Website review by Shaun Langevin, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2021

Unruly Splats

Game-making platform fuses coding and physical play

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1–8
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Pros: Indestructible; thorough onboarding, including one-on-one live meetings with the developer.

Cons: Could use more context-based tutorials and tips and tutorial audio/narration.

Bottom Line: This platform could appear gimmicky at first, but in practice it blends SEL, movement, collaboration, and STEM learning in clever, compelling ways.

Teachers can use Unruly Splats to bring together coding and movement in unique and creative ways. Plenty of tutorials and examples are available right from the app that can help get students coding competitive or cooperative games and activities. For example, students can load code to "Race in Place," where they can see how many times they can stomp on each tile (or Splat) in 10 seconds. Students can line up multiple Splats and step on them in whack-a-mole-style games, which have several variations. In the "Splat Is Lava" tutorial, students are guided through creating Splats that will turn into lava (the color turns red) if they are pressed for more than five seconds. Younger grades can use the Splats in more simple ways, such as pushing them to make sounds that follow a story's sequence, hopping on them to count, or practicing place value up to 100,000s. The Splats can be assigned a random digit and must be hit to add up to a target number. 

It's easy to see physical education teachers seeing lots of opportunities to use Unruly Splats. Splats can be set up at stations to correspond with certain movements, like jumping jacks, push-ups, or relay races. PE teachers could also team up with music teachers. Splats can be configured to play different instrument sounds (music teachers will want to know that the Splats use MIDI). As students hop across the Splats, they can play a song using different notes.

After students have had a little experience loading example code and following tutorials, many will want to make changes to the code and see what happens, or create games of their own. This is where the "unruly" part of things comes in. Teachers should encourage students to make, analyze, debug, and collaborate on their own games -- exploring the whole system in an unstructured way. Give students an authentic audience by having them code and play games with younger buddies.

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Unruly Splats is a block-based coding platform paired with rugged, plastic floor tiles -- so rugged that an adult can land hard on them with no problems. Students program the tiles, called "Splats," via an iPad app or Chrome. The app functions a lot like Scratch, so students will be selecting, dragging, attaching, and modifying coding blocks in a work area that affects the Splats (both physically and virtually). From the app, students can code each Splat's lighting, sounds, music, and more. Students drag the code block they need into the work area to make things happen. Another side panel is used to access help, tutorials, lessons, game examples, and more. Teachers can find lesson concepts that include adding, subtracting, counting, functions, repeats, delays, conditional statements, loops, and more. 

The app also has a useful simulation feature that allows students and teachers to see how their code would run on virtual Splat tiles when they don't have access to physical ones or just want to do a quick check. This feature is helpful when teachers are showing code to the entire class, with remote students, or for students who want to work on code at home before class. It'll also allow students in a classroom to test their code if there's only a limited number of Splats available. Note that there's no way of knowing what's wrong with students' code, though, so teachers will want to get down the basics of block-based coding or work with more knowledgeable students to offer support.

With limited budgets, some educators may wonder why they would choose stationary floor tiles instead of robots that can move around. The two approaches share more similarities than differences, but the differences count -- often in favor of Unruly Splats. Some students could find the stationary, one-button Unruly Splats more accessible or inviting than robots. The Splats can be operated without fine motor skills, and can be stomped or pressed. In this way they also promote active learning (literally!). Unruly Splats will get students up and moving while they code, and could change some perceptions around what coding is and looks like. The physical games that Unruly Splats supports up the energy in the classroom and can lead to fun hacks and explorations. With all that said, since the Splats don't move on their own, teachers won't be able to incorporate some key parts of the curriculum that other platforms support, like x- and y-coordinates. And while students do think procedurally while they code with Unruly Splats, they don't quite see that play out in the same way as with robotics platforms (each inspired by the classic "move the turtle"-style games).

If you decide to go with Unruly Splats, though, you'll be in good hands. One of the more remarkable aspects of the platform is the ongoing support from the Unruly Splats team. Twice-a-week onboarding sessions serve as the foundation and are great for schools or districts sharing the Splats and needing to get a host of teachers with different schedules up to speed. There are also plenty of lesson plans, recorded webinars, and other resources on the webpage. As teachers start to get familiar, they'll be able to attend a live session with an Unruly Splats expert. The expert will also schedule one-on-one meetings with teachers and help them come up with new code for activities. 

The biggest place for Unruly Splats to grow and develop is in the area of tutorials and feedback. It doesn't have any built-in way for text to be read aloud; since all of the tutorials are written without narration, this makes them harder to access for students who have reading difficulties. It'd also be nice to see some more tips and tutorials triggered in the app by interactions, or an optional guided onboarding tutorial that takes students through the basics. It's also worth noting that the iPad app occasionally lagged during testing, while Chrome had no issues.

Overall Rating

Engagement

Creating games while stomping on Splats engages in ways traditional coding doesn't. Students unfamiliar with block-based coding will need support, though.

Pedagogy

The fusion of physical activity with coding opens up possibilities, including cross-curricular connections. There are tons of opportunities for unplanned exploration.

Support

This platform excels at support, including live onboarding, ongoing professional development, one-on-one meetings, lesson plans, and more.


Common Sense reviewer
Shaun Langevin Technology coordinator

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Featured review by
Lori S. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Sterling Middle School
Sterling, United States
Splats combines my favorite activities: technology/coding with physical activity and music!
They are a great resource for me as a tech teacher. I think other teachers are hesitant to use them because of the lack of knowledge about coding, but you don't have to be a programmer to use them. I think the thing I would like to see improved is to make them rechargeable. If a Splat stops being connected by Bluetooth, you're never quite sure if it is the connection or if the batteries are going out. Their app is really improved as of this fall and much more user friendly for teachers to set up class ...
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