Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories about ways in which students are benefiting from the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation’s Classroom Grants.
Five brand-new miniature robots dance, sing and light up as they scoot around in all directions. Children watch the whirlwind of activity and enjoy every moment.
But the students aren’t just observing; they are controlling the robots’ movement using skills they learned in Danielle Wroblewski’s fifth grade class at Sassarini Elementary School.
“The Dash robots bring coding to life in a tangible way,” Wroblewski said. “Students gravitate toward them because they look like a toy. To play with the robots and bring them to life, they need to code them using Wonder apps.”
Wroblewski purchased robots in 2021 to boost her students’ learning, but felt the multifunctional Dash robots would enhance the experience. The robots cost $150 each, however, a price she couldn’t afford. So, she applied for a Classroom Grant from the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. Wroblewski, along with more than 50 other applicants, was awarded a grant for the 2022-23 academic year. And that brought five new robots to Sassarini.
All students have a chance to use the Dash robots once a week in the school’s Maker Lab.
“It’s a room dedicated to creativity and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics),” Wroblewski said. “When students walk into the lab for the first time, they are in awe. It looks nothing like a traditional classroom. The space was designed to spark creativity.”
Sassarini fifth grade teacher Ronette Wesson said the Maker Lab has helped students who struggle academically.
“One place they feel most successful is in the Maker Lab,” she said. “They might struggle with their math facts and completing complex math problems, but they can learn to code. Seeing the faces of students who need that validation about their abilities is priceless.”
Jazmin, a 10-year-old fifth grade student, used the robots this month for the first time.
“They were really fun and easy to use,” she said. “If you want to control them, then you can use the app to make them go forward, backward, left and right. You can change their sounds and code them to race. I like to race them.”
Alexandra, another fifth grader, added, “I like that they are cute and how they go in different directions. And I like that they are small, but bigger than our other robots. I like how we can change the light on them and put it on different modes.”
Wroblewski’s long-term goal is to build a coding unit for all students to learn and explore computer science and programming each year.
“Last year, I introduced coding,” she said. “The students really enjoyed the lessons and using the robots. We are expanding upon what we learned last year and adding new lessons. We can increase our understanding and applications of the skills each year.”
Wroblewski has relished seeing how the robots spark students’ enthusiasm as they learn new skills.
“This month, a fifth grader told me he would become an engineer because he is good at solving problems,” she said. “He truly is; he had an amazing egg drop design last year and is a wonderful outside-the-box thinker.
“And a third grader enthusiastically told me he could debug seven bugs in his code. He was so proud of himself for being able to problem solve on his own and get the robots moving.”
Wroblewski said students enjoy the robots so much, they sometimes keep using them during recess.
“It’s wonderful to see so many interested students interested and engaged,” she said.
For their final project this year, students will program their robots to participate in a dance challenge.
“You can make them dance, make them move, and be really creative with it,” said Tano, a fifth grade student.
Wroblewski added, “Dance is our theme for coding this year. We slowly increase the complexity and challenge of coding.”
She created a dance with an unplugged coding lesson using action cards, will use the Blockly app to code instructions for the Dash robots to dance and then use Chromebooks to code a dance party next week at code.org for the Hour of Code — a one-hour introduction to computer science featuring fun tutorials.
“The Dash robots give students feedback in such a fun way,” Wesson said. “They laugh, learn and get joyful validation from the Dash robots and they help bridge the friendship gap.
“Some kids who are challenged with finding friends engage with their peers, and they wouldn’t do so otherwise.”
Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at email@example.com.