I wanted to analyze the history of educational programming languages and their evolution up to the present (and probably make the presentation out of it for middle schoolers). Can you recommend any supportive materials with deep historical retrospective analysis since 1960s (Logo Turtle, Squeak etc.)?

  • $\begingroup$ I hope you don't have a misconception. Few languages were designed for education. Certainly Squeak is a fully professional functional language. Many were used in education (Pascal) but were designed for a larger purpose. $\endgroup$ – Buffy Jan 19 at 10:37
  • $\begingroup$ Is Squeak a functional? No way: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squeak It's been designed as an object oriented. Maybe you confused it with Scheme? And yes, I know about half-professional usage (like in case of Turbo Pascal, which was also used in school classes), but I intentionally narrow the scope of their usage. $\endgroup$ – paus Jan 19 at 10:41
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, yes, OO, not functional. I just woke up and my brain is still asleep. But it is a fully professional language. (Oddly, in my first comment, I was even thinking of Alan Kay.) $\endgroup$ – Buffy Jan 19 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ The question could be a bit broad if one was considering educational languages for all levels of students. If we include nursery, kindergarden, primary, secondary, high school, college, university, graduate, adult and professional in the mix. For example BASIC was designed at Dartmouth for undergraduate teaching. Pascal was also designed for teaching use in Computer Science, then there are the developments that introduce it to younger classes of learners..... $\endgroup$ – Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩 Jan 19 at 11:54
  • $\begingroup$ @BrianTompsett-汤莱恩 yes, we can enlarge the scope for kids to show them where they are at the moment and where we're going to, which language we choose to develop what. I just chose Logo as an example, because we start with it soon. $\endgroup$ – paus Jan 19 at 12:09

I'd suggest you reconsider. To understand e.g. why Pascal is a nice teaching language you need to have a decent background in programming languages, some notion of teaching programming (the misconceptions by learners are often way, way different than you'd guess in your wildest nightmare), and hopefully some experience teaching.

Languages specifically designed for teaching are a wildly varied bunch, most never won any sort of wider traction. Or if they did, they soon outgrew the "to teach programming" range. Take a peek at BASIC and its recent incarnations (don't look like BASIC at all); languages like Pascal (designed to be easy to implement and teach); Logo and even (to some extent) Scheme are part of the flock.


I have a partial answer for you, about why BASIC and home computers in the early 1980's were so helpful to learning: it is how accessible everything was. A kid could look inside the case and see what the parts were, and even do things like plug in a new disk drive or something else hardware related. This is difficult to do now with a phone, tablet or laptop.

The BASIC interpreter was straightforward: it checked lines as you entered them and it ran the program. The realization that the interpreter was a program was startling and fascinating. A program is reading my keystrokes, and running my program!

The layer between what you could write in BASIC and how the hardware could be afffected was thin. It didn't take long to find out how much amusement a few POKE statements could generate. What was happening there?

The interpreter ran on top of another program: the operating system. At this point, the mystery was sufficiently weird and in your face that you either wanted to learn more, or veer off into something less arcane. It was a fast trip to the edge of the rabbit hole, and you could learn more or get off any place along the way.

I wrote programs on a DEC-10, Cyber 750, PDP-11s and other things, but these were not open-face like an Apple ][ or Atari 800 (it has 3 CPUs that all cooperate, somehow) or even a TRS-80 or PET. Without such accessibility early on in my learning environment, I might not have learned as much, as fast, as deeply, and so college and career would have started differently - probably less well. When we got back around to C with 68020 assembler to write parts of a compiler during my last year of college, it was home ground for me, but not so much many other students.

Perhaps new devices like the Raspberry PI are similar to 80's home PCs in some ways, but I haven't gotten my hands on one to know. If not, I think that the prospects for "learnable computing" are rather dimmer than they were in the bad old days. The important thing is the mystery behind the question: "How could a computer possibly work?" and how BASIC, the simple OS and hardware were low barriers to entry to that story.


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