BotBlox: A Programmable Game-Making Toolkit for Kids
BotBlox was created by MaMaMedia Inc. based on years of R&D work lead by Seymour Papert and many computer scientists, child psychologists, educators,and cognitive researchers at MIT. (Logo was originally developed back in the 60's, see, Papert.org and LogoFoundation.org). Logo allows children to build their own computer programs, geometrical and graphical representations, computer games, musical compositions, social studies presentations, and scientific simulations. For the Internet, our aim was to design a simpler, informal playful environment, where children could do the same, on their own, at their homes. Following the Logo Philosophy, we also wanted young children to become online designers and programmers and "mess around" with computational ideas.
Motivated by theories of Constructionist Learning, we envisioned a simple Internet activity that puts programmable controls in the hands of children. The strategy was to develop an introductory online programming activity for children, that was both open-ended, yet directed and easy to use even without teachers and parents around. Our strategy was to invite young children to experience beginners' programming in the context of a game that includes an open design option as well as structured challenges.
BotBlox is comprised of "Blox," which are virtual blocks with names and 'personalities' that can be used by any child to construct a landscape of a city with buildings and towers, or for creating a fun maze; and "Bots," which are playful little robots with different names and capabilities. The Bots can inhabit the landscape and their actions and moves can be programmed. The possibilities for design are endless. A set of tools was created for painting the Blox in different colors and for zooming and navigating on the landscape.
In order to offer real programming options for kids to create and control their own worlds, BotBlox offers 10 different Bots characters, 5 building block types, and 7 different programming actions. Children can begin by designing their own worlds, or by exploring and modifying Bots, Blox, Actions, and Speeds in one of two pre-designed worlds available online, "Maze Maker" and "City Builder." The possibilities for design are limited only by our imagination and the programmable objects are easy to learn and use. In addition, we offer multiple challenges to encourage kids to program their own worlds, and then save and publish their designs for others to see. This is an activity that kids return to again and again -- it brings together their creativity and imagination in an authentic programming environment. BotBlox is designed to show even very young children the exciting world of programming -- they don't need to wait until middle or high school to program on their own.
Since its launch in January 2001, BotBlox receives nearly 17,000 hits per week on the MaMaMedia.com website.