Apps, Computer Science, Creative Thinking, Education, K-12, Parenting, Teaching Tools

Meet Dash and Dot – Again

Over a year ago I posted about a couple of cool new toys that were being crowdfunded by a company called, “Play-i.”  They were adorable robots that could be controlled with bluetooth devices and even programmed using block programming.

A lot has happened in a year.  The company is now called Wonder Workshop.  The robots are now called Dash and Dot.  But the appearance and functionality are the same.

And they are finally available.

image from
image from

I haven’t had a chance to review the pair yet, but they are already getting quite a bit of press around the web.  I decided to post about them today because, if you are interested in purchasing from Wonder Workshop, December 16th is the deadline for receiving your product by Christmas.

What I see looks very promising – a chance for children to code, problem solve, and create with cute robotic pals.  These aren’t Lego robots (but you can purchase brick connectors to make them adaptable to Lego bricks and Minstorms).  They are playful and full of personality, and will have great appeal to the younger set.

See what you think!

3-12, Computer Science, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Education, Student Products, Teaching Tools

Cubelets Update


Last November, I published a post about an interesting product by Modular Robotics called, “Cubelets.”  It was included in my “Gifts for the Gifted” series, which I try to do every November and December.  (You can find a collection of these here.)

Cubelets are a bit pricey for a birthday gift, but they make a wonderful addition to the classroom.  If you can get a grant for the large set, I highly recommend it.  Even the smaller set is great for a pair of students to use.  You can find a detailed description of how they work on my previous post.  You can also purchase Cubelets separately.  After some experience with them, I would definitely suggest that you order at least one extra Battery Cubelet with any set you purchase.  Every robot you make with the other cubes needs a Battery Cubelet to power it. The best ratio is to have at least 2 Battery Cubelets for every 4 students.  It makes a great center activity or station in a Maker Studio if you cannot afford more than one set.

S.T.E.M. and Maker Spaces are hot topics in schools today.  Cubelets are great for both.  You can combine the cubes in hundreds of ways, and they are fascinating to use for building all types of robots.  I love listening to the invention ideas and problem solving conversations that arise when my students use them.

You can now purchase “Brick Adapters” for your Cubelets that will allow you to use them with Legos.  That’s going to be the next item in my shopping cart!

Modular Robotics is also about to start shipping their new MOSS product this April, 2014.  I backed MOSS on Kickstarter, and can’t wait to get my kit.  There are 4 mobile apps expected to be released soon for this system.  You can learn more about it here.

I got really pumped a couple of days ago when two of my 3rd graders made a drawing robot out of the Cubelets.  It was completely their invention, and we were so excited to watch it work! I’ve embedded the video below.

5-8, 6-12, Education, Research, Science, Videos

“Magic Arms” and Robots for Humanity

The other day, I was talking to one of my GT classes about the possibility of our Maker Studio classroom getting a 3D Printer through Donors Choose.

“Can’t those be used to make guns?” one student, who apparently pays some attention to current events, asked.

“Those should be banned, then,” said another student.

This brought up a great discussion about technology, and the inventions, through time, that have had both positive and negative impacts on our society.  How many creations have been designed to help people or address a particular need, but ended up being harmful to us (or the other living things on this planet) as well?  And, how many, if any, were created for violent purposes, but ended up being helpful in the right hands?

We have also been reading The Giver, and discussing the fine line between freedom and safety, a connection which one student quickly brought up.

Ultimately, the class decided that getting a 3D printer would be a great idea – and that we would commit to using it for good if the project gets funded 😉

Since then, I’ve run across a couple of videos that show how some current controversial technologies have changed lives for the better.  My hope is that we can educate our students to become innovators who are wary of possible negative consequences from new technologies, but find multiple ways to bury those detrimental uses with the positive benefits of their creations.

3-12, Apps, Augmented Reality, Education, Science, Teaching Tools

TracLabs Atlas

I couldn’t wait until Phun Phriday to share this post.  So, I’m officially declaring today Thrilling Thursday!

On Tuesday, I saw a tweet from @techminock (2 Guys and Some iPads) about an app from FuelFX.  After responding to Drew’s tweet, I got a tweet with the link to the app from FuelFX, and an invitation to try it out, too.

The free app is called TracLabs Atlas, and uses augmented reality.  Here is the iOS link, and here is the Android version.  After you download the free app, you will also need to go the provided web link to print the marker that you will scan with your tablet.

When you scan the marker, a 3-D robot appears.  You can “program” the robot by positioning its arms and legs in a series of steps, then playing the steps in quick succession.

Yesterday was my day with my 4th grade GT students, and I decided to let them test it out.  They loved it!  And the movements that they programmed for their robots were much more creative than my boring, stilted example.  One group figured out how to make their robot turn into a Transformer.  Another one decided to maker their robot perform a couple of ballet movements.  (I embedded the latter video below.) Two other groups spent their time trying to figure out how to get their robots to interact with each other.

When I asked the students what they would do to improve the app, most agreed that they would love more options – different robot choices, colors, music, clothing, and other ways to personalize the robot.  My recommendation would be to offer a sharing feature for videos of the robot performing the programs.

