OSMO’s new Programmable Building Block Game

OSMO’s new Programmable Building Block GameOsmo is an award-winning game system that will change the way your child interacts with the iPad by opening it up to hands-on play.

The best programmers turn complex code into intuitive tools that anyone can use. And those tools are easier than ever to master, requiring little more than a swipe or a tap. Interacting with code is so instinctive that even cats know how to do it.Now the challenge is figuring out how to make creating code as easy as using it. Osmo is an award-winning game system does that by turning abstract “building blocks” of computer programs into actual, real-world building blocks that your child can interact with. The goal is to make the process so simple that a five-year-old can create code without having to read an O’Reilly book.

Osmo Coding is the latest game for the Osmo platform. Like the company’s previous efforts, the game is all about blending physical and digital objects, letting kids play in the real world while using the iPad as an all-seeing scorekeeper.

The game started as Ariel Zekelman and Felix Hu’s student project at the Tangible Interaction Design and Learning (TIDAL) Lab at Northwestern University. Zekelman, an industrial designer, and engineer Hu tried to bring tangible-learning research into the real world of programming. The initial version of their game was called Strawbies, and looks a lot like it does today. “As I was designing this,” Zekelman says, “I was learning to code. My epiphany was that coding isn’t difficult, it’s really just a way of thinking. That’s what we tried to teach, that it’s a way of thinking and a way of problem-solving. We wanted to literally make those building blocks that can teach kids how to think about it.” Now, Zekelman and Hu both work at Osmo full-time.

Osmo Coding begins with an assortment of modular magnetic blocks. You snap together numbered blocks along with commands such as “run,” “jump,” and “grab,” as you guide a tiny monster named Awbie on his eternal quest for more strawberries. One useful block looks like a repeat button on a music player and lets kids loop chunks of code, and you can twist parts of the blocks to send Awbie in a new direction.

There are 2 portholes that open up on the blocks upon clicking the run buttonand there are no text on the block. Which helps make the game more accessible to young kids who speak any language, and the hands-on aspects of arranging and experimenting with the blocks make it more engaging.

“There’s a lot of talk about coding being the next essential learning experience for children,” says Osmo CEO and co-founder Pramod Sharma. He sees Osmo Coding as a fun introduction to the thinking and logic of computer science, while teaching more complex ideas as the game goes along.