something alien. Because of this attitude towards Logo, many teachers gladly (and in most cases without compensation) shared their discoveries in the field: they showed their students’ work, wrote their own teacher guides, created collections of project assignments. We note that this personal relationship with LogoWriter led to the fact that teachers would very unwillingly make the transition from LogoWriter to the more modern MicroWorlds. Certainly, this is not the only nor the most important problem of the coexistence of LogoWriter and MicroWorlds. However, further discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this paper.
The number of Logo publications in various journals by teachers was high since teachers involved with Logo were much more active and eager to share their experience and knowledge than the average. In a special 1995 issue of the magazine “Informatics and education” in Moscow, 12 out of 23 articles were one way or another related to Logo. Not surprisingly, all these independently developed teaching materials showed a great stylistic variety. Logo could not be considered a good educational instrument if it forced all the teachers into the same “procrustean bed.” It was equally not surprising, but less agreeable, that these new texts and guides often followed the traditional Soviet ideas about the role of the computer in school. We are hoping that such attempts at combining incompatible things will not be scorned and ridiculed by our readers, at least by the ones who remember the first class they conducted on their own, but rather will be met with compassion and understanding.
The major role of Logo in schools can be described as follows:
Project work is considered more troublesome than teaching classes in the style “Write down today’s topic and now we check the homework”. (One informatics teacher said “During these classes I feel that they could move along all by themselves and all I have to do is tap the rhythm on the desk”). However, everybody agrees that this goal can only be achieved by giving the students longterm, rather independent assignments and that the project- based approach solves motivation problem in schools. Unfortunately, the cooperation between the “subject” teachers and the informatics teacher is still rare even though it would be useful in Logo projects related to history and biology. More often the project is a personal initiative of the informatics teacher, and since there is no mandatory curriculum, the teacher selects a project based on his or her own interests and education. We recall two examples of such projects which are aimed at the study of a native city. One of them is “Buildings of St. Petersburg” made possible by Sofia Gorlitskaya and the other “Moscow studies” by Larissa Stratiy from Moscow. The idea of collaborative or support work is rather natural to a Russian computer teacher. Because of their status, computer teachers are always doing subsidiary work. The principal calls for help because he cannot print out an urgent directive, the English teacher asks for a crash course on how to prepare handouts. The idea of cooperation is usually initiated by the informatics teacher. The movement of “subject” teachers towards cooperative projects is much slower, although by now they are intrigued by computers. They are caught in a vicious circle of not being convinced of the computer’s usefulness in their field until they see actual examples of such work, but there will be few such projects until the teachers show interest in the computer use.
One possible stimulus for cooperative work could be the fact that “dual” classes were recently introduced in many regions of Russia (in Moscow, in particular). In reality, this means that both teachers get paid for these classes so the two teachers are equal partners. This decision by the educational officials is important since it is an “official” recognition that integrated learning is progressive. The style of teacher workshops is also changing. Most informatics teachers have seen how the turtle moves across the screen after the “forward” command. Many teachers have their own ideas about the application of Logo, and what exactly the project-based approach is. Teachers want to know more about the deeper and more complex aspects of programming in Logo. They ask about new multimedia and internet possibilities. They need fresh ideas for projects. Demand for workshops such as “Logo for mathematicians” and “Logo for primary schools” has developed.
The introduction of Logo into other subjects has led to its “stretching” over the age groups. Initially, the software was used in grades 6 to 8 and was mostly valued for its animation and turtle graphics. Everyday work gave the teachers a deeper understanding of Logo and confidence in using the program. This changed the initial notion of Logo as a “kid’s language.” Logo is increasingly used at the high school level and more and more teachers consider Logo a suitable instrument for their own work. Informatics teachers, sometimes with the help of students, create Logo-projects that serve as small-scale learning programs. For example, such a program could be aimed at studying the structure of the computer or the buoyancy law.
