Dash and Dot are a pair of robots that must be purchased to use with Wonder for Dash and Dot Robots. A suite of five apps can be used with the robots, with Wonder being one of the more advanced, sophisticated apps. The robots require a device with a Bluetooth connection and must be connected to the app each time kids play. With Wonder, kids can create their own routines for the robots to complete and save the routines for the robot to complete without the app, just by pressing a button on the robot.
Kids use a coding language to drag commands into order for Dash or Dot to complete. Kids complete puzzles to learn hands-on what the robots can do. As they complete the quests, memories telling the story of Dash and Dot’s invention are unlocked along with different special abilities. Using commands to control lights, colors, sounds, motions, movements, and special effects, kids can make Dash or Dot complete all kinds of fun routines and save them to the robot so they can show off with the touch of a button.
KOOV is an interactive design and coding platform where kids use blocks and sensors to build and manipulate interactive robots. Kids can start with simple designs and programs to get the hang of the process and then work their way up to more complex or freestyle projects. In-app tutorials walk students through step-by-step procedures to build structures and then use drag-and-drop block coding to activate various sensors and motors. The 3D feature is nice here: As kids are building, they can zoom in and rotate the angles to see all dimensions.
The drag-and-drop motions can be a source of frustration: The spaces within the blocks are a challenge to manipulate, even for small fingers, and the blocks may not attach in the desired order. But more likely, the bigger issue teachers will have is that everyone will want to participate. That means multiple classroom kits, which presents a pretty hefty price tag. While the kits themselves are expensive, there are abundant resources available in the app and on the developer’s website, free of charge. These include detailed interactive tutorials, downloadable lesson plans, classroom management capability, and access to a design community.
Kodu Game Lab
Kodu Game Lab is a tool for making 3D video games without all the toil and complexity of real coding. Kodu’s visual menus let students act as game designers, pointing and clicking to create objects (and worlds) and defining their behaviors in the game through visual, Lego-like “if this, then that” statements. When finished, students can share their worlds and games online for others to play.
Kodu provides some tutorials and a curriculum, which includes basic introductory lessons to the platform as well as math-focused lessons where kids learn core concepts like area and probability while making games. The user community also has created many other tutorials and guides for various subjects.
Google CS First
Google CS First is an online platform for creating, managing, and teaching a middle school computer science (CS) program. There are currently 72 programming explorations and lessons across nine domains (such as arts, gaming, sports, storytelling, and social media). Each lesson is ready to go out of the box and includes a minute-by-minute teacher script, student instructions, example projects, materials (with solution guides), and more. The site also features comprehensive help guides for everything from setting up and maintaining a club to tips for classroom management and discipline issues.
Coding is done largely through MIT’s excellent Scratch platform, which means there’s plenty of support out there for kids who need a bit of help, as well as meaningful pathways to more advanced coding experiences beyond middle school.
Human Resource Machine EDU
Human Resource Machine EDU is a puzzle game designed to teach essential elements of coding. Each level presents players with new challenges and new code blocks that must be arranged correctly to complete the puzzle. As puzzles increase in complexity with each new level, students employ logic (e.g., boolean operators, conditionals, loops), implement algorithms, optimize code, and demonstrate an understanding of mathematical operations. Many puzzles can be solved in more than one way (just as with real coding tasks), and players are sometimes given the option to find not just a solution, but the simplest or fastest solution.
Teachers have the option of creating a class and tracking student work. Not only can you see which tasks they’ve completed but also which skills they’ve demonstrated. As the tasks and skills become more complex, this dashboard provides a window into student needs for reteaching and concept development.
Made with Code
Google’s Made with Code aims to introduce girls to the world of coding through various resources including tutorials, videos, partner projects, and community connections. Tutorial projects use Blockly, a visual programming language where blocks fit together into logical sequences to complete a task. Choose from a dozen custom coding projects such as designing an avatar or GIFs, enabling a dance visualizer or music mixer, and more.
What makes this site stand out from others is its mentor videos and community resources. Inspiring videos showcase a diverse range of female coders from industries including robotics, fashion, public service, entertainment, and healthcare. These coding women defy gender stereotypes and model opportunities in a typically male-dominated field. Similarly, the Community and Resource pages showcase partnership projects created by teams of teen coders, as well as a searchable database of coding opportunities across the United States.
