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Tech recipe: a Dash, a Dot and a bit of code

Students learn with robots, gadgets

Wyoming There’s a lot of excitement in technology teacher Tracie Schepers’ Gladiola Elementary school classroom, where second-graders are focused on Dashes. They will soon spend time with Dots.

It’s not a punctuation lesson that’s got students riveted; it’s the little blue robots called Dashes, that – with the right coding – can kick miniature soccer balls, play the xylophone and lift blocks as if on an android construction crew.

“Hi cutie! You’re so cute,” said second-grader Jerzee Hale with a squeal as she got down on the classroom floor to check out one of 10 Dashes ready to roam the class. Each Dash has its own nickname, such as Bubbles and Cloud. 

Jerzee soon joined classmates in giving Dash simple commands by using tablets and an app called Blockly, which teaches beginner coding.

“We pick different movements – left, right back and forth, stuff like that,” explained Keira Lofquist, pointing to the tablet screen and buttons from which to choose.

“It’s programmed to do different stuff, like grab a ball and put it in a cup,” said Rebeca Juearez-Perez.

Though it was the first class period students spent using the robots, it wasn’t long before they were cracking codes and making Dash move and play.

Over the next few weeks Schepers planned to have students continue moving and maneuvering the little droids, perfecting their xylophone, soccer and gripping skills. Students also learn to use challenge cards to program games for Dash and eventually code their own challenges.

Fourth-graders will also be introduced to Dot, Dash’s stationary but equally adorable counterpart. She focuses on practical things, like measuring, Schepers said.

From left, London Morris, Cy’Nia Powell, Keira Lofquist and Serenity Willaims learn to program Dash

Building Blocks of Technology

Schepers’ technology class is a “special”– like gym or art– at Gladiola. Each kindergarten through fourth-grade class attends for an hour per week. The robots are just one of many tools Schepers uses to expose students to technology and how it works. She starts by teaching basic computer skills like typing, Google Docs and cybersafety, before moving into coding and introducing Hour of Code, Code.org and other elementary-focused sites. Students eventually even experience augmented reality and virtual reality. They also spend time on Minecraft Education Edition and 3D printing.

“This is really the best job – to see students grow as fast as tech does. I have to keep one step ahead by continually going to tech conferences and looking for new things to spark their love for learning,” she said.

Schepers, who started working in Wyoming Public Schools as a student teacher in 1993, has taught technology for the past 13 years. When she started in the role, it was only part-time. However, as technology’s role in education evolved, so did her job, which became full-time in 2013. 

There’s just so much to cover to stay up to date on ever-changing devices, apps, gadgets and trends, she said.

“It’s all a part of trying to promote computer science. It’s really fun to see some of the kids that aren’t the greatest at academics, but all of the sudden computer science is what they latch onto and do very well… There’s a million jobs out there with computer science. This is just a start, to give them experiences.”

She got her first set of four Dash and Dot robots several years ago, thanks to money from the school’s parent-teacher association. Since then she’s added more and more accessories, like the xylophones and grippers.

She recently received a technology grant to purchase six new robots, which were among the crew of 10 students were using for the first time.

After just a fews minutes of programming a Dash to plink away at its xylophones, it was time for “Jingle Bells.”

“Are you ready? One, two, three,” said one student, inputting the coding.

Then, on command, the merry Dash played while students sang along. 

“Jingle all the way!”

Explore more unique video stories of students learning, interesting school programs and educators working to help all children succeed.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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