Turtle Blocks After School Club

I was introduced to some people at a charter school in Bridgeport, Connecticut, who were looking for somebody to run an after school Turtle Blocks club. Walter Bender taught a three hour workshop at the school last year, and some kids really connected with the ideas but the school was at a loss how to carry it forward. I was approached by a Rotarian while I was at my Westport gig, and after I made him take my TurtleArt workshop, I talked with him about the school and what they were looking for. Fortunately, I was able to make it happen. This teaching experience has been one of the most rewarding I have had in the past three years. The kids are so proud of their work, the knowledge they are creating, and the designs that they are conjuring from their procedures. I am terrifically proud of them.

For the first class I built each student a notebook in the manner that my friend Joseph Schott taught me, made from discarded paper that is omnipresent in every school. Tearing a stack of paper into three even strips and folding the strips into a booklet shape makes an easy notebook. We wrote our names on them, the URL for Turtle Blocks, and I suggested they write down things they learn as we worked.

The students were shown how to connect blocks, and how a forward and right block can be connected and clicking these blocks to run them will draw a square after four times running the procedure. Other than that, the students were encouraged to explore the software and see what designs they were able to create.

I was very happy to see the notebooks return to our second meeting. Some students worked on procedures at home, which they wrote down so they could re-program them at school! I taught them how to export their work and copy it to their Google Drive, but most still like to hand write the procedure after they finish it.

The designs in the second session became more complex, too as the students better understood the turtle's movement. Everyone declined my invitation (once again) to put themselves in the turtle's shoes to work out complex algorithms.

One student realized that programming the turtle to snap back to a specific x,y coordinate would cause a ray to be drawn from the origin point to wherever he dragged the turtle.

We talked a little about colors as numbers in Logo, and then I showed him the Cartesian plane and how we could tie the color to the current location on the x axis.

Another design choice that emerged during the second session was running a procedure (which the students learned was the fancy name for a stack of blocks that you put together to teach the turtle a new set of moves) over and over again, but in gradually smaller pen sizes and different colors every time you run it.

The third session continued to riff on this idea. 

One student continued to manually plug in smaller brush sizes and different colors. I decided to teach her how to use variables. She named a procedure after herself. The Ariela procedure draws her design. A master procedure makes the turtle calculate and select the smaller pen and different color every time the turtle repeats the Ariela procedure by using variables for the pen size and for the color.

The students and administrator are all psyched about the club. The students continue to work on designs outside of club, too: this students came for the last ten minutes but had asked a teacher to deliver his notebook to club earlier, I suppose thinking he owed me homework.

These students are exploring mathematics in powerful, personal ways that reveal the beauty and creativity often left out of teaching "math."