Saturday, October 10, 2015

Coding in the Classroom: Dash & Dot

What is Coding?

Simply put, coding is the language and process that allows us to create computer software, apps, and websites. It is through computer coding that we can control electronic devices and use them as resources to entertain, learn, and perform tasks. While the concept of coding can be complex, the foundation can be learned through basic if ______ then _______ statements. These concepts can by easily obtainable by students if presented in a manner that allows students to explore and progress at their own level. 

What are Dot & Dash?

Dot & Dash are two robots that are designed for students. They allow students to obtain and grasp concepts of actual computer coding in a language that makes sense to children. As their makers Wonder Workshop promote, this is "coding in kid speak." As the box label states, anyone from 5 to infinity can enjoy interacting with bots. I have witnessed both teachers (at a previously attended training) and my own students enjoy learning through the process of 'playing' with Dot & Dash.

Our First Adventure with Dash & Dot:

Please Note: this is not a promotional post. We borrowed Dash & Dot sets from our regional county office. We hope to borrow them or acquire some of our own soon.

Day #1: The first-day students spent forty minutes exploring the block-based programming language that controlled Dash. Students worked in pairs or groups of three in order to create at minimum four basic shapes: square, rectangle, triangle, hexagon. During their exploration, students realized that there was a relationship between the angle measurement and the number of sides of the polygon. Students learned that variables (such as debris on the carpet, chairs/desks, etc.) changed the output of Dash's motion. They explored changes to both speed, time traveled (seconds), which ultimately resulted in conversations about velocity and distance. As I observed, I realized that many of these concepts would have been out of reach for most students, but the tangible resource (Dash) facilitated higher-level thinking and conversations. These conversations were among students, and so much more effective than teacher-led learning. 

Day #1 (continued): Best of all, this allowed students to see the immediate results of their coding. While my classroom has focused on computer coding concepts in my classroom, participated in technology challenges, and use iPads in our classroom on a daily basis, often technology is isolated from the physical world. Students were able to see direct results from the code they developed. If they mistyped, they saw the results of this error. If the velocity was too great, they watched Dash run into the table and crash. Throughout this whole project, students rarely stayed in one place. They kept moving. Students held their iPads at precarious angles, they looked from different perspectives. They were on the floor, peering over a desk, getting at eye-level with Dash. They were permitted to move and gain perspective in any way, which allowed them to learn so much more about the code the developed than their previous experiences.

Day #2: Following the first day, students spent 10 minutes reflecting with their group about their previous day's challenges. They talked about the strategies that worked, about their group cooperation (and their interpersonal struggles), and their plan of attack. Their first task was to build an obstacle course. They were instructed to have a clear starting point, five different turns (of varying angles), and a landing point that was at least as big as Dash. After courses were set, they worked together to complete their course.

Day #4: Following the opportunity to create courses, they were asked to complete another team's course. On this day, their task required that they use both Dash & Dot to complete the course. Through this, they learned that there are many ways the robots can interact with each other. They had fun trying new ideas and liked to see how many times they could have them interact and still complete the course. During this process, students learned how to work in collaborative groups, express their own understanding, and persevere through challenges.

Day #4 (continued): Even groups that struggled with the beginning of the challenge ended the week with smiles and positive interactions. At the end of our four-day experience with Dot & Dash students were fully engrossed in the learning process. Not one student wanted to leave to use the restroom, get a drink, or needed to be reminded to focus--they just were. Even after four straight days of 'playing' with our new friends, they were discovering new interactions, trying ideas, and giggling about making mistakes. Sometimes making mistakes was even better than completing the task, and that was okay. Learning requires mistakes, and the use of Dot & Dash allowed students to recognize mistakes and actually learn through them. In fact, they wanted to make mistakes so they could improve their design, and in reality the mistakes became  more valuable than the successes. Those errors were the launching point for our conversations and pushed students to be creative with their thinking and really analyze their code, put their mathematical reasoning in practice, and really think outside the box. It fueled their creativity. 

Why should I include coding into my curriculum?

Coding is an integrated subject. Through my experience in the classroom, I have learned that the use of technology and various platforms for coding allow students to have deeper conversations about concepts ranging from mathematics, science and English language arts to space exploration, the elements of art, and so much more. Coding encourages the interdisciplinary approach to learning and allows for natural differentiation among students. It captures the reluctant learners, the GATE students, and most importantly fuels the natural curiosity of students. It inspires them to learn and improve.

What is the Hour of Code?

While barriers of cost and access to items like Dash & Dot might be a factor limiting coding education in the classroom, there are many ways to embed coding and logic education into the classroom. The Hour of Code is a week-long event happening in December (7th-13th) that promotes coding in the classroom. There are even lessons that do not include technology at all! This is an event that may serve as a launch or spark for computer coding in your classroom or school site, or serve as an additional tool to inspire students to go further their learning. I personally have participated with this event in my classroom for the past two years, and I plan on participating again. If you have any questions about how to get started, please do not hesitate. I want coding in the classroom to catch fire in classrooms around the globe. It is so critical for our students and offers so much.

How Do I Integrate Dot & Dash Into My Curriculum?

The possibilities are truly endless. There are obvious connections in mathematics and science; however, following this experience my students and I immediately started brainstorming more ideas. Currently, my students are writing persuasive essays to convince me to bring them into our classroom again. So far they have found ways to integrate them into ELA, social studies, P.E. and art. When driven to find connections, students are very creative. One of the best features of Dash & Dot (over other robotic devices) are that they are designed to be educational tools. The Wonder Workshop has resources that include lesson plans, ideas for use in the classroom, and also partners with Donors Choose to get these devices into the classroom.

I hope to hear how you use or are going to start using computer coding in the classroom! I love to hear about other ideas, so please share if you try using Dot & Dash (or anything else!). Don't forget to sign up for the Hour of Code.

As always, Happy Learning!!!


  1. This is Discovery Learning! I love how you journaled the learning process of your students during this activity. This is what should be happening in every class across the nation. Critical thinking, collaboration, and a love for learning is evident. #THT Patricia @pchristian

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