The Turing Tumble – a marble-powered computer game

The Turing Tumble – a marble-powered computer game

Yes, that’s right – a marble-powered computer game. But not in the sense that you’re thinking, whatsoever. At first glance, the Turing Tumble looks like one of those marble maze things that kids love to play with. Ok, I really like playing around with them too, I’ll admit it. But what if kids could learn the logic concepts behind computing? That’s what the Turing Tumble is setting out to do.

At the time Turing Tumble was being created, Paul Boswell was a college math professor, and Alyssa Boswell was a former high school teacher. Obviously, folks steeped in education and teaching. And these days, of course, there are all manner of ways to get kids learning coding – Raspberry Pi-powered robotics kits (link to pi top), Minecraft-driven courses, and the like. Those are all fine, and have their place – but what if you want to find a balance between gadgets and the “old” way things were done? Well, computers used to be mechanical, so why not the programming education?

Apparently, Boswell stumbled across that with the DigiComp II, a mechanical (and marble-powered) calculator from the 60s. Borrowing those ideas, and working through a lot of 3D-printed prototypes, he ended up developing what we’ve got now in the form of the Turing Tumble, which is a Turing-complete computer. Which means, if it were big enough, it could do whatever a modern computer could do.

Of course, kids aren’t going to care about that. They’re going to want to play! And as they build up the various bits and watch the marble drop, they’ll be getting practical, tactile, experience in how a computer works. For the kiddos with a bit more patience, there’s actually a puzzle book – which takes the form of a story-driven comic book – that lays out challenges that need to be solved. As they do that, they can understand the concepts behind what is going on in a computer, without having to worry about learning the proper commands and syntax of a language (that can come later).

In my book, the Turing Tumble looks like an excellent commingling of good “old fashioned” play mashed up together with powerful learning. Sort of like when our oldest was watching the show “Peg + Cat” and came to the realization it was teaching her math. Sure, not everyone is going to be a computer scientist. But we’re all surrounded by computers, and you never know how that learning and understanding can lay the groundwork for what the future is. Or even help us parents get a better understanding of the world around us. Playful learning for kids and adults alike – what could be better? The game is available direct for $69.95 turingtumble.com

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