Purposeful Play with Puzzlets!

I’ve been blogging lately about a variety of newer educational technology tools that promote gamification and game-based learning for the K-5 classrooms to support coding, math, inquiry, storytelling, purposeful play, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. I would like to share another gamification tool called Puzzlets. Puzzlets Play Tray is a hardware accessory for a tablet or computer on an iOS or Android platform that allows students to build programs out of real Puzzlet pieces to navigate through an app-based gaming storyline. Puzzlets game pieces are grounded in computer science methodology with each game app focusing on a STEAM subject area. Although the vendor suggests that Puzzlets can be utilized for a K-8 student population, my guess with student prowess continuing to develop in the computer science arena, that the more appropriate grade range is K-5.

There is very little upfront set-up needed to get this technology tool up and running quickly in the classroom. Simply add an app, Cork the Volcano as an example, onto a mobile device and either hardwire the Puzzlets Play Tray or use the Bluetooth wireless connection. I would recommend that students work in pairs, with one student acting as the “navigator” by putting the instruction tiles together on the Play Tray while the other student is the “driver” of the app that advances the program throughout the gaming quest. Students level up by first participating in a “build mode” to plan and determine the possible solution to the challenge on the screen, then run the “play mode” button on the app to gauge their coding success as well as use trial and error to fix any programming problems so that they can guide their character successfully through the quest with the end goal of rescuing their island to “cork the volcano” with the treasures they’ve earned along their journey. Each level up requires a higher level of critical thinking, many more attempts through trial and error, and efficient coding because the quests become timed. As students develop their newfound programming skills, they can go back and replay previous levels to collect more treasures and also practice their enhanced coding skills. What is interesting about this gaming app is that directions and wording does not fill the screen or drive their learning, it is more about intuition, deep thinking and possible solutions. The Puzzlets gaming system currently offers three apps including Cork the Volcano which focuses on coding, Abacus Finch which focuses on math skills and Swatch Out which introduces color theory.

In eLearning educational gaming terms, Puzzlets Play Tray would be considered more of a gamification tool because:

  • it utilizes game design elements and mechanics to challenge and motivate the students
  • it takes an existing course of coding or math and adds gaming elements such as point systems, level progressions and achievement badges
  • the game is created to engage learners so that they become active participants in their own learning
  • the game elements are integrated to help the learner achieve their learning goals and objectives

Additionally, the Puzzlets gaming system pairs nicely with the current ISTE Standards for Students as they become:

  • Empowered learners to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating coding competency by mastery/leveling up
  • Knowledge constructors by using trial and error to solve the challenges screen by screen
  • Innovative designers by creating imaginative solutions to complete each path and level up in a timely fashion
  • Computational thinkers by testing solutions and leveraging their power as a collaborative team
  • Creative communicators in how the student teams use the platform pieces and app to reach their goals

Furthermore, through grit, failure and teamwork, students have the power to persevere and develop core academic and foundational technology skills. I think the vendor tagline says it all, “make game time, brain time”!

Meet Dash & Dot!

Having just spent last week at the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC), this blog post for my doctoral class on learning technologies is perfectly timed and extremely relevant. Echoing the requirement for the blog post was my same goal while attending the FETC Conference in that I am always looking for educational technology whether it be a device, app, website or program that fits together pedagogically with our district curriculum yet extends student thinking, application and creation. With coding becoming a large focus in my district in the lower grade levels, it is only natural that I would like to share my insight on Dash and Dot.

Dash and Dot are cute little teal educational robots that work together to teach children how to code from Pre-K through 3rd grade. Dash acts as the actual robot and Dot functions more as the remote control for Dash. At the simplest level of operation, a student can bo_and_yana_1075_724_sdirect Dash’s operations by drawing a line with his or her finger on a tablet through an app called Go. Students can also send Dash on missions to deliver messages or use Dot to act out a character in a story. As students develop a better understanding of how Dot and Dash operate and move, there are three other apps to support higher order thinking including Path, Wonder and Blockly. From a hardware perspective, the robots work with a variety of Android and iOS devices, but ideally, you will want to use a tablet for a larger work surface. Dash has a battery life of 90 minutes and Dot well over 2 hours and easily can be linked to almost all curricular subjects because learning how to code is like learning how to read, learning how to write, solving math problems, using physics and learning a foreign language.

Since the robots are driven by the apps, it is important to take a closer look at the other apps that support Dash and Dot and showcase how they connect to the teaching and learning process. Before reviewing the remaining apps and linking to the ISTE Student Standards, ISTE Teacher Standards and the Triple E Framework, it is important to remind teachers that using these robots in a classroom setting is best accomplished in student pairs or triads to elicit collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication.

  • Regarding the ISTE Student Standards, Dash and Dot check the boxes on the majority of those standards including: #1 Creativity and Innovation, #2 Simple Communication and Collaboration (partially), #4 Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making, as well as #6 Technology Operations and Concepts. Using the Path app, students can plan, program and execute adventures. The ISTE Student Standards complement the students sharing their successes and failures of getting Dash and Dot to successfully complete their physical challenges and extend their newfound skills to apply to an authentic classroom challenge such as a problem solved through storytelling or actually creating a process for someone struggling on a task.
  • The Wonder app is a step up from the Path app and really supports the teacher and student in achieving higher order thinking. Using the ISTE Teacher Standards in conjunction with the Wonder app, the only box that really gets checked is the first ISTE Teacher Standard of Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity. The Wonder app functions as picture-based language and guides students on a variety of challenges to learn how to code. The challenges run the gamut of traveling through the Arctic Wilderness or the African Grasslands or even to Outer Space. Students also learn how to turn Dot into a traveling companion of Dash with a variety of noises like a lion, trumpet or arcade. The Wonder app is the coding canvas for creative play. By designing these behaviors and interactions, it’s as if the robots have personalities and intelligence as well as afford hours of unstructured play with endless ideas and innovations brought to life.
  • The Blockly app is yet another bump in the higher order thinking process and continues to check the same boxes for both the ISTE Student & Teacher Standards. Blockly is a visual drag-and-drop programming tool that allows students to snap together commands just like you would puzzle pieces. This app offers the highest level of student practice in coding through sequencing challenges such as control flow, loops, algorithms, operations and conditionals as well as sensors and events. Applying the Triple E Framework Rubric on the Blockly app produced a score of 15 out of 18 possible points making the app an exceptional potential for classroom usage. The app received high marks on the engagement in learning component, mid-to-high marks on the enhancement of the learning goals and mid-to-high marks on the extension of the learning goals element. Key takeaways from applying the Triple E Framework was that the app afforded students the opportunity to demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of programming, provided a bridge between student school learning and everyday life experiences, and offered the chance to build authentic life soft skills.

After playing with the technology and apps, I would offer the developer of the product a few suggestions. The one app I didn’t overly mention in this blog was the Xylo app which is a newer app centered on music. Although it teaches algorithm design, command sequence and loops, it’s not overly needed in my opinion at this point compared to the other apps and perhaps a little gimmicky. In the bigger picture, it might behoove the developer to create a new app that allows multiple robots to interface with one another and/or create a wetsuit that Dash and Dot can wear to head into water play. Overall, the developer has created a full-featured product, with a variety of apps and teacher curricular support content to fully utilize the robots in a lower elementary classroom setting that will support many of the required district, Common Core and NGSS standards.