Product Review of Unruly Splats
Unruly Splats is a block-based coding platform paired with rugged, plastic floor tiles — so rugged that an adult can land hard on them with no problems. Learners program the tiles, called “Splats,” via an iPad app or Chrome. The app functions a lot like Scratch, so learners will be selecting, dragging, attaching, and modifying coding blocks in a work area that affects the Splats (both physically and virtually). From the app, learners can code each Splat’s lighting, sounds, music, and more. Learners drag the code block they need into the work area to make things happen. Another side panel is used to access help, tutorials, lessons, game examples, and more. Educators can find lesson concepts that include adding, subtracting, counting, functions, repeats, delays, conditional statements, loops, and more.
The app also has a useful simulation feature that allows learners and educators to see how their code would run on virtual Splat tiles when they don’t have access to physical ones or just want to do a quick check. This feature is helpful when educators are showing code to the entire class, with remote learners, or for learners who want to work on code at home before class. It’ll also allow learners in a classroom to test their code if there’s only a limited number of Splats available. Note that there’s no way of knowing what’s wrong with learners’ code, though, so educators will want to get down the basics of block-based coding or work with more knowledgeable learners to offer support.
Educators can use Unruly Splats to combine coding and movement in unique and creative ways. Plenty of tutorials and examples are available right from the app that can help get learners coding competitive or cooperative games and activities. For example, learners can load code to “Race in Place,” where they can see how many times they can stomp on each tile (or Splat) in 10 seconds. Learners can line up multiple Splats and step on them in whack-a-mole-style games, which have several variations. In the “Splat Is Lava” tutorial, learners are guided through creating Splats that will turn into lava (the color turns red) if pressed for more than five seconds. Younger grades can use the Splats in more simple ways, such as pushing them to make sounds that follow a story’s sequence, hopping on them to count, or practicing place values up to 100,000s. The Splats can be assigned a random digit and must be hit to add up to a target number.
It’s easy to see physical education educators seeing lots of opportunities to use Unruly Splats. Splats can be set up at stations to correspond with certain movements, like jumping jacks, push-ups, or relay races. PE educators could also team up with music educators. Splats can be configured to play different instrument sounds (music educators will want to know that the Splats use MIDI). As learners hop across the Splats, they can play a song using different notes.
After learners have had a little experience loading example code and following tutorials, many will want to make changes to the code and see what happens, or create games of their own. This is where the “unruly” part of things comes in. Educators should encourage learners to make, analyze, debug, and collaborate on their own games — exploring the whole system in an unstructured way. Give learners an authentic audience by having them code and play games with younger buddies.
With limited budgets, some educators may wonder why they would choose stationary floor tiles instead of robots that can move around. The two approaches share more similarities than differences, but the differences count — often in favor of Unruly Splats. Some learners could find the stationary, one-button Unruly Splats more accessible or inviting than robots. The Splats can be operated without fine motor skills, and can be stomped or pressed. In this way they also promote active learning (literally!). Unruly Splats will get learners up and moving while they code, and could change some perceptions around what coding is and looks like. The physical games that Unruly Splats supports up the energy in the classroom and can lead to fun hacks and explorations. With all that said, since the Splats don’t move on their own, educators won’t be able to incorporate some key parts of the curriculum that other platforms support, like x- and y-coordinates. And while learners do think procedurally while they code with Unruly Splats, they don’t quite see that play out in the same way as with robotics platforms (each inspired by the classic “move the turtle”-style games).
If you decide to go with Unruly Splats, though, you’ll be in good hands. One of the more remarkable aspects of the platform is the ongoing support from the Unruly Splats team. Twice-a-week onboarding sessions serve as the foundation and are great for schools or districts sharing the Splats and needing to get a host of educators with different schedules up to speed. There are also plenty of lesson plans, recorded webinars, and other resources on the webpage. As educators start to get familiar, they’ll be able to attend a live session with an Unruly Splats expert. The expert will also schedule one-on-one meetings with educators and help them come up with new code for activities.
The biggest place for Unruly Splats to grow and develop is in the area of tutorials and feedback. It doesn’t have any built-in way for text to be read aloud; since all of the tutorials are written without narration, this makes them harder to access for learners who have reading difficulties. It’d also be nice to see some more tips and tutorials triggered in the app by interactions, or an optional guided onboarding tutorial that takes learners through the basics. It’s also worth noting that the iPad app occasionally lagged during testing, while Chrome had no issues.
Overall User Consensus About the App
Creating games while stomping on Splats engages in ways traditional coding doesn’t. Learners unfamiliar with block-based coding will need support, though.
Curriculum and Instruction
The fusion of physical activity with coding opens up possibilities, including cross-curricular connections. There are tons of opportunities for unplanned exploration.
This platform excels at support, including live onboarding, ongoing professional development, one-on-one meetings, lesson plans, and more.