I enjoy teaching LOGO programming to Year 4 each year not only because I like the problem-solving work required but also because I like seeing children become enthusiastic about the computing side of ICT.
There is a variety of software available that offer LOGO-type tools, however my preferred program to use is the original MSWLOGO as I've found it offers a lot more functionality than its competitors and is a freeware product which children can therefore download/install at home easily if they so wished to.
To put the topic in context, it builds upon children's prior experiences of programming real 'floor turtles' (i.e. Bee-Bots and Pro-Bots) and their usage of the fab Focus on Bee-Bot and 2Go software where they control on-screen 'turtles' by simply pressing buttons.
For the first lesson on LOGO, my main aim is to get the children to understand the key commands needed to control the 'little triangle-shaped robot' (as I call it) and become eager to want to develop their skills in future weeks.
I begin by highlighting the different parts and functions of the software's interface. In particular I demonstrate to them how to use the 'commander' window to type a command in and then run it by either pressing the ENTER key on the keyboard or by pressing the 'Execute' button on screen. To help them appreciate how easy it is to control the screen robot, we play a little game whereby they have to guess what entering each code does (hopefully realising how they are made up of the first and last letter of each word):
- fd 100 makes the robot move forwards 100 pixels;
- bk 100 makes the robot move backwards 100 pixels;
- rt 90 makes the robot turn right 90 degrees;
- lt 90 makes the robot turn left 90 degrees;
- cs clears the screen by deleting all the pen marks left by the robot.
The key I've found here is to get them exited to realise how easy it is to make the screen robot move - What command do you think you need to enter to make the robot go forward 100? What do you think entering bk 100 will make the robot do? The only bits you need to stress the importance of really are the need to put one space between the command and the number and the need to look at which way the robot is facing before getting it to move forward/backward in that direction.
Having let them have about 10 minutes exploring making various lines on their own in LOGO to get used to controlling the robot by themselves, I then move onto showing them how to change/set the pen colour - this is always met by smiling faces! Again, I play a little game with them to make the learning a bit more fun whereby they have to work out which commands you need to enter to set the pen colour to certain colours - all they have to do is type 'setpc' followed by a number between 1 and 16 and then a forward command to draw something on screen in that colour. It's a guarantee that every year at least one child will get confused though when the robot doesn't appear to draw a trail when the pen colour is set as 7 - this is because it sets the pen colour as white which obviously doesn't show up on a white background!
Once I've given them about 10 minutes again just exploring changing the colours - usually to make repeating patterns or zig-zag lines, I then end the session by giving them the challenge of changing the white background to pictures of mazes through which they have to direct the screen robot carefully around to reach the exit without hitting any walls. The two tricks here (which I point out only after giving them a short time to have a go on their own) are to enter commands little by little so as to not over-shoot a wall (e.g. do fd 20 five times instead of fd 100) and to only make turning movements using angles of 90 degrees (you make the challenge way more difficult than you need to if you start turning weird angles of 47 or 98 degrees, for instance). You can download the five maze pictures I've created (although I've found even the more able children normally only reach the third level) by clicking here - they can easily be loaded up by clearing the screen in LOGO and then going to Load > Bitmap from the menu at the top.
I've always found this lesson to be a great start to the LOGO topic - the children are always keen to discover the what the different colour commands are and to see who can complete each maze level first - and it really gets everyone fired-up and motivated about learning new skills in the forthcoming weeks. I love teaching the joys of computer programming to children.