REVERE Awards Profile: Zoombinis Combines Computational Thinking with Engaging Game Play

For fifty years the REVERE Awards has set itself apart from other awards programs by recognizing effective and engaging learning resources no matter the subject matter or media. Through our rigorous judging process, which includes educators and industry professionals, instructional tools are vetted against criteria that look at not only the educational value but also creativity and usability. Only the highest quality resources are given the coveted honor. As the entry period for the 2017 REVERE Awards nears, previous finalists and winners are providing insights into their acclaimed resources.

Zoombinins from FableVIsion Studios and TERC

Winner: Beyond the Classroom - Play

About the product
Zoombinis is a learning game about computational thinking for ages 8 to adult. The 12 puzzles (each with 4 levels of difficulty) involve the zoombinis characters who have permutations of hair, eyes, nose, and feet. Each puzzle requires different combinations or series of characteristics and the rules are everchanging. Players must develop algorithmic thinking including the abstraction and generalization of their solutions to succeed efficiently.

Zoombinis was created by Scot Osterweil and Chris Hancock when they were at TERC in the 1990s and was a widely popular 'edutainment' game. TERC, FableVision, and Learning Games Network redeveloped and re-released Zoombinis in 2015 for today's audience on tablets and desktops. The designers originally intended to create a game that would engage players in the thinking necessary to understand databases. That was an "out there" idea in the 90s, but hugely salient today with calls for Computer Science for All coming from Google,, and the White House. 

The new re-release of Zoombinis is the focus of EdGE's national implementation research study of over 500 middle school learners using learning analytics on the data logs generated through Zoombinis gameplay. Researchers are studying how Computational Thinking is developed in the game, and teachers can leverage this gameplay to prepare their students for coding and other computational innovations.

Insights into the product
Zoombinis players from the 1990s are a passionate crowd. They were very upset that the software had not been maintained for current computers. When we started thinking about the re-release of Zoombinis, we discovered there was already a Nostalgic audience waiting for its return. We had comments on Facebook and in our surveys such as "Please bring back this game. I have been waiting to have children until I know they too will have the opportunity to play". We polled our audience on Facebook when we were considering changing the names of the characters and within minutes had several objections, including one comment "No - I have a Bzeijus tattoo after my favorite Zoombinis character. You cannot change their names ever!" 

How changes in education have impacted developing products for this subject area
Education is cyclic. We have had decades of open-ended investigative education, and decades of structured test-based education. In the 2000s technology rapidly outpaced education, and to some degree it is still does. But in the past few years, I have seen educational institutions open the doors back up to Makerspaces, Game-based curriculum, Project-based learning and other great ideas. I am hopeful that at least the pendulum seems to be swinging in that direction for the next little while.

What winning a REVERE Award means
My interest is in helping as many learners as possible become computational thinkers. This award will help give us more visibility to reach more players and learners. I think Zoombinis is a great hook for them to start engaging with the logic and conditional reasoning skills that underlie the knowledge they will need to become programmers and innovators of the future. 

Learn more about the REVERE Awards. The 2017 entry period opens October 1.