Tern is a tangible computer language designed to provide a painless
introduction to computer programming for children in educational
settings. With Tern you can create programs for robots like the LEGO
Mindstorms RCX or the iRobot Create. Tern is featured in a permanent
exhibit at the Boston Museum of
Science called Robot Park. It is also
being used for the Tangible Kindergarten
project at the Tufts University Developmental Technologies
Programming with Wooden Blocks
To create programs with Tern, you don't use a mouse or keyboard. Instead, Tern
allows you to create physical computer programs using interlocking wooden blocks
that represent actions for your robot to perform. With Tern there is no such thing as
a syntax error. The shape of the interlocking blocks creates physical syntax that
prevents the creation of invalid programs. Tern programs can be compiled in a matter
of seconds with the press of a button.
How It Works
Tern's wooden blocks contain no embedded electronics or power supplies. Instead Tern
uses a standard webcam connected to a desktop or laptop computer to take a picture of
your program, which it then converts into digital code using the
TopCodes computer vision library.
Tern was created by
Michael Horn at the Tufts University. It is currently being developed as part of an
NSF-funded collaboration between the Tufts
Developmental Technologies Research Group and the Tufts
Human Computer Interaction Lab. Tern's team members include:
This video shows Tern in use at the Boston Museum of Science.
- Bers, M. U., & Horn, M. S. (in press). Tangible programming in
early childhood: Revisiting developmental assumptions through new
technologies. In I. R. Berson & M. J. Berson (Eds.), High-tech
tots: Childhood in a digital world. Greenwich, CT: Information Age
Horn, M.S., Solovey, E.T., Crouser, R.J., and Jacob, R.J.K.,
Comparing Tangible and Graphical Programming Interfaces for use in Informal Science Education.
In Proc. ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems CHI'09, ACM Press (2009).
Horn, M.S., Solovey, E.T., and Jacob, R.J.K.,
Tangible Programming for Informal Science Learning:
Making TUIs Work for Museums. Proceedings of 7th International Conference on
Interaction Design & Children IDC'08, (2008).
Horn, M.S. and Jacob, R.J.K.
Tangible Programming in the Classroom with Tern.
Proceedings of CHI'07 ACM Human Factors in Computing Systems
(CHI Trends Interactivity), ACM Press (2007).
Horn, M.S., and Jacob, R.J.K.,
Designing Tangible Programming Languages for Classroom Use.
Proceedings of TEI'07 First International Conference on Tangible
and Embedded Interaction, (2007).
Download & Contact Info
We will post open source software and fabrication templates here soon.
In the meantime, please email michael.horn [at] tufts.edu for