Skip down to main content

Learning using concrete virtual analogs of powerful abstracts: Lessons from ToonTalk, Playground, and WebLabs

Date & Time:
17:00:00 - 18:00:00,
Wednesday 9 February, 2005


Many have extolled the benefits of learning by building and exploring computational models. But typically computer programming requires a mastery of complex computational abstractions. The research I’ll be presenting describes a way to replace these abstractions with playful, animated, game-like, virtual objects without sacrificing expressive power. I’ll present via live demos three systems that have explored this idea.

ToonTalk is a general-purpose concurrent programming language that presents program building blocks in terms of familiar objects. A ToonTalk programmer trains robots to manipulate boxes containing numbers, text, pictures, sounds, birds, trucks, robots, and other boxes. Birds are the means that program fragments coordinate and communicate. Trucks are used to spawn new sub-computations.

The Playground project provided tools to children 6 to 8 years old enabling them to make their own computer games. Playground built upon ToonTalk. It provided the children with transparent components and behaviours that could be assembled or broken down into for modification and reassembly.

The WebLabs project is providing children 10 to 14 years old with components and learning materials to explore science by building computational models and mathematics by building ToonTalk programs. Children publish their reports which typically include runnable models or programs on the project website. Other children across Europe read and post public comments on these reports.

Data Dump to delete


  • Name: Dr Ken Kahn
  • Affiliation: Institute of Education, London and Royal Institute of Technology,
  • Role:
  • URL:
  • Bio: