Searching for treasure teaches coding

Issue: Volume 97, Number 18

Posted: 18 October 2018
Reference #: 1H9mVq

Deadman’s Island, Shipwreck Bay, pirate ships, and a fair bit of running around looking for treasure are part of a popular game that teaches coding.

An Elmwood student figuring out the pattern in Treasure Island, a skill that helps with learning computer coding.

Computer programs often need to process a sequence of symbols such as letters, words, email addresses and web addresses, or even the text of another computer program,” says Canterbury University Professor Tim Bell.

“We often use a finite-state automaton (FSA) to do this. FSA follows a simple set of rules to see if the computer should recognise the word or string of symbols.

“I know that FSA will sound like a completely foreign language to many teachers, and not necessarily something they would think they could teach. But the basic idea is as simple as drawing a map.  

The treasure hunt activity, originally developed by Michael Fellows, is part of the Kia Takatū ā Matihiko | Digital Readiness programme. It involves some of the participants being the islands, and others finding their way to Treasure Island. At each island they come to, treasure hunters can choose to travel on one of two departing ships, A or B. By tracking their routes, they will eventually find the treasure.

“One of the things we find is that adults really enjoy it as well – it certainly creates some ‘aha!’ moments,” says Professor Bell.

Christchurch teacher Toni-Jayne Miles ran the activity with her class of nine-year-olds from Elmwood Normal School. 

“One girl did it in about 10 minutes. Some children, after half an hour were still running round in circles.

“Some of them were saying things like, ‘I’m not getting this right, I keep choosing B’. So I would say to them: ‘What do you think you need to do differently? How could you change that?’ We’d already talked about debugging, so I asked them, ‘How can you debug the situation? How can you make it work for you?’

“It was lots of fun and it was really good physical education as well.  

“When the children got back, I got them to share the routes that they’d done with each other so they could see where the similarities and the differences were. We talked about trying to figure out the pattern.

“They did make the link in how it was like coding in that if it didn’t work then they would go back to the last place that they knew it did work.”

Toni-Jayne thinks the treasure hunt activity could easily be adapted for different age groups.

“I was a Year 1 and 2 teacher last year. I’d use more pictures than writing. They wouldn’t necessarily be able to understand all the code inside of it, but I think they could understand the need to follow a route, the need to record what you’re doing, the need to be careful with your instructions, and if it’s not working, the need to change their thinking, or the question they are asking.”  

For more information about:

The treasure hunt activity(external link).

Kia Takatū ā-Matihiko meetups(external link).


BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 12:01 pm, 18 October 2018

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