ToonTalk has won a few awards including Parents’ Choice Gold Award, Dr. Toy's 2002 Best Vacation Children's Product Award, and ZDNET 5-star editors choice.
These are email messages we've received from ToonTalk users, teachers, and researchers.
ToonTalk is the most radical vision I've seen of what the future of programming for kids could be like. It combines the fun and excitement of video games with some of the most powerful ideas in computer science.
Research Scientist, Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Well, I think it's been a wonderful experience for these children. They've learned all sorts of things from it. Obviously the programming that they've done is at an amazing level for children at this age, and they've done it almost seamlessly without really realising that they were getting engaged in some really advanced thinking. I think their problem solving skills have developed enormously from it and they've really enjoyed it.
Head teacher in London
ToonTalk has helped me to understand many complex theoretical aspects of computer science programming language research, through its use of animated visualisations.
As a programmer with 20 years of experience of programming computers, using ToonTalk has helped me to get an in-depth understanding of many of the difficult problems of concurrent programming and the possible solutions to these problems.
Using ToonTalk together with children has given me a new understanding of how children think about computers and programming.
My experience with children is that concrete animations seem to be extremely helpful for their understanding of how programming works.
Graduate student, Linköping University, Sweden
As part of my Ph.D. research, I have been conducting ToonTalk sessions with kindergarten kids, ages 3 to 5. A most delightful moment came right at the start: my wife has been doing computer sessions in kindergartens and private schools since 1997, and she has quite a gift for children, and a knack at guessing what they will like and dislike. However, when she looked at ToonTalk, she thought kids wouldn't like it. I suggested a trial, and to her astonishment, the kids LOVE it! When I started my ToonTalk sessions, the coordinator of the course for pre-school education teachers thought that 10 to 15 minutes would be adequate, in view of the kids' attention span on other computer activities. However, the kids kept requesting longer sessions. I was soon conducting 30 and 40 minutes sessions. And nowadays, after 1-hour sessions they usually ask, when I'm leaving the kindergarten, if they can continue playing ToonTalk even after I leave.
On their own, they use it for all sorts of things: endless repetition, to create things like "birds attending a mass" or "a birds army", they create huge arrays of boxes "to store all my toys", they teach robots endless, pointless, sequences of actions, delighted that the robot "is being taught".
My research concerns analysis and discovery of the issues around kids this young doing programming. Just yesterday, two kids on their 3rd TT session demonstrated an incredible ease, while programming a house-building robot (their first robot). But like all kids, they think little of making them work. When asked "are you sure your robot learned well how to build houses?", one even replied "For sure", without even testing it.
Future kindergarten teachers are now learning TT at the local university. While for now most of their proposed activities are just traditional games, who knows what a large number of more computer-literate education professional may come up with in the future?
Graduate student UTAD, Vila Real, Portugal
In the mid nineties I was brought to a small group of computer science researchers and teachers. We were taken to a scrubby room in the basement of the Teachers' College in Stockholm. I had received an award for IT teacher of the year a few weeks earlier and some people thought I should see TT and meet Ken Kahn.
As a teacher I realized immediately that TT would be the next step in learning. By programming in this playful way kids would get access to their inner wealth of mental creativity. Later a six year old TT user told me that the best thing about TT is that it helps him think and make use of his imagination.
I have checked the market for similar computer tools for thinking and realized that TT is absolutely unique, one of a kind. At that it is relatively independent of local cultures and language. As I see it, TT has the potential of unleashing the hidden treasure of mental creativity of billions of kids in developing countries like nothing else.
Another thing I like about TT is that it is equally challenging to both kids and grown ups. This makes TT programming an excellent way of having fun and creating together. I have had the opportunity to do TT work with six and seven year olds. It has been interesting for me to realize how we lost our concepts of being separated by age and experience. TT provided a playground that was fresh to all of us and made us equal as co-creators.
Educational researcher and former school teacher, Sweden
Using ToonTalk as a platform has shown us that even quite young children can recognise that they can build objects from scratch (by training robots), combine, generalise and debug. More generally, they can come to think about mechanisms - how things work, why they work, how they can be rebuilt. In the twenty-first century, where the opportunity to strip down working systems with spanners and screwdrivers are much more limited than they were, we will need to consider virtual alternatives, ways for children to take things to pieces, look at what makes them tick, and put them back together.
There are not many examples of computational worlds which afford interesting and creative directions for children to learn mathematical ideas and which provide an entree into the world of formal systems which child-programming has always tried to offer. The set of tools and metaphors appropriate for navigating around at the interface level were not functional below that level - to get below, one had to enter a new world of arcane (usually textual) difficulty. ToonTalk has changed that.
Richard Noss and Celia Hoyles
Professors of Education, Institute of Education, University of London, UK
I used ToonTalk in a research project that investigated how children with learning disabilities versus those who do not might approach computer problem-solving tasks differently. The project required a high interest software program that included hierarchically organized problems and assistance. ToonTalk was ideal. The free play component was used to introduce the characters and basic program manipulatives to the children, while the puzzle tasks provided the kinds of problems and "virtual" assistance that I was looking for.
The ToonTalk web site was a real boon. I used this to play with the program before purchasing it, and referred children to it after the study. This was necessary because, while the study ended, the children were not finished with ToonTalk! They found it challenging and fun. Unlike other software designed for children, ToonTalk is open ended. Once the children knew how to handle the operations, they could create. Rather than being throw away software, children become dynamic with it as their understanding and skill builds. The children in this study loved the characters, the kinds of activities, and the mental workout that ToonTalk provided. ToonTalk also served as a way to involve children and adults in authentic conversation. Training the robot is challenging for adults as well as children. In our study the adults (research assistants) and children both had something to offer the other in moving through the program, and both felt a sense accomplishment when they jointly succeeded in helping Marty. ToonTalk is an outstanding program for school-aged children. It doesn't have glitz; it has the intellectual gusto that children crave. It motivates them!
Fran Hagstrom, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Disorders, University of Houston, Texas
I am using ToonTalk with kids 12 years old in public school in Geneva Switzerland in a computer science course, one hour a week. First kids are learning by themselves using the play game mode which is translated in French. Then they are using free play eliminating the help which is in English, but asking questions to the teacher. We have all the kids ending mandatory school (at age of 15 years old). We have classes of kids which will go on learning college and university and classes of kids which will be worker and get a job.
ToonTalk, with animated programming give a way to kids that have difficulties with textual matter to program and use procedural mind instead of semantic. Using MSWLogo and ToonTalk, it seems that Logo and textual programming suits better to kids that will make long study and ToonTalk to kids that prefer doing things than speaking about things.
This year we have built with ToonTalk a chat system using birds flying from computer to computer. Putting all the robots in the same house, just seeing the robots at work give a demonstration of how the messages are running from the sender to the receivers.
I am working on the use of computers for CAI. With the play game mode and the possibility for a teacher to build puzzles, toontalk offers a way to make CAI based on constructivism.
I am working on puzzles teaching math expressions, using boxes to represent operations and boxes in boxes to represent operation within operations. For instance 3 * 4 + 5 will be [ [ 3 | * | 4]| + | 5] but 3 * (4 + 5) will be [3|*|[4|+|5] ]. For instance: [ | | ] represent a box with 3 holes.
School teacher in Geneva, Switzerland
There are many more comments from users here.
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