Robot Turtles Teach Programming

Robot Turtles Teach Programming

Robot Turtles newlogo_v2b

Robot Turtles is a board game that teaches three to eight year olds the basics of programming, without being boring. Dan Shapiro, the creator of Robot Turtles, has worked at technology companies like Real Networks and Microsoft. He is a successful entrepreneur and former CEO at Ontela (merged with Photobucket) and Sparkbuy (sold to Google). So how did he wind up making a board game for kids?

Dan has two young kids, and was frustrated by the limited choices in game types. “You are stuck with games that rely on dumb luck (e.g., Candy Land),” he said, “or games that require the adult to let the child win (e.g., Tic-Tac-Toe).” So he decided to make his own game, and to make it educational and fun.

He was inspired by the Logo programming language, which uses what is called ‘turtle graphics’ to represent movement on the screen. Logo is typically introduced to get kids interested in programming once they are old enough to read. Dan felt that most of the really interesting parts of Logo don’t require you to read at all. Since his own kids were only about three years old at the time, he set out to make something interesting they could play.

Robot Turtle with laser wall blaster!
Robot Turtle with laser wall blaster!

He started kicking around ideas, and printing out pictures of robots and turtles and walls to play with. They were having fun, so over the next couple of weeks, they kept playing and revising. He told some friends about it, and got more kids playing and making suggestions. At one point his daughter asked if there was a way to break through a wall. “How would you do it?” he asked. “Could we use a laser?” she wanted to know. So the turtle-mounted laser was born.

Dan began to think that Robot Turtles might have a larger appeal than his immediate circle of family and friends. He decided to get some funding with Kickstarter, and found it really exciting to see how all the red tape that normally comes with developing a product could be eliminated. He set his goal at an achievable $25,000, which would have allowed him to make 1,000 games, and spend just a little bit of his own money to get it done. He wound up with 13,765 backers and raised $631,230.

Robot Turtles box top
Robot Turtles box top

Now that he has his funding, Dan has to ship 24 tons of cardboard to 64 countries before December 24th. He found a good manufacturer in US, with a great team and experience producing games.

Kickstarter backers will get a few fun surprises with their game. If you weren’t a backer, you can sign up at the Robot Turtles web site to be notified if and when the game becomes generally available. Also, and you can say you heard it here first, the Maker Shed is carrying limited quantities of the game. Order yours now in time for the holidays.

Robot Turtles 4 decks
Four Robot Turtles Decks

1 thought on “Robot Turtles Teach Programming

  1. Ideas for introducing programming to your kids if you’re technically challenged. | Heidi Jermyn says:

    […] board game from the wonderful Make magazine. It was invented by a Dad called Dan Shapiro and has a great Kickstarter story behind. The game “sneakily teaches kids programming concepts” and is for ages 3 and up […]

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Andrew Terranova is an electrical engineer, writer and author of How Things Are Made: From Automobiles to Zippers. Andrew is also an electronics and robotics enthusiast and has created and curated robotics exhibits for the Children's Museum of Somerset County, NJ and taught robotics classes for the Kaleidoscope Enrichment in Blairstown, NJ and for a public primary school. Andrew is always looking for ways to engage makers and educators.

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