As a proponent of teaching programming to kids, I see a lot of potential with this app.  I look forward to any updates or other augmented reality apps for the classroom that FuelFX offers in the future!

(Want to know more about augmented reality?  Try here or here.  Also, check out my Flipboard magazine, “Augmented Reality in Education.”)



Education, K-12, Parenting, Science

Quick – Name a Famous Female Programmer


Last year, our school Robotics club had 18 boys and 6 girls.  This year, I thought I would try to even out that ratio by using a bit of subtle persuasion.  I put a picture of the girls from last year’s Robotics team on the applications.

Apparently, I was a bit too subtle.

We just finished going through the applications for our Robotics Club.  Once again, we have 6 girls and 18 boys.  Even more disturbing, we have 14 kids on a waiting list.  All boys.

I don’t want to exclude anyone from our club.  But I would really like to know why it seems more attractive to the boys in our school than the girls.

Are girls genuinely not interested, or was my feeble attempt to attract more females to the club just washed out by the bombardment of subliminal messages kids get every day that Robotics and programming are more suitable for boys?

When I inherited the co-sponsorship of our Robotics club, I went to a summer training.  When I got home, I was so pumped about the program that I pretty much steamrolled my daughter into applying for the club.  I might have overdone my enthusiasm a bit because I then had to tell her that she might not get chosen in the random drawing.

“But you’re my mom,” she said.

“I have to be fair,” I replied.

Fortunately, her name was drawn, and we got to spend a year of programming together.  Her perseverance in problem solving skyrocketed. Her feelings toward Robotics are now somewhat neutral (as opposed to disdainful). She might never be a programmer or an engineer, but at least she can decide that based on her interest level, not her gender.

To be honest, I don’t know if I would have pressured my daughter to try Robotics if I hadn’t become the sponsor by default.  I never volunteered for the role in the first place because the lofty title of Robotics sponsor intimidated me.  Then I realized that I teach Gifted and Talented students – and I’m not Gifted and Talented.  So, why would I need to be a NASA engineer to teach Robotics?

In this article from Edweek, “Cracking the Code,” Michelle Davis, who writes about technology for “Education Week Digital Directions”, admits that she looked into a coding club (Coder Dojo) for her son, but didn’t even think that her daughter might be interested.

I’m not judging, because I have a feeling I honestly have no idea if my daughter would have tried Robotics if I hadn’t become a late convert myself.

There are organizations, like Girls Who Code, who are trying to reduce the deficit of females in these fields.  But, we’re not going to start restricting our Robotics club to females.

What I would like to ask is for those of you who read this to consider if you have inadvertently implied that programming, engineering, or even building cool stuff with Legos is a “boy” thing.  If you have a daughter, or a young female who looks up to you as a teacher or mentor in any capacity, think about suggesting that she learn programming on her own (here is a link to my Pinterest board on Programming for Kids) or try to get involved in a local group that offers it.

Let’s defeat this stereotype.

Here’s a nice list of Famous Women in Computer Science, if you are interested:)

Careers, Education, Games, K-12, Science, Teaching Tools

Your Child – the Future Headliner of “Hypothesizing with the Stars”

Lego's new mini fig star!
Lego’s new minifig star!

Many attempts to encourage girls to pursue scientific careers through toys seem to follow a line of thinking that suggests that merely producing playthings in pastel purples and pinks will make them more appealing to the female gender.  I have addressed the questionable nature of this hypothesis in a couple of other posts. (See Goldiblox, for example.)  There is still a huge gap between the number of men and women in science, but steps have been taken in the right direction, lately.

For example, Lego just unveiled its new scientist mini-fig and, I am thrilled to see that she is not dressed in a frilly pink apron.  (Although, you might be interested to read here about the other figures bundled in this collection!) 

In another Lego related story, Mary Beth Hertz relates her experiences with girls and robotics using the Lego Mindstorms Robotics Kits.  Mary noticed, as I have, that there is a disproportionate number of boys at robotics events.  I was amazed, myself, to see how few girls applied for our 4th & 5th grade Robotics Club last year.  Although I do not want to exclude the boys, I would like to see more girls turn in applications. (We do a random drawing for members from the papers that are submitted.)  I’m not planning to make the applications pink, but I think a photo of some of the girls who were members last year should definitely be prominently displayed on the brochure!

In the meantime, check out this cool Kickstarter Project for a board game called, Robot Turtles designed to teach programming to 3-8 year olds.  Yes, I said BOARD game – and, even better, the intent is for it to be played along with the parents.  You can read more about it here. (For more programming for kids ideas, you can check out this post.)

And, to top it all off, Bill Nye the Science Guy is going to be on Dancing with the Stars.  How perfect is that?

A new generation of scientists/programmers/engineers is waiting in the wings.  Let’s do what we can to make these aspiring scientists the “stars” with whom everyone wants to dance 😉

Click here for the Kickstarter page for Robot Turtles!
Click here for the Kickstarter page for Robot Turtles!