ToonTalk is a completely new kind of software -- both a state-of-the-art programming language and a video game. Children create programs by performing actions in an animated world.
Computer programming can be a creative, empowering, and rewarding activity. Programs can be constructed for an incredible variety of purposes -- games, music, math, animation, simulation, science, language, robotics, education. The process of building programs entails a rich set of problem-solving skills involving analysis and design. And computer programming is a worthy subject to learn on its own merits.
But programming can be hard -- hard to learn and hard to do. Programmers usually have to learn a formal textual programming language full of difficult abstract concepts like variables, procedures, flow of control, data structures, modularity, and recursion. Some children do learn languages like Logo or Basic, especially when taught by a gifted and dedicated teacher, but most find it frustrating and boring.
ToonTalk is different. It is not only easy to learn, but fun too. It borrows heavily from video games -- appealing graphics and animation, a virtual world to explore, animated characters to interact with and get help from. Children can learn ToonTalk by playing the tutorial game, by viewing demos and tours, or by exploring with or without the help of a Martian animated coach and guide.
But ToonTalk isn't just a video game for teaching programming -- the very act of building, running, and debugging programs is like playing an adventure game. In ToonTalk, it is not only fun to play with the resulting creation, it is fun to build it.
The protean nature of the computer is such that it can act like a machine or like a language to be shaped and exploited. It is a medium that can dynamically simulate the details of any other medium, including media that cannot exist physically. It is not a tool, although it can act like many tools. It is the first metamedium, and as such it has degrees of freedom for representation and expression never before encountered and as yet barely investigated. Even more important, it is fun, and therefore intrinsically worth doing.
... Computers are to computing as instruments are to music. Software is the score, whose interpretation amplifies our reach and lifts our spirit. Leonardo da Vinci called music ``the shaping of the invisible,'' and his phrase is even more apt as a description of software.
-Alan Kay, ``Computer Software'', Scientific American, September 1984
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