Papert's "Constructionism"
A few educators saw the possibility of students making use of the power of computers to support learning in more creative ways, however. One such pioneer was Seymour Papert of MIT (the American one!), who had worked with Piaget in Geneva and envisaged the computer as providing a "learning environment" in which students could explore ideas by controlling the computer through simple programming languages - rather than "being controlled by the computer". He developed the Logo programming language, and a mechanical robot that he called a "turtle"; children could use the computer to control the turtle and develop mathematical ideas by making the turtle move around on the floor, drawing shapes as they went. The mechanical turtle was, to a large extent, replaced by an on-screen turtle shape, as computer technology improved.

A central idea in Papert's work has been that of Microworlds, THese are environments, bounded by certain rules and conditions and furnished with sets of tools, in which children can explore and create, "Turtle graphics" was a basic microworld in Logo in which children could write instructions to move the tutle around (on the floor or on the screen) to draw shapes and patterns, and in doing so developed their concepts of space, geometry and logic, as well as problem-solving strategies and co-operative skills. Papert put considerable emphasis on the social environment and the learning culture that supports this kind of exploration.

The ideas of Logo have been incorporated into a wide range of software for children. Gary Stager, a leading pproponent of microworlds gives links to a number of these in his blog. "Microworlds" the pioneer in adding multi-media capabilities to the Logo language, is available commercially. There is a great deal of activity taking place now using Scratch, created by the MIT Media Lab and available for free. Scratch is a programming language that makes it easy to create interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art -- and share these creations on the web. The software harnesses much of the same enthusiasm that drives many young people's fascination with computer games, and the same of global learning culture that surrounds popular interactive games.

Papert described his work in the seminal book "Mindstorms: Children, computers and powerful ideas" (1980) and the later "The children's machine: Rethinking school in the age of the computer"(1993), as well as many articles and academic papers. Both of these books are highly readable and fascinating for the insights that they give into children's learning and use of computers.