Teach Coding with Robot Turtles!

Posted by Andrew Gardner on

BrainPOP is known for digital animations and games, but we invited guest blogger Charlotte Fixler to share about a fantastic non-digital board game that teaches principles of coding entitled Robot Turtles! Charlotte is Director of Communications at ThinkFun. A former elementary school teacher, she now works to develop games and programs to equip the problem solvers of tomorrow!

At a recent cocktail party, I was tickled by a friend’s offhanded remark that, for kids today, “coding is the new Mandarin.” With schools embracing programs like Scratch and Tynker, hosting Hour of Code, and allowing coding to satisfy foreign language requirements, it does indeed feel like an exciting tide shift.

While existing programs invite students to learn coding through screen-based tools, an innovative board game took to Kickstarter to invite the very littlest programmers in on the fun. Featured on the cover of the New York Times earlier this month, Robot Turtles was invented by a tech entrepreneur who took a decidedly low-tech approach to programming.

Designed for ages 4 and up, this hands-on game teaches coding fundamentals in a board game setting. Because it can be broken into very simple steps and requires no reading, children as young as pre-kindergarten can jump right in. The game scaffolds gradually, with new obstacles and rules introduced as players are ready for more complex play. Perfect for classrooms (PreK-2 is a sweet spot), it’s quick to explain and works well in centers, designed for up to 4 children to play with a teacher.


Robot Turtles supports critical thinking skills that go way beyond programming. Through play, students learn how to break a big problem into small steps, to plan ahead, work backwards, search for patterns, and to identify and fix “bugs.” I love this quote by Robot Turtles inventor Dan Shapiro, who explains that learning to code is like a gift we can give our children:

“There are two types of people in the world. People who think of computers as their masters and people who think of computers as their helpers. The future is going to be written by programmers and read by everyone else. I want to give my kids the gift of being able to express themselves through programming and the power that comes from being able to write software.

It’s not that I want them to be programmers. Being able to program will make them better at whatever they do. Having that skill is like being a great writer, having a love for learning, or having a deep foundation in mathematics. No matter what you do, programming unlocks doors for you, helps you express yourself, and helps you become more successful in anything you decide to do. It’s a gift you can give to your kid.”

When it was first introduced, Robot Turtles sold out in under a month.  Fortunately ThinkFun is launching an improved version in June! If you’re interested in learning more about the game, visit ThinkFun‘s website or checkout this video of inventor Dan Shapiro talking about his reasons for developing the game!