Another effect is that Logo is becoming less and less “serious.” When computer classes were initiated in elementary schools, the teachers noticed that even little children can create complex and interesting programs despite the fact that they have not yet learned what “structured programming” is. It has become widely accepted that Logo is the program of choice for introducing primary school students to computers. (However, the question whether primary school students should be introduced to computers at all is still a topic of heated debates.) The experience of working with Logo in elementary schools has convinced us that — Logo is an adequate instrument for little children and — that purely technical difficulties (such as writing down commands in text form and displaying error messages) causes unjustifiable discomfort to these children. With the kind consent (more precisely, kind “connivance”) of LCSI, INT began work on a special version of MicroWorlds, designed for preschools and primary schools, for “preliterate programmers.” The new program, named “PervoLogo” in Russian and “IconLogo” in English, became a collaborative product of LCSI and INT.
A characteristic distinction of IconLogo is that it is not necessary for the user to be able to read, write or know numbers to use it. In a sense IconLogo allows you to separate the teaching of the art of operating computers, including algorithmic thinking, from the teaching of reading and writing.
All turtle commands in this program are represented by images and pictograms. The child composes programs using these pictograms. IconLogo inherited the wealth of instruments and parallel processes of MicroWorlds, but it uses a simplified structure, so that, for example, the child can not make an error by not defining a parameter where it is needed.
In a linguistic sense, the picture interface of this software accomplishes an intermediate step in child development. It is well-known that children use body language to explain concepts for which they are lacking words. This body language is then transformed from its actual physical form into a pictographic one through IconLogo. Later it evolves into a linguistic form, and that is why many primary school and preschool teachers consider IconLogo an active means of speech development.
This program received a very positive response from the teachers of Moscow and various Russian regions, which was manifest in the swift spreading of the software. The program was also named “the best educational multimedia program for preschool and primary school students” on the 7th international exhibition ‘Information technology and informatics” in Moscow in 1997. An acknowledgment of the world-wide recognition of INT in the field of informatics in elementary schools was when in 1997 INT, in cooperation with the Institute of Information Technologies in Education (IITE), prepared a report with recommendations for “Informatics for Primary Education” which was ordered by UNESCO. Logo played a major role in these recommendations, and the sample primary school informatics curriculum was based on IconLogo.
The recent rapid stratification of Russian society has had an effect not only an individuals but also on organizations such as schools and other educational institutions. A private school in Moscow, where the entrance fee is $20,000 and the tuition is $6,000 a year, does not surprise anyone nowadays. Just as no one is surprised by the letter received from an old colleague in Yaroslavl that says “Our school will happily participate in the Internet Logo project if only our phone service is not turned off for not paying the bills...” Logo seems to be a program for all classes of society. It is used in private and public schools and in non-academic organizations such as clubs and camps. Comparing Logo in schools and non-academic institutions shows that the best projects are very similar regardless of where they come from. In a Logo class taught by a good teacher, the students do not feel constrained or coerced, but essentially like participating in an extracurricular activity.
The separation of schools by social classes leads to a similar separation in the quality of computer equipment. A private school in Moscow buys a Pentium II for every student. In a regional school outside of Moscow, however, a classroom of 386s is considered an unrealistic dream. This explains the fact that the demand for LogoWriter is still quite strong, despite the availability of MicroWorlds for MS-DOS and Windows 95.
Pirate (bootleg) distribution of software, including educational software, is very popular in Russia. The causes for this are psychological rather than financial. Currently, the statement “It’s not that I’m stingy but I never buy educational software” is said openly and is met with understanding. One experienced teacher, who bought LogoWriter legally, put several interesting projects of his students on the Internet. On his web page, he offered his copy of LogoWriter for a free download. Like most social attitudes, this situation is changing slowly.
Traditional educational software, including Logo, has been viewed in Russia as strictly for schools and other educational establishments. The formula “child + home computer = DOOM” has never been doubted. Also, not many people had computers at home. Recently, parents are showing signs of increasing interest towards educational software. Teachers working with Logo often ask: “Can we make a copy of our program, so that the students could work at home?”
A major difficulty in using Logo in schools is the bureaucracy of the school system. One example: teachers are often required to furnish a day-to-day plan with topics and goals worked out for every class for a year in advance. Needless to say that a teacher who is planning to teach Logo in a project-based manner will have difficulty in producing such a plan and even greater difficulty following it. And a teacher must be a clairvoyant to predict, say, the appearance of a cooperative mathematics teacher in the school!
