Friday, February 13, 2015

Dash & Dot Rule My Classroom: My Experience With DonorsChoose & Two Adorable Robots

"Hey, Mistew Dicken."
"Yes?"
"Can I dwive that wobot?!"

The smallest and youngest little boy (usually unengaged, and without a single care in the world) in my kindergarten class was beyond excited. I had just introduced my kids to Dash & Dot, Wonder Workshop's pair of blue and orange robots, designed to help teach young kids the concepts of coding. I showed them a YouTube video to announce that we would be getting a pair of the robots for our classroom. Clearly, the video had created a buzz of excitement, as very few (if any) of my students had seen a robot before, in the flesh...er...metal? Gears? Whatever.

I had read about these robots while looking through Twitter, and then Googled them and read some more. New to the education scene, the robots were getting good reviews among educators who were incorporating coding into their classrooms. I knew that I could not fund the project, and I knew that the school could not fund the project, so I decided to try out DonorsChoose.org.

It was Saturday, and I filled out the required information on the website, wrote the essay, answered some questions, and selected the items that I wanted. By Sunday night, they had posted my project, titled, Dash & Dot Are the Secret to Kindergarten Coding. By Monday afternoon my project was fully funded (thanks to two generous donors). That evening I answered a few questions to confirm the materials list, and the following day the items were ordered and shipped from the seller (Amazon.com). It was then that I showed the kids the video, and mentioned that they would arrive in a couple of weeks.



They arrived on Thursday (two days later).

Dash (L) & Dot (R) with control panel.

We unpacked the boxes together (about an hour before the end of the day), and we set up the robots and drove Dash around (they are controlled by apps on an iPad). Their excitement was uncontainable. If you know anything about kindergarteners and uncontainable excitement, then you can imagine what the end of my day was like. Here are some things that kindergarteners do when they are so excited that they can't contain it anymore: run in circles, yell (for no reason), wrestle each other (mainly the boys), jump up and down, and laugh maniacally. It was like watching an episode of Oprah where she's passing out her favorite things.

I knew that I had to direct their energy, and came up with a plan to introduce the robots' controls on Friday. I simply printed our weekly sight words on hearts (it was our Valentine's Day Party Day, after all) and put them on the floor in different locations. The directions were simple: start in one spot, drive Dash to the sight word that I tell you (they had to recognize/read the word on the heart), make him do a trick, and then drive him back to the starting point. Each student in the small group would get a turn. Easy. It was a smashing success. Everyone got a chance to drive the robot, and practice their sight words. Every child left this station beaming and chatting excitedly to their friends.

Now, for more (and more challenging) ideas...

So easy, a child can do it...literally.
Notes from Dash & Dot: Day 1

- Each student got a total of, maybe, two minutes with the robot. Within that two minutes, nearly all of them were able to drive the robot (with a purpose) quite smoothly. That's how user-friendly the controls are.
- My friend from the beginning of this post was easily the most engaged he has been all year. In fact, they probably all were.
- The app that we used to control Dash is Level 1 of 3. As you go up a level, the controls get closer and closer to actual coding.
- I noticed that one of my girls, who never answers questions (she has speech issues and struggles with her confidence because of it), was very excited and very confident while using the robot. Not only could she read the sight word that she was given, but she drove the robot effortlessly, giggling the whole time (see the video). If using these robots is a way to give a voice to a child in my room...wow.

- During our little game, I found that some of the kids who didn't know the sight words before must have been acting. With the iPad in their hands, controlling Dash, they were able to find the sight words, no problem. It was not coincidence, or an accident. They found the word immediately, and then drove him to it.

What an amazing experience! DonorsChoose was on top of every aspect of this project, and contacted me throughout the entire process with updates. They made it quick, easy and painless. I will definitely be working with them in the future, and would suggest that any teachers who need funding for a project (or who have a dream project for their classroom) work with them as well. Also, Wonder Workshop, the company that created Dash & Dot, has reached out to me, and informed me that they email teachers curriculum and ideas for the robots, as well as updates. What a great addition to an already great product! I love it when a product that I love comes with amazing customer service. Anybody looking for an engaging way to bring coding into the classroom should check these robots out. Great product...and we've only scratched the surface.

video


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