Robot Turtles: A Fun Way to Target Social Communication and Coding Skills

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If you are looking for a fun way to target social communication skills, as well as beginning computer programming, Robot Turtles is a great new board game you can play with your students (with or without autism). Robot Turtles requires players to use simple commands to move their turtles to capture a jewel on the game board. When students give commands, they are replicating the process computer programmers use to give instructions for a computer to execute. Games, in general, provide opportunities for social communication; Robot Turtles in particular involves specific interactions between the game players that enable more opportunities for social communication. For students who show an interest in games and computers, playing Robot Turtles can be a highly engaging way to practice social communication. Check out this video.

During game play, it is easy to provide students with opportunities to practice five different social communication skills:

1) Perspective taking: As turtle masters, students take the perspective of their turtles on the game board in order to decide which way to move. If they were to take their own perspectives, players may not move in the intended direction; success in the game depends on the ability to make decisions based on a different perspective.
2) Turn taking: Students also actively take turns throughout the game. Not only do they have to wait for the other turtle masters to complete their turns, but students do not actually move their own game pieces. The adult overseeing the game, otherwise known as the turtle mover, is in charge of executing the moves on the game board based on student commands.
3) Eye contact and body language: Since turtle masters don’t move their own pieces, they must clearly communicate their commands to the turtle mover. This offers a good opportunity to practice politely giving directions, as well as utilizing eye contact and body language to effectively communicate and acknowledge the turtle mover.
4) Following directions: In return, the turtle mover may communicate directions for the turtle masters to follow. The turtle mover also ensure players are aware of and adhere to the rules of the game.
5) Making comments: Throughout game play, students can be encouraged to make positive comments directed specifically to other turtle masters. For example, a student could say, “Nice move. I like how you did that!” when another player makes a good move in the game. In Robot Turtles, the goal is not to have one winner; all students keep playing until they achieve the goal for that specific level. Establishing a positive atmosphere where everyone is encouraged to be successful creates a great opportunity for modeling and practicing comments.

Robot Turtles can be played with children as young as four, all the way up to middle or high school. The game has several levels so it is easy to adapt game play based on student age and experience with the game. The upper levels of the game require sophisticated logic and analytical skills to complete the challenges, while the simple levels introduce children to basic logic. Either way, social communication skills can be targeted in various ways throughout the game.

Eric Sailers, MA, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist with eight years of experience who currently works with high school students. He has an assistive technology certificate and a mobile programming certificate specializing in iOS. When he is not providing speech-language services in schools, he is creating iOS apps and delivering presentations.

How I became the speech guy with an iPad

iPad Screenshot with Monkey Business App

Photo by Eric Sailers

(This post originally ran on http://slpsharing.com/)

As a kindergartner in the mid 1980’s, I saw a speech-language pathologist (SLP) for speech delays. I don’t recall the experience with much detail, but I have been reminded by those closest to me. Once I became an SLP, my mom informed me that I said “Dada Da” for “Santa Claus,” and my SLP (who continues to work in the same district that I attended as a student and now work in) told me that I called myself “airwit.” Evidently I had errors of stopping, cluster reduction, vocalic r, and t/k substitution. I was also told that I did drill work with traditional flashcards to practice sounds. Although I graduated from speech-language therapy, I wonder how my experience would have been different with the wonderful technologies available today.

Back in the winter of 2008, I purchased my first iPhone and started beta testing for Proloquo2Go, an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) app. I was so impressed with how a cool, mobile technology could be very sophisticated at a reasonable cost. I started looking at other applications that could be used in speech-language therapy. One of the first apps I discovered was Wheels on the Bus, an interactive music book that plays the song. My students loved the interactions like moving the bus and popping bubbles with the touch of their finger. I loved how my students were so engaged by the interactions that didn’t require a computer mouse (which is challenging for many of my students); plus, they sang to repetitive lyrics and heard their voice recording in the app.

In 2009, I thought about developing an app. I didn’t have a background in software engineering, so I began a conversation with my friend Jason Rinn who did. After several discussions and time spent learning the iPhone programming language, Jason was on board. Jason and I decided to create solutions that involved a strong component of tracking progress. We created a data collection app (Percentally) and an articulation app (ArtikPix) with integrated data collection. ArtikPix is an app that allowed me to include modern technology in a tool for speech articulation difficulties that I personally experienced some 25 years ago. It means a lot to me that I can share such a personalized solution with children who I now serve.

I currently use iOS devices (iPod touch and iPad) in speech-language therapy sessions. I have five iPods that are primarily for individual use, and one iPad I incorporate in group activities. There are apps my students use individually such as iColoringBook and Sentence Builder. For both apps, my students show their screen to the group as they produce sentences. Optimized iPad apps for my groups include a book app called Zoo You Later – Monkey Business and BrainPop Featured Movie. During Monkey Business and BrainPop, the students take turns listening, touching, and talking about the content. A book app like Monkey Business is very enjoyable and beneficial for children because of the features including interactive text and illustrations, painting, recorded audio, voice recording, and highlighted text. I imagine I would have enjoyed using apps like interactive books and games to practice my sounds.

My students are drawn to the iOS devices, and general education peers are interested in how they use the technologies for communication. My students favorite part about iOS devices is the touching aspect. Even if they are not skilled with a computer mouse, most of my students can tap, flick, and drag elements on the screen. I see this as a great source of initiating and maintaining their engagement during activities.
I think that apps offer great features for visual cues and auditory feedback that aid children with special needs in the learning process. I also am very pleased to have my students using mobile technologies that they might not otherwise use because of various factors. Finally, it brings me great joy to hear students asking, “Hey speech guy, can we use the iPad today?”

Eric Sailers, MA, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist who serves children Pre-K to 5th grade. He has co-created two iOS applications: Percentally and ArtikPix. He is also a blogger at slpsharing.com.