Algo Bot is a game where players solve basic puzzles through arranging sequences of commands. You’re on Europa, a pan-galactic colonization ship with a sleeping crew. Your job is to guide Algo Bot, a service droid, through the steps necessary to do its job. Its role is to help the supervising robot PAL (who verbally abuses Algo Bot regularly) take care of a crisis by pushing buttons, disposing of other droids, and even moving along conveyor belts. To do these tasks, players program a series of steps that Algo Bot will carry out. The first levels begin with moving forward, turning left, and turning right, but pretty quickly functions and variables get added for more complex challenges. Players click the play button to have Algo Bot carry out their given commands. The goal of each level is to get Algo Bot to its destination on the screen, having carried out its tasks in the most efficient manner possible by optimizing code.
The game has over 40 levels in five different areas of the ship. Each time a new programming option is presented, the game’s built-in help generally explains how it works. Players can also access some extra help by clicking the question mark, but that only gives basic tips. The game can be played in many different languages, including English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Polish.
The Pack – NYSCI
Made by the New York Hall of Science, The Pack – NYSCI is a coding/algorithm puzzler in the form of a game where players take care of and expand an ecosystem. Set on the world of Algos, where water and food are scarce, the game challenges players to locate seeds and expand water resources to help fix the environment. Despite the dystopian-sounding premise, the graphics are beautiful, and players have no time limit for completing levels, allowing for free exploration. They can’t venture too far from water sources, however. For that, they need help; members of their Pack can travel to dry areas.
Players start alone, but as they gather food, they’ll soon encounter potential members of their Pack. By feeding these beings food, the beings join the Pack. Each type of being has a special skill that can be used, alone or in combination, such as digging up seeds, moving boulders, grabbing items, or repeating instructions, all of which take additional food. Food regularly replenishes itself, so if players run out, there’s always more to gather. After a player’s Pack includes more than one type of member, players can create algorithms where members of the Pack do tasks in combination to solve more complex problems.
There’s a mini-map on the screen as you play, and there’s a larger map where players can see the whole explored world, helping with navigation and planning. Players tap and drag the screen to move around, but the interface is a bit clumsy, and it’s hard to move with any finesse. Also, it’s easy to lose track of an algorithm already in progress that players have forgotten to end. Options to access, edit, or stop algorithms that are still running are difficult to find in the game. The game includes a screen with player achievements and a travel log, keeping track of the stats.
Thunkable is the next iteration of MIT App Inventor, combining a block-based coding language similar to Scratch with the ability to design an app screen by screen. If you’re a previous App Inventor Android user, know that the Thunkable interface is more or less the same. To start, you must choose Android or iOS. Then, in design mode, you add elements to a cell phone-sized screen. Users can add buttons, text, images, and even map functionality to create a fully functional app. Once each element is added, you can code its function by switching to Blocks and adding interlocking code blocks. Unlike with Scratch, you’re not coding the actions of a cute little character, so it’s not easy to just start playing around. Instead, you need a bit of a plan, or you can make use of the tutorials.
Thunkable has a set of 10 tutorials on YouTube that provide a good start in both understanding what the site is capable of and getting you initiated to building apps. As you build your app, you can test it by mirroring it on an Android device or — if you have the Thunkable app — on an iPhone or iPad. You can build a real app that will run on a device and can be published (and sold if it’s good) on Google Play or the Apple App Store (though there’s a fee for that).
7 Billion Humans
The world within 7 Billion Humans is a utopia where machines were doing all the work until the humans decided they missed the working life. So, the machines — who are very amusing and quite snarky — gave them jobs. And it’s the player’s role to write code to tell those humans how to do their jobs. This is done through drag-and-drop coding using parallel processing. Each of the more than 60 levels of the app presents a new tool or an increasingly more difficult programming challenge.
A machine-based manager on each level gives instructions for what needs to be done on that level. Their banter also contributes to the storyline, to hilarious effect. There’s a built-in hint system for some levels — just tap the manager — and levels can be skipped if players get stuck; there’s no need to solve one puzzle to unlock the next level. Players can run their program at any time, either by executing the whole thing at once or by stepping through their program, line by line. Students can also increase the run speed for long programs, or slow it down if desired.