Writing and programming: the act of turning an idea into reality

A curious thing happend recently. Primo* (the eldest child, 4.5 years, going on 45) handed me an iPad and asked where her favourite game had gone, Peppa Pig Party Time

I knew immediately “where” it had gone. Secondo (the youngest child, 2.8 years, going on 1) likes holding the home button, making icons jiggle and then randomly deleting them while laughing hysterically.

No matter though. It’s easy enough to re-install them on the iPad – or you can just “write it”

Writing and programming: making things real

Primo has connected that the verb ‘write’ can be used to mean ‘create’ or ‘make’. She will spot it’s missing and say, “that’s ok Dad, just write it” or “please, can you write it.” or “can we write this game”.

She knows that my job is primarily “making computers do things” and she’s been watching what that is, which externally is seen as the act of writing/typing – after a lots of serious thinking of course 😉

The gap between typing something and having it appear is unknown to her right now, and to some degree irrelevant, but what is particularly interesting is the association that writing can yield the creation of something digital, tangible and that hopefully plays Happy Mrs Chicken (It’s a Peppa Pig mini game for those of you lucky enough not to be sleep deprived from young kids demanding ipad apps during the night!)

Tying this back to one of the central underpinnings of Papert’s Mindstorms book, it’s becoming clear that the language we choose to convey metaphor is crucial to the novice programmer if we are to help excite and encourage people to become creators with technology.

If we check the language we currently use we find many examples which aren’t clear or just anachronistic as we’ve been too lazy to think of a better replacement. For example I have an ongoing issue with the word “Loading” especially when I see it in the middle of a video game screen on a PS3, pad, etc.

What on earth does “Loading” mean to someone who didn’t grow up with 8-bit micros and BASIC?

Papert describes the connection of Logo’s Turtle to the creation of words to encourage programming abstraction

The idea of programming is introduced through the metaphor of teaching the Turtle a new word

The idea of programming is introduced through the metaphor of teaching the Turtle a new word. This is simply done,
and children often begin their programming experience by programming the Turtle to respond to new commands
invented by the child such as SQUARE or TRIANGLE or SQ or TRI or whatever the child wishes, by drawing the
appropriate shapes. New commands once defined can be used to define others.

The key factor here is that Papert’s Logo puts the creative power of abstraction, through the creative use of language which comes naturally, into the hands of the child, they can use whatever word they like.

Primo* -I know the gender is wrong but I’m a big fan of Stanley Tucci and Big Night.