Gas station without pumps

2012 March 2

Manipulatives for learning computing

Filed under: Scratch — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:40
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In response to a question from Ron G, I said earlier that I didn’t know any manipulatives for teaching computing.  After I had a nap, I realized that isn’t true.  I even owned a couple as a kid and still have one.

I’m thinking of the Think-A-Dot and Dr. Nim, made by E.S.R Inc. in the mid-1960s. I still have a Think-A-Dot, and my son and I used a picture of it to make a Scratch game that emulates the ThinkADot toy.  If you’ve not played with the toy, try the Scratch game, as it is a decent emulation (though missing the physicality of the actual toy and the ability to cheat by flipping the dots with your finger).

Picture of a Think-A-Dot toy.

Dr. NIM (picture from wikimedia), click for larger version.

The Dr. NIM toy played one version of the game of NIM, by a clever marble-powered counter that counted out 1, 2, or 3 marbles, then flipped the lever over to indicate that it was your turn.  The Dr. NIM design could probably be reproduced in plywood with a scrollsaw and a drill, as there are only 6 moving pieces besides the marbles.

ESR, Inc made two other plastic computer toys, Digi-Comp-I and Digi-Comp-II, but I never had either of them so I don’t know whether they were fun.  The ThinkADot and Dr. NIM certainly were, and it is a shame that they are no longer on the market.

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