Review by Emily Pohlonski, Common Sense Education | Updated September 2016
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Cork the Volcano - Puzzlets

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Fun elementary coding through hands-on puzzle tiles

Subjects & skills
  • Science

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Great for:
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (1 Review)
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Pros: Students learn to think in new ways while playing a really entertaining game that extends beyond the screen.

Cons: A short cartoon introduces a problem, but kids may not understand right away that they need to stopper the volcano.

Bottom Line: Programming that combines engaging physical puzzle tiles with digital gameplay.

Elementary school teachers and media specialists can use Cork the Volcano – Puzzlets to teach coding and engineering skills. Have students work in pairs to create their plan, which will emphasize that engineers and programmers collaborate in teams. Kids can play for 15 to 30 minutes at a time and then save their work for later, making Cork the Volcano an ideal station setup or indoor recess activity. Media specialists could implement Puzzlets more formally, using the eight-week coding curriculum available on the website. The Puzzlets  Play Tray works with Android or Apple devices that have Bluetooth capabilities or USB 2.0. Make sure you charge the Play Tray the day before you want to use it.

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Cork the Volcano – Puzzlets is a hands-on programming game that works with your phone or tablet. One of Puzzlets' mantras is "plan, program, play." Elementary students make a plan to help Rus the Dinosaur and his friends stop an erupting volcano from destroying Pear Island. They build a program out of real Puzzlets pieces in the Play Tray and then play, or run the program, to see what happens on their device.

Levels are carefully scaffolded; students learn how to use the different program tiles as they complete each task. Students see their progress by how far they have moved along the map after each level. They receive feedback about how many tiles they used and how long it took to complete each task. At each level, students can adjust their tiles and replay the game to get faster times or collect more prizes.

Through Puzzlets' "plan, program, play" model, students learn about the engineering process. They design a solution, test it out by running the program, and then improve it and try again. Cork the Volcano - Puzzlets wonderfully combines physical manipulation and digital play. Kids who might not ever consider computer programming may be drawn in, as they see it's just like doing a puzzle.

Hands-on gameplay with the program tiles also provides a way for students to work together. The Play Tray pulls kids away from the computer screen for a moment to discuss their plan. After some practice, students will realize that they are more successful when they collaborate. Puzzlets appeals to visual, logical, verbal, and physical learners and brings them together to share their strengths.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Learning is hidden in a fun game that continues to challenge. Kids get to physically manipulate the tiles away from the screen and then see their plan come to life.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Students are not learning specifically how to code. Instead they learn to think logically and innovate like a programmer or an engineer.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

More than 120 levels of play keep students challenged. Lesson plans and curriculum guides are also available on the Puzzlets website.

Common Sense Reviewer
Emily Pohlonski Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Erin C. , Other
Avonworth Elementary School
Pittsburgh, United States
My go to intro to coding and beyond.
This product is an excellent support to build a deeper understanding of basic computational skills. It is my go-to introduction to the world of coding (for both students and other teachers). Though the set up takes a bit of time at first( just getting multiple trays to connect to Bluetooth in one room can be difficult but the app has features that help improve this process), once organized students are able to excel in this game and learn in pairs without teacher guidance. It really is incredible to ...
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