Dash and Dot, created by Wonder Workshop, are blue bundles of programmable joy. Winners of several awards in the past couple of years, their newest recognition is a 2016 KAPi (Kids at Play Interactive) Award for Best Hardware. Dash is fully mobile, includes a variety of sensors, has lights that blink in a range of colors, and is able to record and playback sounds. Dot is smaller, non-mobile and was designed to interact with Dash using her sensors. She too, can play and record sounds and includes lights. I was introduced to these robots at an educational technology conference. I was enamored! Not only were they adorable, but they promised coding opportunities for my students. I made it my mission to secure funds to purchase as many as I could. One year later, I now have 10 Dash robots in my classroom and they have far surpassed my expectations!
With the current trend in teaching coding skills to elementary students and the surge of popularity of the hour of code, the number of developmentally appropriate options for introducing coding to elementary students has increased significantly in the past couple of years. I have used many of these options in my classroom–The Foos, Tynker, and Scratch to name a few. These options are good and my students have learned quite a bit. However, they lack something that Dash and Dot have in spades–real world interactions. When a program is written for these robots the consequences can be seen in the real-world. In other words, when a student runs the program, it does not just appear on the screen, instead robots roll, light, turn, twist, blink, speak, and interact with the students and the world around them thereby increasing student engagement. Let’s face it, writing program code is tedious no matter the method, language, or system used. A successful program is all in the details. This turns many students off but there is a reason Wonder Workshop included the word “Wonder” in their company name. Wonder perfectly describes the looks on students’ faces when they watch a robot run their program. Eyes widen with excitement and faces brighten with joy. Smiles quickly spread across faces and enthusiasm is exuded from their bodies. Suddenly, coding becomes the job everyone wants when they grow up.
Wonder Workshop offers a wide variety of apps to entertain even the youngest future programmer. Path is Wonder’s programming app designed for children as young as five. Lines of “code” are drawn on the iPad screen (paths) and students can add bits of code (actions) to the path as they are unlocked. This is a simplistic way of introducing the concept that the programmer is in charge of the robot and the program written controls the robot. Blockly is next in line. For those familiar with Scratch and Tynker, Blockly works similarly as blocks of code are “built” onto one another. Wonder is the newest app from Wonder Workshop. The code is picture-based and free-form. For example, the code can be written in a circle so when a piece of code is to be repeated a child can visually see the code repeating in a circular format. Don’t let the simplistic design fool you. There are hundreds are actions that can be combined allowing for sophisticated programming opportunities.
If these apps and robots were not enough, Wonder Workshop also offers a wide range of accessories including bunny ears, a cell phone carrier that turns Dash into a moving camera, a bulldozer bar and building brick adapters. Using the building brick adapters, children can build creations onto robots adding one more layer of creativity. Users can also purchase a xylophone and a ball launcher. The Xylo app can be downloaded and users can write music for Dash to play. I was impressed by the quality of the xylophone as it is made from quality materials and produces a nice ringing sound. The ball launcher can be used with both the Blockly and Wonder apps. It is the only accessory that gave me any trouble. The thought is fantastic and fun, however, I was unable to get it to work properly. While I am sure there was user error (mine) I gave up after spending half an hour chasing balls. Children will not be so easily turned off and will power through the frustration to make this attachment work as it should.
Dash and Dot are powerhouses packed with fun, critical thinking, and problem solving. Designed to accommodate a wide range of ages, these robots are worth the hefty price tag — Dash is $149 while Dot is $49.99. TWA highly recommends these robots for anyone interested in an introduction to coding.