Coding with Mobile Apps – Part One: The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis

Sequencing, checking for events, using conditionals, being iterative and incremental, reusing and remixing, making sure that things work – finding and fixing mistakes. These are concepts and practices computer science students must consider when using computers yes? Hmmmm yes, but who cares when you’re using a mobile application solving puzzles and having fun! As a matter of fact – you don’t even need to read…

The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis, which I bought for $5 at the Apple store for iPad, is a highly entertaining and educational package of 12 puzzles which get incrementally more difficult as you move through them. The Zoombinis, little blue creatures with 625 different possible combination of attributes, move along a path toward safety. Those who don’t help solve a problem are gently sent back at a resting point behind while their fellow travelers move on, allowing them to catch-up later.

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The makers of the game, TERC, the Technical Education Research Centers, has imbedded a great deal of mathematical thinking in the game – hypothesis formation, algebraic thinking, sorting, set theory,  pattern finding, attribute comparison, and logical reasoning, but to me, someone who’s heavily involved in thinking about ways to integrate computer science into a child’s life, this is a remarkably intelligent way to incorporate it in a playful way.

Here’s a movie I made to introduce you to a few of the 12 puzzles and to some of the CS concepts and practices behind it:

Zoombinis works on a highly cognitive level – it makes the player think about thinking and its design is smart enough to move along with the level of the player as it eases the way into more difficult constructions.

I think perhaps the best way to present this to students may be to keep one game going on an iPad and discourage the creation of a new game. The iPad then can be passed around as individuals and groups continue to progress through it. For younger children it may take the whole school-year to get all the Zoombinis through, and if you continually start new games there is a danger of repeating old concepts and not taking advantage of the incremental nature of the game – best of all there’s the added satisfaction of getting them all across together as a group – and how fun is that?

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