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Etoys: Introduction

License: The Etoys manual will be dual-licensed under GPL (standard for FLOSS Manuals) and MIT (standard for Etoys). By contributing, you agree that your edits can be used under both the GPL and MIT licenses.

1. Introduction

1.1 What is Etoys

Etoys is a highly engaging visual programming environment that allows students to create just about anything from interactive drawings and stories to models and games. With a "drag and drop" interface, it prevents many syntax and semantic errors that can frustrate learners new to programming, while encouraging "what if" questioning.  The projects that are possible are endless; Etoys can be used for simple drawings as well as for complex models of the physical world. While it was designed for 8-13 year olds, it has been used successfully by teachers at the high school and college level as well as by younger audiences with help from a parent or teacher.

To get an understanding of the Etoys environment, imagine you have written and wish to produce a play. The objects are the actors and Etoys allows you to easily program their actions. Etoys comes with ready-to-use objects in the Object Catalog (see A at the left on image below). Users can choose from a variety of text, graphic, multimedia, communication, and complex objects. The yellow ellipse object (see B at the bottom) is accompanied by a surrounding halo of menu items (the valuable balloon help is indicating the Viewer). One of the most useful menu items is a Viewer (see C on the right), which contains graphical programming tiles that can make the object perform a variety of actions. Some of the basic programming tiles available to the simple ellipse object can be seen in the Viewer. The object can make a variety of sounds, move forward by any amount, turn by any amount, move to any x or y position, or change its heading. There are several more menus of programming tiles that can be used to make each object perform further actions. The program to produce the play you are directing is started by dragging one of the tiles onto the workspace. A program that will move the yellow ellipse forward by 5 appears to the left of the yellow ellipse (see D at the bottom). Once you start, your project is limited only by your imagination. A very important aspect of the Etoys environment is the ability of students to author their own projects or build on projects created by others. This opens the door for a more authentic approach to learning.


With Etoys, children can draw their own sketches then bring them to life by writing "scripts" that tell the sketches what to do. Children can then put sketches and text in digital books with multiple pages, allowing them to create interactive stories to share with the world. Such sustained creative projects foster a sense of ownership and teach children the value of iterative refinement as they improve their stories over time.

Children can use Etoys to make their own models, stories, and games, which keeps them engaged because it's a lot of fun. But Etoys isn't just child's play. It's a highly effective way to teach math, science, and language arts, although many children won't realize this. Instead they'll stay immersed in discovery, reaching eagerly for each new idea, making their lessons more meaningful than with a "face-front" approach.

Young children learn best by experimentation and play. Kids are wired to grasp, drop, stack, and smash the world around them, often without adult encouragement. Problems start when students are taught things they can't see or touch. Math and grammar are difficult because they're less real than wooden blocks. Etoys makes abstractions more palpable, allowing children to visualize and explore new ideas.

Adult scientists utilize mathematics, imagination, reasoning, testing, and literacy skills in the scientific process. The long history of applying mathematics to the physical world goes as far back as Archimedes and geometry and is as recent as the application of symmetry in understanding elementary particles and cosmology. Thus, it is important to weave mathematics and literacy knowledge into the development of science reasoning and understanding to allow this natural process to flourish in an integrated environment of thought. This allows the levels of mathematical, conceptual, and science reasoning to rise together. This integrated approach represents a spiral in understanding science through mathematics, building conceptual knowledge and expressing ideas through language. Science, mathematics and literacy can be woven together in the tapestry of the Etoys environment.

1.2 Features & Benefits

  • Etoys is a free and Open Source multimedia computer environment.
  • The Etoys community continually improves functionality, adds tools and fixes bugs through regular upgrades.
  • Etoys runs on many different platforms including Sugar on the OLPC XO, Mac OS, Linux, and Windows.
  • Etoys is used worldwide and is translated into many languages.
  • Etoys is a learning environment that allows users to explore and create through authoring their own projects.
  • Using Etoys makes learners' thinking visible.
  • Using Etoys deepens understanding.
  • Etoys is a interpreted language with extreme late binding, so users get immediate feedback when doing things like running scripts they create. 
  • The Squeakland web site has many example projects from users around the world and has links to many other active Etoys sites.

1.3 Etoys in the classroom

Etoys is a tool that can be used by teachers to:

  • Create Curricullum
  • Introduce new topics
  • Assess children's understanding
  • Provide skill practice
  • Motivate students
  • Help children learn useful and powerful ideas

Etoys is a tool that can be used by students to:

  • Develop a deeper understanding
  • Creatively explore new topics
  • Create Reports
  • Communicate Ideas
  • Create their own Stories
  • Learn from each other

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