Feature Stories

Students work together to code a robot using their iPads

Earlier this month, students at Clear Springs Elementary saw their coding knowledge come to life when they worked with Dash and Dot, robots they program and guide from apps on their iPads. The robots engage students because they are able to see their coding work play out in real time, explained Tiffany Miley, media specialist at Clear Springs. “It is a very hands-on way to transfer their block coding skills from an online module to the real world. They can make a robot change color, sound and direction right in front of them.” 

In Kindergarten, students begin by learning code in an “unplugged” format. “At first, students learn how to give directions and debug errors in their code using paper arrows,” explained Miley. “We then code Dot together and practice changing Dot’s color pattern and sound.” After that, Kindergarteners use an app called Path that allows them to program Dash, the second robot, with pictures. First and second grade classes use other apps to expand their coding skills and solve increasingly complex questions. 

Each spring, Miley looks forward to the coding lessons “coming together” as students build independence with their skills. “Students are now ready to work on their own in small groups to run their programs and debug their programs,” she said. “It is an exciting time of year during Media to see students coding so confidently on their own!”

The Tonka Codes program at Minnetonka Schools provides computer science opportunities for students from kindergarten through their senior year. “Coding in elementary gives our students a foundation for their future STEM and robotics courses in middle and high school,” shared Miley. “It also provides a way to think critically and troubleshoot problems. It has a huge impact on their growth mindset as they learn that it’s OK to make mistakes, and just need to tell themselves, ‘I can do hard things. I can’t do this yet, but I’m going to keep trying.’” 

For Miley, working with students to develop growth mindsets is rewarding and inspiring. “That’s one of the most satisfying aspects of teaching coding with Dot and Dash,” she shared. “It’s hearing students say, ‘Look Ms. Miley! I did it! I didn’t give up!’” 

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