How I Use It
Zoombinis lends itself to critical thinking / problem solving beautifully. First, I have students spend about 20 minutes playing without any restrictions placed on them. Zoombinis is unique in that there are no directions or tutorials and that is intentional. So, I allow students to experience that. After this exploration, students submit a reflection of their initial impressions based on the following prompt:
- Did you enjoy the game? Would you like to continue playing?
- The game does not come with directions. What is your take on that?
- What learning do you think took place as you helped the zoombinis on their journey? Cite at least two of the puzzles and provide your thoughts on the learning that took place.
This activity has worked out well. I definitely noticed that some kids are completely engaged and want to continue playing while some aren't as keen to this type of game. I do find that more lean to the enjoying it / engaged side. I have also observed a number of students who would be content working in pairs or even just watching someone else play. The game plays to the imagination.
After this activity, I have students take a deeper dive and create a strategy guide in the form of a blog post, video, or an instructable / snapguide tutorial guiding others in completing a particular puzzle. For this I will have the students play each level of difficulty with the intent of becoming an expert on that particular puzzle to lend credibility to their strategy guide. Students are welcome to repeat this activity for additional puzzles.
Another activity I plan to incorporate is to have students write 'code' to solve one of the puzzles. This would involve a transfer of knowledge from our other coding activities as they will use conditional statements, loops, etc. to sketch out the code with either a block code approach or model it after true coding in text.
Zoombinis is a great game for teaching / encouraging critical thinking and problem solving. The skills employed in solving the puzzles are in line with a computational thinking framework and students will clearly think in a systematic way like a programmer, without it feeling like a coding activity. This makes it a wonderful supplement to all of the coding activities. I could definitely see it having a place in the hour of code / computer science week activities, as well as a continuation as we take kids beyond the hour of code . I was a huge fan of the zoombinis games back in the 90s when they came out and was beyond excited when it was announced that they were remaking it for tablets. The game lends so perfectly to the tablet environment. I may even say that the game was made for that environment.
Zoombinis is a wonderful game that touches on our imagination while getting us thinking. I highly recommend the zoombinis game as a station if you don't have enough devices for every student. I occasionally hand out ipads to a select number of students and have them explore the game amidst other learning activities.