Board Games for Young Coders: Bits&Bites and Robot Turtles

Bits and Bytes and Robot Turtles GamesI recently purchased two board and card games, Bits and Bytes and Robot Turtles, to teach programming to children. I have now tested them in the classroom and at home with my 10 and 13-year-old kids. The family test group was a bit overaged and overqualified;  The teenager, an avid coder and a former Lego man, found these games far too easy. The 10-year-old beginner of programming seemed to enjoy playing and quickly understood the instructions of the games.

Out of all the groups I’ve played these games with, the primary school-aged kids from Grades 1 to 3 have most appreciated them.  They’ve grasped the rules of the game quickly and learned some basic concepts of coding such as algorithm, program and sequence along the play.

Robot Turtles is suitable for young players starting from age four. The aim is to guide your turtle home avoiding obstacles on the way. The basic gameplay is simple and it’s easy to add levels, introduce obstacles and functions, into the game. This game is very logical and instructions are clear. The format is pleasant with a nicely illustrated board and colorful play cards.

In Bits&Bytes your goal is to get your player, Bit, Byte, Data or Perl,  to the safe haven without being caught by the bugs or the CPU. Your player might also be hindered by the walls and therefore obliged to find an alternative route home. You have two options for the gameplay; in the basic game, you guide your player through the grid by issuing commands with the instruction cards. Advanced rules introduce functions and teach children conditional statements and loops. I had difficulties to understand what to do in Bits&Bytes first but eventually got it after being reminded of overthinking. This game does not have a board, but the cards should be distributed on the table or floor in a grid format.

Both games are definitely a great addition to a coding class in the pre and primary school when practicing sequences and basic algorithms.

Where is Your Safe Haven? Let us Talk About Earth Overshoot Day

Where do you go when the summers in the city get boiling hot or when you feel exhausted? Do you have a hiding place where you can escape when the sun burns and our natural world disappears before your eyes? A cozy, happy corner where you are at your most comfortable. You are free, serene and burden free.

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Samantha Cristoforetti, an Italian European Space Agency astronaut, Italian Air Force pilot and engineer, also a first person who brewed espresso in space, spent 199 days at the International Space Station from November 2014 to June 2015. During the stay, she and other members of the crew performed numerous scientific experiments and maintained their spaceship, the one and only that kept them alive.

Up in space at the ISS with a small well-prepared crew or on planet earth with 7.6 billion fellow humans, our responsibilities stay the same. We have to care for each other; live in peace. Also, take care of our vessel, planet earth, because that’s all we have.

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Did you know that August 1st, 2018 was the Earth Overshoot Day? It was the date when we (all of humanity) had used more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year? If the whole world consumed like the French, for example, we would need 2.9 piles of earth to produce enough for our needs. This is way more than the planetary mean during past few years, 1.7 Earths.

The healthy and pollution free edges of the world are getting scarce, and the humanity is consuming more than nature can give. The current trend shouldn’t be our destiny! Even if our planet is finite, human possibilities are not, states Global Footprint Network, an international think tank that advances the science of sustainability and hosts and determines the date of Earth Overshoot Day.

Global Footprint Network has identified four main areas that characterize our long-term future most forcefully: cities, energy, food and population. All of them are shaped by our individual and collective choices. For instance, I can replace car miles by public transportation, by biking or walking. If everyone around the world reduced driving by 50%, Earth Overshoot Day would move back 12 days.

Educating children is the best investment for the wellbeing of our planet.  If you are a parent or an educator, have a look at the classroom recourses provided on the World Overshoot Day website: propose your students measure their own Ecological Footprint and ask them to think about ways of reducing it. Or why not to create a sandwich with tasty leftovers.

How Wonderful, It Rains! – It’s Time to Focus on Work

Start of the academic year is like an annual new beginning; children transition to a new grade and we adults have a chance to start something fresh and exciting: a hobby, a degree or a different manner of working. The rainy days of August are just perfect for plunging into the planning of the new season; I’m exhilarated to tackle the latest coding tasks and teaching assignments starting in September. I hope you are too!

This fall is about teaching and learning about computational thinking without screens; demonstrating unplugged coding activities to transfer the skills and concepts of computer science to the pre and primary school students. Luckily, plenty of printed and online resources offer suitable, age-appropriate activities for young children as well as tools for parents and educators alike.

helloruby-640_medium1-e1534255570236.jpgMy personal favorite for the unplugged classroom activities is Hello Ruby, the world’s most whimsical way to learn about technology, computing, and coding, as described on Hello Ruby’s website. Originally a book, created by Linda Liukas, now a series of them translated in more than 20 languages, aims to create, promote and evaluate exceptional educational content on computational thinking for 4 -to 10-year-olds. Playful activities can be downloaded from the website and complement Ruby’s adventures in coding, her journey inside the computer and expedition to the Internet. Hello Ruby also provides classroom resources for educators.

Code.org – Hour of Code supplies language independent unplugged activities for all grade levels from pre-readers onwards. Any educator is encouraged to teach the fundamentals of computer science, whether they have computers in the classroom or not. These lessons may be used as a stand-alone course or as complementary lessons for any computer science course.

Pre and primary school teachers are well-equipped to use the above mentioned age-appropriate exercises and innovate more because they regularly use hands-on manipulatives, games, songs and stories in teaching content to their students. These very activities can be useful in engaging young children in developing computational thinking skills such as algorithmic thinking, decomposition, abstraction or pattern recognition. Asking children to work with partners or in groups develops behaviors for working with others and dealing with frustration. Nurturing communication, cooperation, and empathy are maybe even more important skills than learning to code at an early age.