Simran, age 6, bonding with the "Panda".
Though I am an "Early Adapter of Technology" (at least according to Facebook), I've been wary of the new coding learning tools aimed at early readers (ages 5+).
For example, I have trouble swallowing a $180 price tag for a cube bot that will teach a 3 year old how to command basic directions. My first question is: What happens when the kid wants to make their cube run like a Roomba?
Young kids, specifically 5-7, are especially difficult to create coding tools for because of their non-linear, imaginative thinking. I've seen kids this age more excited for an empty, refrigerator box than a shiny, new piece of technology. Any parent or teacher can tell you how hard it is to hold the attention of a kid this age.
At the same time, anyone who knows my lab knows how much I love Makeblock. The $100-a-pop mBots are a staple of my coding clubs, and The All-In-One Neuron Kit is a fixture in my intermediate coding classes.
Something that Makeblock has done well, and consistently, is to create open-ended, durable learning kits that have kids really working through coding as an ongoing process.
Authentic learning means that kids should be using coding toys to interact with or expand their environment in many ways. Makeblock has managed to avoid an all-too-common pitfall of creating a coding toy that does a specific function, like avoid objects, in a limited context.
Despite my brand loyalty to Makeblock, I passed on their new Codey Rocky Kickstarter back in November. Lucky for me, they sent me one.
Promotional photo from Makeblock's Codey Rocky Kickstarter.
What is the Codey Rocky?
Codey Rocky is a cute, unisex mini-bot that can unlock the world for young coders. It can move, play a video game, connect to Wi-Fi and give you a weather report. It's a trip and a half.
So many sensors...
So a lot of the kids I used the Codey Rocky with already have experience with the mBot coding robot. Aside from the Scratch-based, mBlock 5 programming interface, there are a lot of areas where the mBots and the Codey Rocky stand apart.
Mainly, where the mBot is fairly straightforward as a customizable robot with a few sensors (distance sensor & line detector sensor), the Codey Rocky is an entirely different beast.
This robot's head has so many features built into it. No detachable parts here. Everything is streamlined but offers up a little bit of everything to keep users occupied.
A programmable robot & a controller
The biggest thing for me about the Codey Rocky is the controller head. The panda head of the robot is also a game controller with 3 buttons, a volume controller, USB-C port and a power button. It's loaded with
Basically, if my kids create a Scratch-style, block -based game on mBlock5, they can program it to play it with the panda controller head (instead of a mouse or keyboard).
To me, that functionality immediately raises the potential of the Codey Rocky ten fold. The reemergence of retro-styled games, like Flappy Bird, Minecraft, and mobile apps, means that my students would kill to be able to create a video game that can be played with an actual controller.
I'll be posting a video about this soon...as soon as I figure out how to code my own version of Flappy Bird in mBlock 5.
Connect to the Internet of Things (IoT)
This is an area where I don't think Japan has quite caught up to the rest of the world, at least where I am in Kansai. It seems like every other private school kid got a Google Home this last Christmas but, aside from talking to Google, do they really know how to use the IoT features?
The Codey Rocky can connect to your devices, which means you can program it to get a weather report for you or send notifications to your smartphone.
Here a brush-up on the "what" of the Internet of Things (IoT)? And here, my families are still blown away by App Inventor.
Summary: Codey Rocky is a powerful statement about coding "toys".
In terms of features, the Codey Rocky is nothing like anything I've ever seen. It's way more than I expected and a daunting vision of what programming education could be at this very moment, but probably isn't yet.
Not only is it powerful tech, but it's so accessible. I think the most ringing endorsement I can give for it is that the Codey Rocky is clearly designed to grow with the coder. As the coder learns, they can access the higher functions of the Codey Rocky.
I'm going to be getting a bunch of these for this year's Makers Camp (sign up if you haven't already!). It is a wicked bot.
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©2017 Lee Hanae Ung