Computer Science, Critical Thinking, Education, Fun Friday, Games, K-12, Problem Solving, Teaching Tools

Tried and True – Robot Turtles

On this blog, I tend to post about a lot of ideas that I find, and some readers don’t always get a chance to know if I ever tried them – or if they were complete flops.  This week, I want to feature a few past ideas that I did try and that were successful – and that I definitely want to do again.


For this week’s Phun Phriday post, I want to revisit a game that I’ve already mentioned a couple of times on this blog – Robot Turtles.  Robot Turtles was another Kickstarter project that I backed, but the product is now available through ThinkFun, Amazon, and Target.  I used it during Hour of Code last year with my younger students to introduce the whole concept of programming.  After that, my 1st graders loved having it in a center during the year.  When my Kindergartners started class in the spring, they also got to try it.  They thoroughly enjoyed it as well.

The great thing about Robot Turtles is that it can be used for various levels of play, and there is a lot of room for imagination and creativity.  Older students and families find it fun to play, too.  If you have some room in your budget for an educational classroom game that is a great value, then I highly recommend Robot Turtles.

UPDATE 12/9/14: Check out this great top ten list based on research done with Robot Turtles!

Computer Science, Critical Thinking, Education, Fun Friday, Games, K-5, Parenting, Problem Solving, Teaching Tools

The Return of Robot Turtles

Pre-order now from ThinkFun!
Pre-order now from ThinkFun!

This is going to be the Phunnest Phriday ever because I get to share some awesome news with you!  If you recall (though I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you don’t recall), I posted about a game called “Robot Turtles” last December during my Gifts for the Gifted Series.  I debated whether or not to write that post because I had obtained my own “Robot Turtles” game through Kickstarter, and didn’t know when (or if ) it would ever become available to the general public.

I am happy to announce that “Robot Turtles” is now available for pre-order at the great price of $24.99, and it’s being produced by one of my favorite sources of learning toys, ThinkFun!

“Robot Turtles” is a game that was designed by Dan Shapiro to teach children the basics of programming skills.  I have used it with students as young as six years old, and they love it.  You can read my detailed description of the game here.

The new version has a few modifications that will make the product even better, including improved durability and instructions.  In addition, the first 5,000 pre-orders of the game (which will start shipping this June, 2014), will get a “Special Edition Expansion Pack.”  This pack will include: more focus on the “Function Frog”,  32 fancy Gemstones, and 10 Adventure Quests.  I am particularly excited about the Adventure Quests, as these will offer some new ideas for setting up the board, and are bound to motivate the players to think of even more quests to add to their collection!

If you are a teacher, you might want to consider purchasing this game for your classroom.  Once I taught my 1st graders how to play, they quickly took over, and it can be used as a center for hours of fun.  In addition, a group of my 4th graders picked it up on their own to play during indoor recess the other day, and were very disappointed when their time ended!

Families will enjoy this too, and it will make a great, unique birthday gift for children in elementary school.

Whether or not Computer Science, including Programming, should be a part of school curriculum is a hot topic of debate in the world of education these days.(Great Britain has already decided to include it.)  But one thing you can never debate is the value of children learning and problem solving while they are having fun.

Computer Science, Education, Games, K-5, Parenting, Teaching Tools

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!)