Learning to Program Using Toy Robots

Over the weekend I brought the Dash robot home for my kids to play with. My son Logan is 7, heading into third grade and is right in the wheelhouse for this product. My intention was to just hand him the robot and the iPad and walk away and see what happened. My son suffers from what in my experience with youngsters these days of an aversion to adversity. What I mean by that is that when things are not immediately easy for him his first instinct is to give up and do something else, which is exactly and predictably what happened in this case. I gave him minimal assistance and encouragement, which you can hear me doing on the video and he was eventually able to be OK with trial and error.

I began by using two of the programs (there are many) that are available for the robot. The first is simply called Go and is basically a remote control for the robot. It gives the user access to many of the robot’s features and uses a graphic interface to do so, no reading is required. I used this app with my daughter Ella who is five and headed to kindergarten this fall.

With Logan we used the Blockly app. If you are unfamiliar with Blockly it is a visual programming editor from Google where each block represents a snippet of code beneath. Lots of games are being developed with the platform to teach kids to code. We set up the obstacle course in the living room and I asked Logan to write a program to get Dash through to the end. The program and the robot can do way more than move, which is all he is asking it to do here.

Educational Implications

In the right hands I think this platform has some serious educational potential. I believe that the primary grades would benefit most from the use of the app and the robot and that it is a great introduction to the principals of coding. What I’m wondering is how to make the transition from Blockly to proper coding, perhaps that will be another article.

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