Cynthia Solomon: A Pioneer of Computer Science Education

Dr. Cynthia Solomon, as a computer scientist and an educator, has helped millions of children discover a love of computer science, and her contributions to education will continue to have an impact on future generations. Her work to make programming concepts accessible to children has furthered the field of educational technology through her research, writing, programming, teaching, consulting, and speaking.

Early in her career, Solomon discovered a passion for introducing children to computer science through activities and metaphors. She collaborated with Seymour Papert and Wally Feurzeig to develop the Logo programming language, which was the first programming language designed specifically for children. As a visual programming language, Logo enables learners to explore procedural thinking through graphical representations, most famously represented as a turtle drawing a line. Logo has been a fundamental predecessor to modern visual programming languages such as Scratch, which has helped over 40 million children explore and understand programming concepts. Logo’s turtle robots have also inspired a whole new generation of procedural programming apps and robots.

Solomon holds a bachelor’s in history from Radcliffe College, a master’s in computer science from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in education from Harvard University. Her first book, Computer Environments for Children, published in 1988, is a prominent piece of early literate on computers in education. Throughout her career, Solomon collaborated closely with Seymour Papert, Marvin Minsky, Margaret Minsky, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Artificial Intelligence Lab. While working for MIT, Solomon led the Atari Cambridge Research Laboratory as they designed a “PlayStation of the future” (Infosys Foundation, 2017, para. 13). Solomon’s impact on educational technology continues through speaking engagements and events, such as the inaugural lecture at CrossRoads 2018, as well as through her involvement in the Constructing Modern Knowledge institute and the One Laptop per Child Foundation.

Solomon believes in “transmitting theory into practice” (Solomon, 1988, p. 1). In her career, she not only authored several books and papers while working at eminent research institutes, but she also worked hands-on with students in elementary and secondary schools to teach programming concepts. In an interview about her work with Seymour Papert (Stanford University, 2013), Solomon reminisces about riding unicycles, juggling, and balancing on Bongo Boards. Papert and Solomon sought to spark children’s imagination and understanding by finding procedural activities to help them understand computer science concepts like debugging.

As a newly-minted computer science teacher, I was fascinated to learn about Solomon’s impact on educational technology. I share in her belief that learning complex programming concepts can be a fun, hands-on, and active experience. As I design lessons and learning activities for my classes, Solomon’s passion for teaching computer science inspires me to continuously look for new ways to involve and engage my students.

Interesting Links

References

Infosys Foundation (2017, December 6). Q & A with Dr. Cynthia Solomon [Blog post]. Retrieved September 13, 2019, from http://www.infosys.org/infosys-foundation-usa/media/blog/Pages/cynthia-solomon-qna.aspx

Solomon, C. (1988). Computer environments for children: A reflection on theories of learning and education. MIT press.

Stanford University (2013, June 27). Cynthia Solomon on Seymour Papert [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14gcdiU7-lM

Attribution

Photo by stem.T4L on Unsplash

4 thoughts on “Cynthia Solomon: A Pioneer of Computer Science Education

  1. Thank you Sandra for sharing your interesting findings. I am happy you found a role model to learn from in your career. I always thought of programming as a complicated thing to learn and understand! It is fascinating that she is trying to simplify it and customize it for kids in a fun way! This is really inspiring 🙂

  2. Hi Sandra, great post. I just tried out the Logo interpreter (and the HTML 5 version) and that’s an interesting instructional programming approach. I taught programming at BCIT for years, and I wished I’d found this earlier, it’s interesting.

  3. Sandra, You post was very interesting. 🙂 When I was a young child, I remember thinking that computer science was very difficult. What I have learned over the years is that any new concepts that are taught, can be easily learned when applied with existing knowledge. Transmitting theory into practice as a method of teaching holds true at any age. Find something interesting that keeps students engaged and they will learn without actually realizing it is happening.

  4. The turtle robots are so interesting! I don’t recall ever seeing these but can imagine they would be neat to build and to learn from. Your students will benefit from your desire to provide hands-on experiences, hope you are enjoying your new role:)

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