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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Crayon Physics for the Winter

With temperatures in the teens this week (maybe even dropping to zero later in the week), a long weekend coming up, and three kids aged 7-12 looking for stuff to do through the winter when they're staying warm indoors, I get excited when I run into something fun and not mind-numbing.

I was listening to NPR last Friday (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99080116), and Melissa Block did an interview with Petri Purho, a 25-year old Finnish game designer. Petri single-handedly created a game called Crayon Physics (http://www.crayonphysics.com/), which started as a 2 week project and evolved into a year and a half software development effort to entertain and challenge, while teaching some of the basics of physics.

Petri's selling Crayon Physics on his site for $20, and it's well worth it. No disclaimer needed here -- I have never met or corresponded with Petri, nor does Tutor.com have a business relationship with him.

Just really good software that my 3 kids started on this weekend. After trying it out myself for about an hour and loving it, it took me 2 minutes to download and setup accounts for the kids, 10 seconds to get them started, and then they were off to the races solving physics problems for hours, with quick pauses for bathroom and food breaks. They mostly worked together, sometimes giving each other tips, laughing out loud every minute or two, and sharing learnings as they found better ways of solving each puzzle. I got involved occasionally, but mostly because it looked and sounded like fun and they wanted to show me achievements, instead of settling disputes or helping.

This is not your normal super graphic, violent, or competitive game. The first marketing bullet on Petri's site, says, "The Game Features Awesome Physics." But it is addictive in it's own educational way.

Lest you think it's parenting paradise here, these are the same kids who can spend hours playing Madden Football or MLB the Show on their PS3, learning absolutely nothing and being anti-social and cranky at the end of the day. Crayon Physics had the opposite effect -- stimulating, social, and left them thinking about the challenges long after the computer was turned off.

After finishing a bed-time book that Sunday night for my 10 and 7 year olds, we said good-night, and my 10 year old said, in the dark, "I just realized I can build a catapult to win this level". That was really good to hear, and I felt only slightly guilty to be spending the next 2 hours watching the season premiere of 24.

Looking forward to dozens of levels of physics fun through the cold winter,

George Cigale