| Learning and Computing | Education | Computing | Psychology | Artificial Intelligence |

A Progress Report for
The Headstart - Apple Logo Project

Mary Hopper and Robert W. Lawler

Mary Hopper with a child at Headstart


The goal of the Headstart Apple Logo Project is to explore novel ideas about the potential impact of computer experience with language based microworlds on pre-readers. An initial pilot study demonstrated the feasibility of implementing microcomputer technology in preschool settings, and the potential of Word Worlds to be a refreshingly motivating and effective method for introducing young children to reading. Further investigations are now being carried out to gain further insight into how the success with Word Worlds is best achieved, and to explore to what degree products can be developed to achieve the same effects using software and hardware technology currently available on the market.

Word Worlds

Word Worlds are computer-based learning environments, or microworlds, for inductive learning of language. Word Worlds encompass objects and processes that children can get to know and understand using the power of typed words. Word Worlds do not focus on " problems " to be done, but on "neat phenomena" that are inherently interesting to observe and interact with. Children learn from such experience because they are personally engaged in tasks which will make the specific knowledge worth learning as an aid in achieving some of their personal objectives.

The educational value of a Word World is in building the simplest model of language which a reader needs as an acceptable entry point to beginning knowledge of reading. Word Worlds are designed for children, little kids who are no longer infants. Whether they go to school or not, they are prereaders. They may not recognize all the letters of the alphabet and probably cannot specify the letter's names or phonemes which they typically represent. They can take turns with considerable sensitivity and are quite able to use speech to specify for others what they want them to do for them (see Logo and Videodisk Applications, Lawler & Papert, 1985).

The Pilot Study

This pilot study set out with two basic goals. The first goal was to explore the feasibility of implementing microcomputer technology in preschool settings. The second goal was to determine if Word Worlds had the potential to be a motivating and effective method for introducing young children to reading.

This study was carried out for a period totaling six months. There were three classrooms involved in the project, with from 12 to 15 children and two teachers in each room. However, due to limiting circumstances, only one classes data was sufficiently complete to be reported in this summary.

The Headstart Teacher helping some children

Pretest Results

The main experimental materials used during the pretest were the ABC Sprite Logo program, the Beach Sprite Logo program, 3 X 5 flash cards with printed capital letters , 3 X 5 cards with the Beach words and 3 X 5 flash cards with a few common words. Typically, researchers asked the children if they recognized specific letters (such as the first one of their names) or words on a card, and then had the child type what was on the card and observe the computer screen. In addition, the Karpova Word Counting Task and interview were used to evaluate the children's conceptual knowledge of words.

Of the 15 children who were in the experimental class for the duration of the study, 6 children knew no letters and no words at first. Another 8 children knew less than 12 letters and no words. Among these 8 children, the letters which were recognized on sight tended to be the letters in the child's name or one of their family member's names. When the children were asked if they recognized "stop" or "mom", the answer was commonly "no". Only one child did know 24 letters and recognized the word MOM. No one recognized any of the words from the BEACH microworld.

Thus, the preliminary finding is that in this population most children do not recognize individual letters of the alphabet. Some recognize letters as a kind of thing and refer to any letter or number as "ABC". A few children can identify letters or numbers, but do not discriminate between or exhibit a sense of sequence or purpose to them. Most of the children know no words at all. The Karpova task is definitely beyond the reach of these children. They apparently have no explicit notion whatsoever of what "words" are, and what is meant by the term when it is used.

Post Test Results

Children showed definite growth in letter and word knowledge. Five students knew all of their letters and three or more words, which they could both identify on three by five cards and type into the computer in order to control it in some desired fashion. Nine (9) students recognized from 1 to 6 letters, while also demonstrating some knowledge of how to use from one to three of a group of words which were used frequently in the Word Worlds (UP, ZOOM, FLY, DOWN, GO, WALK, CAR, TRUCK, RED). Only one student did not demonstrate evidence of either letter or word knowledge. However, over the course of the project, this child showed tremendous growth in fine motor control of the keyboard and attribute matching of letters on cards to letters on the keyboard.

Room1 / Morning Session / Fall 89 - Spring 90

Sign Posts to New Directions from the Pilot Study:

Word and Letter Knowledge

A conservative interpretation of the pilot study results show definite evidence of growth due to use of Word Worlds, yet researchers involved in the project did not believe these results accurately reflected the degree of actual positive outcomes achieved on one hand, while they also reflected evidence of lower outcomes than might have been expected on the other.

One hypothesis about why the level of expected outcomes did not occur is that an overemphasis on instruction in letters as prerequisite to word knowledge contributed as a limiting factor. There was no way to tell from the data whether greater word knowledge and letter knowledge was due to prerequisite knowledge of letters or whether the children who knew their letters constructed their knowledge as a consequence of their experience with the words. For this reason, detailed video taped sessions of the complete introductory and practice process are now being gathered to determine the answer to this question.

Sign Posts to New Directions from the Pilot Study:

Structure of Implementation

Limiting circumstances which occurred during the pilot study did provide important information about the relative merits and disadvantages associated with the different approaches used for implementing and studying technology and instructional software in pre-school classroom environments.

In one room, the Word Worlds were implemented in a structured fashion, with a research assistant present at all times who provided the children with one on one instruction on a regular basis. All data collection for this room also took place in a structured setting. Evidence of growth was present in the data from this room, but the overall approach did not appear productive. One of the limiting factors in this room's results may have been an overemphasis on letter instruction over word experience on a day to day basis, and little opportunity for social interaction between children during learning.

In a second classroom, an unstructured instructional setting was implemented by the teachers themselves, with only periodic research assistant support after the initial introduction of the worlds. This also was not a productive approach, due to teacher inhibition about their own computer use in the absence of the research assistant, and reluctance to let the children play with the computer without direct adult guidance at all times. This occurred even though the teachers would often let the children do many other equally challenging activities independently.

Experiences in both of these classrooms demonstrated that, if computers are to become integrated components of the classroom environment, extensive in-service training and flexible support for teachers must be an intricate part of implementation. These programs should be structured around not only helping the teachers become more confident in their own computer use, but also helping them to become comfortable with a much more relaxed approach to their student's independent and frequent use of the technology available in the classroom, once initial introductions to materials are complete.

The most powerful support for this argument can be found by examining the success of the approach used in the third room at Headstart. In this room, a relatively unstructured and relaxed independent learning environment was created, where the children could use their imagination and curiosity to freely explore the Word Worlds with a brief period of adult supervision at first, then relatively independent use alone and with peers later on. This approach occurred because the research assistant support and involvement in this room was flexible. While the research assistant was available much of the time, the teachers were also encouraged to experiment and implement the worlds in the research assistant's absence, which the teachers did successfully by modeling the relaxed approach to letting the children use the technology with only minimal adult supervision and intervention.

In order to gain broader success in all rooms, this year we have implemented more extensive workshop and training activities for the teachers at Headstart. We now provide an initial in service workshop with the following agenda:

Let's Talk Computers

1. Staff fears

2. How to set up the computers

3. Getting reacquainted. How to enter and exit.

4. How to work with children. What to do.

5. New ideas and Programs

A second training session is designed to introduce the teachers to how to begin to make simple microworlds of their own. This session covers the topic of drawing backgrounds and objects with different colors. A third training session covers the formation and control of sprite objects. The initial reactions to the expanded training opportunities have been positive. We are also providing a low level of research assistant present in all rooms, where assistants are trained to model a relaxed and unobtrusive approach to allowing the children to work alone and in groups.

