Turtle Graphics aka Logo

This half term I’ve been using Logo with Y5 and Parkstone and whilst evaluating how it fits the new Programme of Study- very well as it happens- I reflected on the fact that whilst the terminology of debug, rules and algorithms is new to primary schools, the processes, skills and challenges aren’t.

I was using J2Logo and apart from it being online, the looks, feel and commands are similar/the same to the Logo I was using on a BBC Micro way back in the mid-80s at Wheeler Junior High and every version since, including MSWLogo, freely available and on many a school network, though probably much under-used. Logo was created by Seymour Papert and others in 1967 as a tool to help pupils learn and to enhance creativity and its longevity is a testament to how they got it right back then. We call it Logo but we generally only deal with the Turtle Graphics part of a wider programming language, which, for primary pupils offers quite enough scope for pupils of all abilities.

Someone asked me recently why bother with Logo when there are things such as Scratch, J2Visual and apps like Hopscotch which offer a more visual environment. It’s an interesting question and I could see some abandoning (or avoiding it if you’ve never started) Turtle Graphics in favour of a more graphical software approach. It made me ponder my use of Turtle Graphics and whether I should deliver the unit using more visuaI software mentioned above. However, after due deliberation I’ve come to the conclusion that I won’t be throwing Turtle Graphics out of my personal software armoury.

Firstly, the simplicity of the software is its strength. It does what it says on the tin with no distractions with different turtles and backgrounds. It offers success for all pupils at different levels. Every pupil could draw a square. All could do this using direct commands in the style of Beebot. Everyone also managed to do this with a series of instructions and the majority were able to use a repeat command. Same square, different solutions and therefore capabilities.

As Turtle Graphics is pretty much all about drawing shapes, the links to maths are very strong, but as one uses the software more, links to the new program of study are equally in force. The KS2 extract is here

  • design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts
  • use sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; work with variables and various forms of input and output
  • use logical reasoning to explain how some simple algorithms work and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs

Using Turtle Graphics addresses each of these bullet points depending on the task, but in addition, there are other benefits such as perseverance, problem solving and working cooperatively and, it has to be said, there’s an inherent satisfaction with drawing shapes that are pleasing to the eye. I thought it was because I had a Spirograph when I was young, but the children enjoyed it too and the mantra from me was the patterns will look good ‘ if the maths is right’. There are also strong links to be made to Celtic and Islamic art patterns too.

I did find opportunities to address the Pos crop up at random moments too. For example, I’d shown the children how to draw lines in different colours and thicknesses for aesthetics and one pupils complained that it hadn’t drawn the thick blue lines. Her code was

repeat 6 [ fd 60 rt 60]



One small group discussion later and we had the answer.. or we’d debugged it so use the PoS parlance. Can you spot the error? I think this approach will be one that I will use more in the future. Providing pupils with some broken code and asking them to fix it or alter it for a different outcome.

The first few lessons focussed on drawing regular shapes and repeating them to draw pleasing (but mathematically correct) patterns. However, Turtle Graphics doesn’t stop there. You can define a procedure for pretty much anything and then use these within each other to design an fairly complicated program. One approach I use is the ‘curve, petal, flower’ approach. First, create a procedure to draw a curve.

TO curve

REPEAT x [fd x rt z]


Replace x, y and z with numbers, I’m not letting you off that lightly!

Then create a procedure for a petal

TO petal

REPEAT x [curve rt y]


Then it’s just a matter of repeating the petals x number of times

repeat 12 [petal rt x]

So, aspects of the PoS covered and an attractive flower too.

However, we needn’t confine ourselves to regular polygons and repeating them. If you follow this link to a file created in J2Logo, you’ll be able to see procedures in action. I’d like to say it was all my own work, but I copied it from Geoff at J2E. I mentioned earlier that I’m likely to provide code and ask pupils to fix or alter it and embryonic ideas for this would be to see if they… or you, can alter the code to: make the roof green, draw a bigger house, draw 4 houses, draw the doors in blue, etc.

I sense one issue for teachers here is in knowing just who has done what. I freely admitted that I copied this code, but what if a child turns up and displays some work as their own, having merely copied and pasted? Well, this happened when one pupil showed me some delightful patterns in his work area in J2Launch. However, it was crystal clear that this work was head and shoulders above anything he’d produced in class, so we picked one example, looked at the code and I asked him to explain to me how it worked. I think you can guess the rest. Code, whether it’s Scratch, Logo, Java, etc is freely out there on the web. We can’t stop pupils from searching and finding it, but we have the strategies to find out whether the work is theirs, partly theirs which they’ve amended and understood what they’ve done or just a ‘copy and paste’ job.

So, despite the recent arrivals of Scratch and similar apps, I still feel Turtle Graphics has an awful lot to offer primary pupils to address new computing curriculum and provide success for all pupils at its simplest and challenge the most able in Y6. If you fancy some Logo challenges, try the ones in my planning and remember, sometimes the things that look easy are trickier than they might first appear. Drawing these simple designs in Logo is a case in point.

From the KS2 Pos: ‘solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts’.

Some examples of the work done by Y5 can be found at this link and as an extra challenge for the pupils, I parked up a few designs of my own and asked them to see if they could work out how I’ d drawn them and create something similar. If you’re interested, my planning can be downloaded from the link.  Logo Planning and for further inspiration, look here. 


As well as my planning, I also use  my Parkstone blog in much the same way as teachers use IWB software. ( Why not just use IWB software then? Because I’m only part time and can do this at home and not have to be on-site and pupils can refer back to it if needed.) I taken to calling it my adaptive planning, as things just never seem to work out just how I thought. So, bearing in mind that this is talked to in class, amended on the fly and suits me, please take a peek and feel free to adapt.  All I would advise is that you consider if and when you show this to the pupils as there are some solutions to some of the challenges on the blog. These were added as an when appropriate and whilst you might want to provide pupils with some support, maybe not the answers!


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3 Responses to Turtle Graphics aka Logo

  1. Geoff Titmuss says:

    Very nice Paul. And thank you for the mention. However I must say the three houses are based on code from Tim Scratchard, I just coloured them in!

  2. Paul Wright says:

    And continuing the theme of why logo is so useful and coding/programming is not a ‘new’, this 30 year old video is available on YouTube.

  3. Paul Wright says:

    I found this extract from Cardiffschoools.net and I think it provides more evidence as to why we ought not to abandon Logo just yet.

    “LOGO is a computer programming language that can be used to create many pictures patterns and effects. Through using LOGO the children will learn the importance of a ‘computer language’ that uses set vocabulary. They will acquire knowledge to enable them to program the onscreen turtle to draw more complex pictures and patterns. They will see the relationship between the floor and screen turtle and may be given opportunities to use the floor turtle to recreate what they are creating on the screen.

    The majority of children today regularly play computer games; these are created using computer language. It is important for the children to be aware of how a computer language works. They should begin to see the relationship between the language and actions of the turtle, i.e. how they are controlling what the turtle is doing. Many children enjoy learning about LOGO and are able, once they have acquired the basic knowledge, to create complex and fun programs i.e. spinning shapes.

    LOGO is based on mathematical knowledge of Shape, Space and Length. Using LOGO is an excellent and fun way for pupils to consolidate and apply their knowledge learned in these areas. Many LOGO programs available provide ready-made backgrounds that are an excellent way of applying LOGO knowledge in a variety of cross-curricular contexts”.

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