I had a few LOLs and AHA moments whilst reading this article.The scratch program in conjunction with Barry Newell's Turtle Confusion booklet does provide us with the opportunity to teach the concept of state and how to build complex structures from simpler structures.
State is an important fundamental concept that has come into being as a "fundamental" following the invention of the computer, which Alan Turing ran in his head before it came into being as a physical thing. Which goes to show that the fundamentals change.
One possible reason why kids building things declined in popularity:
The golden age of construction-sets came to its end in the 1960's. Most newer sets have changed to using gross, shabby, plastic parts, too bulky to make fine machinery. Meccano went out of business. That made me very sad. You can still buy Erector, but insist on the metal versions. Today the most popular construction set seems to be LEGO -- a set of little plastic bricks that snap together. ... It is probably easier for children, at first, but it spans a less interesting universe, and doesn't quite give that sense of being able to build "anything." Another new construction toy is FischerTechnik, which has good strong parts and fasteners. It is so well made that engineers can use it. But because it has so many different kinds of parts, it doesn't quite give you that LOGO-like sense of being able to build your own imaginary world.How not to explain to a Martian how things work:
About the time that building-toys went out of style, so did many other things that clever kids could do. Cars got too hard to take apart -- and radios, impossible. No one learned to build much any more, except to snap-together useless plastic toys. And no one seemed to notice this, since sports and drugs and television-crime came just in time. Perhaps computers can help bring us back.
A Martian szneech once mindlinked me; it wanted to know what literature was. I told it how we make sentences by putting words together, and words by putting letters together, and how we put bigger spaces between words so that you can tell where they start and stop. "Aha," it said, "but what about the letters?" I explained that all you need are little dots since, if you have enough of them, you can make anything.The importance of understanding state:
The next time, it called to ask what tigers were. I explained that tigers were mostly composed of hydrogen and oxygen. "Aha," it said, "I wondered why they burned so bright." The last time it called, it had to know about computers. I told it all about bits and binary decisions. "Aha," it said, "I understand."
When Turing was quite young, he realized that what a computer does only depends on the States of its parts -- and on the laws that change their states. Except for that, it doesn't matter how the parts are made. Then Turing asked what programs are -- and realized that you could think of programs as just sets of states -- or rather, ways to pre-arrange how a computer will, later, change its StatesComputer programs are societies and algorithmic processes work independently of what materials they are composed of:
This must be the secret of those magical experiences I had, first with those construction sets and, later, with languages like LOGO. There's something "universal" about the ways that big things don't depend so much on what's inside their little parts. What matters is more how the parts affect each other – and less about what they are, themselves. That's why it doesn't matter much if money's made of paper or of gold, or houses out of boards or bricks. Similarly, it probably won't matter much if aliens from outer space had golden bones instead of ones of stones, like ours. People are missing something important, who don't appreciate how simple things can grow into entire worlds. They find it hard to understand Science, because they find it hard to see how all the different things we know could be made of just a few kinds of atoms. They find it hard to understand Evolution because they find it hard to see how different things like birds and bees and bears could come from boring, lifeless chemicals -- by testing trillions of procedures. The trick, of course, is doing it by many steps, each using procedures which have been debugged already, in the same way, but on smaller scales