Coming to a classroom near you ... Turtles in the toy cupboard

18th October 2013 at 01:00
A board game to teach coding basics

The last place you'd expect to find someone attempting to divert a child's attention from a computer screen is Google. Yet the internet giant's chief executive is currently touting his new board game on crowd- funding website kickstarter.com.

All, of course, is not as it seems. Dan Shapiro has indeed created a board game but it is one that "sneakily teaches programming fundamentals" to children aged 3 to 8.

Robot Turtles involves each player using command cards to move a turtle through a maze. Wrong moves are solved by shouting "undo", and the idea is to reach a gem on the board.

The command cards are laid side by side on the table and begin to look like a series of elements from the basic programming language Logo.

Shapiro explains in his Kickstarter pitch that these coding fundamentals are the "single greatest superpower" he can give children. With his game, he says, children can learn programming basics "without needing a computer. They don't even need to be able to read."

The online community has firmly got behind the idea. At the time of writing, it had 13,765 backers who had put up $631,230 (pound;396,000) towards bringing the game to market, smashing Shapiro's target of $25,000.

Its popularity with parents - many of whom have testified on Kickstarter as to its effectiveness - no doubt has something to do with it, but Shapiro lists several educational benefits that may interest schools as well.

He says that the game teaches children about experiential learning: "Every instruction they issue is executed immediately. They quickly discover that they can learn by trying things out."

He also claims it helps children to express complex concepts in an uncomplicated way. "Programming is about expressing complicated ideas with just a few simple building blocks," he says. "Playing Robot Turtles is a process of learning to use a new, simple language to express complicated thoughts."

A tool that teaches children coding in a simple and fun way is very appealing, so Robot Turtles could be a useful addition to a classroom's toy cupboard.

Or it would be if Shapiro had a different sales strategy. At present, availability is limited to the kickstarter.com website. Whether this changes will depend on demand but, for now, in terms of getting into schools, the Robot Turtles may stay true to the form of their real-life counterparts and make steady, but slow, progress.

For more information, visit bit.lyRobotTurtles

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