Robot Turtles

For today’s Gifts for the Gifted post, I wanted to keep with the Hour of Code theme for this week.  Unfortunately, this particular product may or not be available for purchase in the near future.  If you are interested in obtaining it, I recommend visiting the website to let the company know.

Because I have a different grade level each day, my Gifted and Talented students and I have been participating in the Hour of Code since Monday.  My 1st grade students are brand new to programming, (I just started meeting with them in November) so I haven’t had the chance to introduce the idea of programming to them before this week.  I decided I was going to do one of the “unplugged” activities with them to get them started.

I’m not always the best planner, but sometimes things just seem to come together nicely (although there are many times when they fall apart!). I had seen the Robot Turtles board game on Kickstarter, and backed it before the September 27th deadline.  I’m used to waiting many months for Kickstarter products to arrive in my mailbox, so it was a great surprise to receive this one the weekend before the Hour of Code.  Perfect timing!

Last week, I had introduced my 1st graders to the Rules icon from Depth and Complexity.  This dovetailed so well with talking about programming, you would almost think I had the great foresight to plan it that way…

On Tuesday, we reviewed the concept of Rules, and then I gathered my group of 11 around 2 tables pushed together to play Robot Turtles, a board game which will probably remind some of you of “Logo.”

image from Robot Turtles Kickstarter campaign
image from Robot Turtles Kickstarter campaign (now ended)

I divided the students into four (slightly uneven) teams.  Every team gets a turtle marker and a set of programming cards.  The turtles start at the corner of the board.  The goal is to get your turtle to land on one of the 4 jewels which are placed in the middle of the board. You do not have to be the first to get a jewel.  Everyone who gets to a jewel “wins.”

When it’s your turtle’s turn, you need to choose one of the programming cards (forward, turn left, or turn right) to direct the turtle, and place it on the table.  You are not allowed to move your turtle.  Only the Turtle Mover (me, in this case) can move it.  If a player realizes that the move was a mistake, a bug card may be played to reverse a move.

We played as recommended – with no obstacles on the board.  It was the perfect way to start for the kids, who had never been exposed to programming at all.

After the first round, we added some ice cards to the board that they had to navigate around.  After they mastered that, they earned some laser cards in order to melt the ice and be able to walk over it.  You can continue to make the game more difficult with stone walls and movable crates.

It was interesting to listen to the kids discuss moves with their teams. A few them started “claiming” certain color jewels they wanted to obtain. When two groups were competing for the same color, a couple of the kids were able to think ahead – realizing that one team had one lower minimum of moves than the other.  On the other hand, there were others who optimistically continued to chase their jewel despite the lower chances.  And then there were a couple who were fortunate to have team members to consult because they had difficulty visualizing which turn cards to use.

The game was exactly what my students needed to learn the basics of programming.  It was the perfect lead-in to today’s activity, which will be getting them started on Kodable.

If you are interested in using Robot Turtles, I highly recommend you visit the website.  If there are no games currently available, you can submit your e-mail to be notified when more stock comes in.  To give you an idea of the demand for this game, the request of $25,000 for the Kickstarter project was exceeded by the deadline; $631,230 was pledged!  Hopefully, we can get more of these into circulation 🙂

(For more “Gifts for the Gifted” ideas, take a look at my Pinterest Board!)

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