Sign Posts to New Directions from the Pilot Study:

Data Collection

In the third room, there was also a more effectively structured situation used for data collection. More positive evaluation results during the posttest situation where obtained on video tape for this room because the data collection was done within the same classroom where instruction took place. During data collection efforts with the other two rooms, strong evidence was collected to support that while video tapes recorded in structured and artificial situations yield videos of higher technical quality, which can be easily viewed and understood after the fact, the much more optimal performance of the children is captured in the loosely structured and chaotic environment of the classroom. While some of the quality of the video tapes made in the actual classroom situation of the third room often had to be sacrificed, the quality of the information that remained was more valuable.

It is because of this that the results from the third room during the pilot study were both more complete and interesting, and the children from the third room are the focus of this summary of results, even though the technical quality of the video records was fairly poor. At the present time, one room has been selected to be the focus of detailed data collection with a video camera . In this room it has been possible to set up the camera in an unobtrusive, yet effective position to collect all interactions made at the computers in that room. Most of the data collected in this situation will prove to be very valuable in the analysis and explanation of how letter and word knowledge develop during interactions over the course of months.

In addition to collecting data with video camera, information is now recorded using a simple protocol. The protocol was developed based on experiences in the pilot study, and provides a way to quickly and efficiently record the nature, quality and range of a series of interactions which are likely to take place during the structured situations of the pretest and posttest.

Future Development of Word Worlds:

Apple IIe Computers and Spite Logo

Our selection of hardware and software for this project has been the Apple Sprite hardware/software system. The low cost, color and graphics in this system make it is the best one developed so far for young children. Unfortunately, the usefulness of Word Worlds developed in Apple Sprite Logo is limited because the hardware required for this system, sprite boards, is currently obsolete.

At the present time, some more affluent school districts are moving on to newer products, such as Logo/Writer, so that their sprite boards are becoming available in limited quantities at a price within Headstart's reach. This does provide a temporary opportunity for our work at the Headstart project, but further software development for this type of situation does have obvious limits.

Future Development of Word Worlds: Other Systems

We would like further development of Word Worlds to take place in software and hardware environments which have more stable and current availability.

At the present time, this has caused a dilemma for future development because, based on recent endeavors by local developers, we believe there is no system currently available which provides a viable environment for high quality development of microworlds. The deficits of current environments fall into two main categories. The first major category of shortcoming is the lack of a comparable graphics system which allows for the simultaneous and fast manipulation of multiple objects on the screen, as provided by the co- processor on the sprite board in Apple Sprite Logo. The second issue is the lack of independent addressability of objects within the system, to allow multiple objects to respond to the same procedural commands as well as on an individually addressable basis. Again this capability is provided by the sprite board in Apple Sprite Logo. Local developers have attempted to use the following systems for developing Word Worlds, each is followed by brief comments about the major weaknesses found in each system (Note 1997: Considerable time has passed since this study the original limitations encountered with these systems most likely no longer exist.):

Macromind Director This system does not allow for procedures which effect multiple objects, thus making it necessary to provide a separate program for every action for every object. The number of procedures required to thus allow for manipulation of many objects is unacceptably large. In addition, the simulation of simultaneous action is not smooth enough not to be visible.

HyperCard In the most available version of HyperCard, color is not possible, and in addition, while objects can be addressed individually or in unison, the simulation of simultaneous action is very slow and jumpy.

Think Pascal 3.0 Smooth simulation of simultaneous action and color have been achieved in this system, but accessibility and ease of programming and modifying procedures is unacceptably high at this time.

Object Logo While the developers of Object Logo claim that there may be facilities available in the newest version, we have not been able to access enough of the capabilities to made an adequate version of Word Worlds, but experiments are still underway.

Publication notes:

  • Written in 1992. Unpublished.
  • Over a period of several years, Mary Hopper was the organizer and primary agent of the research done with my graduate students at the Lafayette Headstart Center.

    | Learning and Computing | Education | Computing | Psychology | Artificial Intelligence |

    After Thoughts

    Bob with some of his Headstart colleagues