Personal and Ubiquitous Computing

, Volume 8, Issue 5, pp 326–337 | Cite as

From turtles to Tangible Programming Bricks: explorations in physical language design

  • Timothy S. McNerneyEmail author
Original Article


This article provides a historical overview of educational computing research at MIT from the mid-1960s to the present day, focusing on physical interfaces. It discusses some of the results of this research: electronic toys that help children develop advanced modes of thinking through free-form play. In this historical context, the article then describes and discusses the author’s own research into tangible programming, culminating in the development of the Tangible Programming Bricks system—a platform for creating microworlds for children to explore computation and scientific thinking.


Programming languages Microworlds Tangible user interfaces Education Children History of computing Construction toys Hands-on learning 



The author’s research was funded by the MIT Media Lab’s Things That Think consortium and the LEGO Company (which had no editorial influence over this article). Many thanks go to my thesis committee, Fred Martin, Mitchel Resnick, Hiroshi Ishii, and Hal Abelson for their guidance and encouragement; to Bakhtiar Mikhak and Rick Borovoy for their enthusiastic collaboration; and to Bonnie Friedman, Colin Ferguson, and Shari Goldin for their careful editing and help in preparing this article for publication.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ChipWrights, Inc.WalthamUSA

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