Rosie’s Runtime

When I was at Project Lead The Way in 2014 – 2016 I created an “unplugged” activity that I named Rosie’s Runtime. Rosie has been popping up a lot lately, and I’m realizing that it’s quite possibly becoming a staple of early computer science education. RosiesRuntimeRepeat

I’ve built, written, and created a lot of artifacts over the years but nothing has become as dear to me as Rosie the robotic dog, her grid of  colorful dots, and the whimsical playing cards that teach sequencing, conditionals, loops, and variables. I’ve thought about what would cause me to feel such a strong connection to this game and character.


I think some of the sentimentality stems from the fact that my youngest child, who was around 7 years old at the time, was my co-designer and beta tester. In fact, Jane drew the Blue's_Clues_Mailbox_and_Bluefirst picture of Rosie on a post-it note. I had planned for Rosie to be blue*, as a nod to Blue’s Clues. I’ve always appreciated that you can’t tell Blue is a girl because the show’s creators didn’t do anything silly like make her pink or put bows in her hair. I wanted the same for Rosie. So when the graphic designer sent back the first draft of a dog with eyelashes and a ribbon on her head… VETO!


Rosie’s name is in honor of Rosie the Riveter… a symbol of women’s empowerment at the beginning of the long climb to gender equality that we’re still on. But I kept that tidbit to myself just in case my feminist agenda would trip some kind of conservative safety switch at PLTW.

The reason I’m writing about Rosie today is that she popped up twice in my travels recently. First, at the Massachusetts Association for School Superintendents mid-winter meeting, held last week. The focus was computer science (yes, an entire ballroom full of district superintendents – just to talk about CS – I had to pinch myself!) A 2nd grade teacher was invited to demonstrate a CS lesson. She showed off Rosie’s Runtime!

The other place I happened upon Rosie was on the San Francisco Unified School District’s CS curriculum website. They have Rosie’s Runtime posted as a first unit activity for K-2 students.

I love seeing Rosie being carried forward by people I’ve never met, who were taught by people I’ve never met. That’s what you hope will happen when you spend a good chunk of time building something.

PLTW’s materials are proprietary but shortly after the release of PLTW Launch Computer Science, they decided to make Rosie’s Runtime available to the public. So if you’d like to see what it’s all about, you can find it here:

If you play, make sure you wear dog ears!

Both Learning Resources and Alex Toys have come out with scaled-down, knock-off versions of the game. Neither has anything similar to Rosie’s conditional and function folders, though. By the way, a Twister mat works well as a grid. To play “Rosie’s Path” you’ll need individual floor markers, though. If you work in a school, there’s a good chance the gym teacher has some!

*Rosie ended up being printed in several colors to make the cards easier to sort. The original six Rosie’s Runtime colors were: Teal, Blue, Purple, Green, Orange, and Fuchsia. The floor tile cards were Red.