Bottom Line: With a little patience and some dogged persistence you and your middle-school aged and older kids will get an educational workout second to none as you learn to think and problem solve like a computer programmer.
I should know a bit about writing code, from my not-so-distant past in my role as legal counsel for a BIOS and EFI manufacturer, but the only programming done in my house involves the TV Guide and DVR remote. The last time I wrote a computer program I used punch cards. Honestly, Move the Turtle. Programming for kids by Next is Great was a bit of a challenge for me and at times made me want to smash my iPad. My 10-year-old did ok with the beginning tasks but required significant prompting from me. This app is heavy on learning with a much lighter focus on entertaining.
The biggest obstacle I faced was understanding what I needed to do to get started. The welcome screen for Move the Turtle has four choices: Play, Compose, Projects and Help. Help seemed like the natural place to start, but it consisted of only three phrases. One can, "Compose programs using commands to move the turtle, tap play to learn how to control the turtle, or find everything out by yourself." My only choice it seemed was to dive in head first.
Play is a guided tutorial that introduces commands one by one. The first command is simply Move. Others include Turn, Lift Pencil, Change Color and Repeat. There are a total of 11 to master in various combinations. The goal is to move the turtle from one point to the next where there is a jewel. As budding programmers add more commands to their repertoire, the path the turtle must take to seize his treasure gets increasingly difficult. After several failed attempts to correctly enter my command path due largely to forgetting to include Move along with Lift Pencil and Turn, I finally got the hang of things. There is an option to ask to see the solution, and that might have saved me a lot of frustration early on.
I can't claim to have completed all the tasks but, I do see that with diligence, students will learn the essentials of programming. After a rather halfhearted attempt to master this app I realized that Repeat seems to function like a Go To loop did in Basic back in the days when computers were the size of an A/C unit. The commands even include conditional If Then statements, but if I tried to use them, the turtle would likely roll on his shell and end the game.
The Projects section includes a whole list of sample programs. The turtle can draw a garden, a honeycomb, and a Koch fractal whatever that may be. I found it nearly impossible to read the code for these complex projects. It would have helped me immensely if the program was decompiled, so to speak, so that I could read and understand the steps.
Move the Turtle allows multiple accounts and tracks how many tasks are completed and jewels obtained for each user. Users have the option to save their own compositions to an individual library. The Compose section was the most fun and probably that's why in Help the developer suggests figuring it out on your own. I strung together a bunch of random commands just to see what the turtle would do. After letting it run through the program, I could tweak it or just try something completely different. I especially liked setting the turtle speed on high and watching him zip around the screen in a frenzy.
This app won't appeal to everyone. The iTunes description says 5+ but at that or any age close to that, the child would only be able to watch and perhaps assist with specfic direction. It takes a lot of patience and, at times, is vague and difficult to understand.
For example, Task 1.3 says "Add 'Pen' command to lift up the pen. Let the Turtle move without a trace." What pen? Is the turtle a pen? What does that mean? (It turns out that the Turtle is a pen.)
The name is neither catchy nor particularly descriptive. I might skip the turtle in the title and go with Coding 4 Kids. Next is Great seems to be carving out a niche for itself in making apps for the brainy set. I don't have a strong desire to learn to program, but I can appreciate how effective this app would be in giving youngsters a foundation and interest in writing code. Programming is not a bad way to start earning a living. Just ask Mark Zuckerberg.
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Jill Goodman completed this review with input from her trusted assistant Kyle who will be unavailable for app testing while at sleep-away camp for the next 4 weeks. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.