May 25, 2024

MicroWorlds for Munchkins

Originally published in the September 2000 issue of Australia’s Hotsource online newsletter

Since the 1960s, Logo was intended to have no threshold and no ceiling. It derives its magic from how little kids and graduate students find the same environment challenging, exciting and expressive. Although a variety of forces have conspired to make MicroWorlds use most common in years five through seven, little kids can use it in quite creative ways. Much has been written about how MicroWorlds can be used to enhance the learning of secondary school concepts. This column makes the case for using MicroWorlds in the lower primary grades.

Great Value

Schools that own MicroWorlds site-licenses already have a “free” multimedia paint, animation, music and web-page creation software appropriate for young learners. There are many entry-points through which children may enter the world of MicroWorlds.

Why should little kids be limited to mindless drill or painting pictures? Even early readers can program MicroWorlds to perform simple animations. Write or print the names of simple turtle graphics commands (FD, BK, RT, LT, SETSH) with sample inputs on cards next to the computer. Names of the standard turtle shapes next to their pictures may also be placed on cards.

Baby animation

  • Hatch a turtle
  • Turn it in the desired direction by clicking and dragging its nose
  • Open the shapes centre and select the shape you wish for the turtle to wear
  • Click on the turtle
  • Click the eye tool on the turtle to edit its instruction
  • Type the command, FD 5, in the Instruction: line
  • Select Many Times
  • Click on the turtle to make it go and repeat the process for additional turtles
  • Encourage kids to change the distance (number) by which the turtle goes forward and observe what happens.
  • Kids can even program colours to make a turtle reverse when it hits the brown mountain (see the MicroWorlds online help or users guide to learn how).

Toddler animation (flipbook animation)

Follow the same steps as above, but add a command such as, SETSH [bird1 bird2] FD 5, in the Instruction: line of the turtle. These instructions may be written on student reference cards.

You can find out the name of turtle shapes by opening the shapes centre and holding the mouse over the shape (in Windows 95) or double-clicking on the shape (Macintosh).

Making Magic

Five year-old John Richardson uses MicroWorlds to tell stories, create insect reports and even design copies of his favorite commercial software products like The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis. Making software is not beyond the imagination of young kids. Why not make your LEGO rocket fly on the computer screen? In the past it was impossible for pre-readers to program computers.

Kids like John can hatch turtles, design turtle costumes, paint backgrounds, create multiple pages, compose music and record narration and sound effects without assistance. They can even create simple animations by typing the commands prepared on teacher-made reference cards.

After John creates all of his desired objects, he directs his Dad in how to program motion and interactivity. This process is quite similar to when pre-writers dictate a story to an older student or adult. However, a MicroWorlds project requires the use of mathematical processes, different senses and action.

The success of early-childhood MicroWorlds projects is dependent on three factors:

  • sufficient computer access
  • adult support
  • a great open-ended tool (MicroWorlds)

After little kids spend a few years “messing-about” with MicroWorlds they will have the fluency required to tackle more complex problem solving in specific school subjects. These children will appreciate the intellectual satisfaction and joy associated with teaching the computer to do something it may never have done before.