Logo has even more serious problems in high schools. Parents who showed great interest in “computer education and cognitive thinking” and inspected multimedia projects with pleasure while their children were in grades 6 to 8, lose all interest in modern educational ideas during the high school years. They are all focused on standards of education and admission examinations to colleges. Thus, until there are entrance examinations in informatics with traditional and conservative standards, the high school informatics teacher will feel not only a personal responsibility that their students know what the “bubble method of sorting” is, but will also feel a natural external pressure from the parents.
As a result of these limitations many informatics teachers are forced to attempt the impossible. They try to include everything in their course, from information about the “metal parts” of computers to special skills in working with user programs. Usually, Logo is on this list as a tribute to the fashion of educational programs, somewhere between games and Microsoft Office.
One of the most serious problems in promoting Logo (and this problem will get more acute as we try introduce Logo into homes) is the shortage of relevant literature. There are few guides for teachers and very little reading for students, not enough textbooks and Logo-related reading in general. Recently, the government of Moscow recommended “the educational environment IconLogo” as a course for primary schools, and “the educational environment LogoWriter” for middle and high schools. The more modern MicroWorlds was recommended only as an option. This shows a conservatism and lack of foresight on the part of the officials who do not understand that MicroWorlds is far more suitable to the needs of the schools, especially in Moscow. However, we think that the decision was influenced by the fact that there was much more literature available for LogoWriter than for the much more recent MicroWorlds.
Asking INT to solve all Logo-related problems would be destined to failure. However, INT never tried to take over all Logo-related activities. INT’s mission was to organize a Logo community in Russia, thereby unifying Logo teachers and creating an independent and self-sufficient community. We cannot say that this called for much effort. Independence and self-sufficiency was the rule among the first generation of Logo teachers. Even though its organizational role is still very important, INT is currently more often engaged in coordinating Logo activities. It disseminates successful readings, initiates direct contacts among teachers, and aids the establishment of international relations.
As the Russian Logo society is shaping up, the roles of Moscow and St. Petersburg as Logo centers are declining. INT conducted long instructional Logo-courses in many regions of Russia: Sochi, Petrozovodsk, Yekaterinburg, Yakutsk and others. (If the reader does not have a world atlas handy, Yakutsk is, for example, located close to “Earth’s cold pole” where everything is eternally frozen, while Sochi is a popular resort on the Black Sea.) It is also very important that local teachers take the initiative for conducting different Logo-related events. Requests such as — “We have Logo, but we would like to understand how to use it. Could you please send us an educator for conducting classes for teachers?”— “A large group of teachers in our town has been working with LogoWriter for a while. Now we feel that we need more in-depth knowledge. Please, send us a specialist of the methodical aspects of working with Logo.” — are more and more frequently heard on intercity telephone calls and seen in e-mails. Teachers tell us about regional competitions of Logo-projects, Logo summer schools, openings of Logo-sites. We are certain that we do not know about all such regional Logo activities.
Possibly this is not the right time to describe and analyze the history of Logo in Russia. The appearance of Logo in our country coincided with many serious changes in people’s everyday life and these changes are still in progress. Russian education has also undergone changes, in many aspects, cardinal ones. Maybe the appearance of Logo somehow aided these changes, but it is hard to separate and assess the extent of this effect, since there were much more serious factors involved. What we can say with certainty is that Logo’s general philosophy is in accordance with the progressive changes that occurred and that are still in progress in Russian schools.
These changes are happening so fast (one is compelled to say “too fast”) that we cannot tell which will remain and which will dissolve and be forgotten in a few years. At the moment, teachers consider the project-based educational approach to be very productive, despite the accompanying difficulties. More and more schools are using a variety of open-ended software including Logo, for creating projects.
As time passes, it will become clear if the Russian Logo society is viable, and if teachers have enough interest and enthusiasm for Logo’s successful implementation, or if after awhile Logo simply becomes a “curtsy” to “cognitive thinking” and the “project-based approach.”