Have you ever asked your student to give you directions, turn by turn, to get you home from a familiar landmark? It can be eye opening to hear how they might guide you, and you may or may not make it where you need to go! But the process of giving directions helps reiterate the steps involved in moving along a frequent path. Writing a computer program is similar in many ways. You need to tell the computer exactly what to do, turn by turn or step by step. If you miss a turn, or tell it to go the wrong way, or overlook a gap in the road or an unexpected tree, a crash may occur.
Watching how a computer follows (or executes) a set of computer directions (a program) and seeing if the computer succeeds in performing the task is an important part of working with computer code and learning to understand computer logic. When something goes wrong, you have to figure out "why" (what was incorrect or missing in the directions you provided) and then figure out how to "fix" the problem by providing better or more accurate instructions.
In this week's computer science-themed family science activity, students experiment with programming on paper. In this activity, they write the directions to help someone navigate through a paper maze. With an activity like this one, students can begin learning the basics of computer programming even without access to a computer. Can you successfully guide someone from point A to B? Be prepared for some fun mishaps, wrong turns, and crashes! These are learning opportunities and all part of the process!
- Program with Paper: A-Maze Your Friends with a Hand-Written Computer Program (science activity at Scientific American)
Turn Paper Maze Programming into a Creative Game
The directions for this week's computer science activity involve using a small handmade paper maze. You could also use a checkers or chess board, just mark the start and end points with a toy or piece of colorful tape and also mark the "path" for the maze with tape or Post-it®-style notes. You can use figurines and small toys from around the house to populate the board. With a fresh maze in place, ask you student to write the turn by turn, step by step directions to get from Point A to Point B. How many steps forward? Turn which way? Move how many steps?
After a maze has been successfully navigated, you can change things up by shifting the notes and markers around to create a new challenge. With some ingenuity and creative thinking, this kind of activity makes a fun, portable, and educational game you can play anywhere!
Build on the Excitement
If your student loves this activity, there are other fun apps and games that help students explore and practice similar kinds of computer logic. For some fun game-oriented choices, see coverage of games like Kodable and Lightbot in Computer Programming Basics: An Hour of Code.