Innovators - Jessica Papcunik

K-5 | Technology Skills | App & Robot

Wonder Workshop > Innovators > Jessica Papcunik

Jessica Papcunik is the computer science teacher at Hartwood Elementary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

To begin our work with Dash and Puzzlets, my students engaged in an inquiry lesson. Students worked in teams of two or three to discover how Dash, the Puzzlet tray, and the Puzzlet pieces that collaborate with Dash work together to make Dash move and interact. I showed students the materials and how to pair Dash to the Puzzlets tray. Then, I gave teams time to collaborate to figure out how to make Dash move. I found that lesson to be very beneficial. I learned a lot about my students' habits of mind in the process because they faced several challenges along the way. Many groups did not know how to make Dash work right away, some gave up and needed encouragement while other persisted until they found success. The commands given to Dash using Puzzlet pieces depend on sequential organization. The Play button needs to be the last tile added to the tray. The students needed to realize that the sequence of events they created on the tray were triggered by adding the Play tile as the last command.


It took most students a little while to figure this out, but it was interesting to watch and listen to the students grapple with the situation. I heard many groups saying things like "When we did this, this happened, but when we changed something, it didn’t work anymore. What was the variable that actually worked? How can we make that happen again?" I did this lesson with first and second graders. It was interesting to see the various problem solving methods that students used. Some teams depended on trial and error, while others attempted to plan out a system to figure out which piece was going to trigger Dash to complete the sequence. There were some student groups who figured out how to start their program very quickly, while other groups needed hints to support their problem solving. I gave simple hints like, “What did you already do that worked," and "Look for the piece that looks different from the others.” The Play Puzzlet piece is slightly thinner than the other pieces. This would help them start to think about which piece they needed, but they still needed to discover that the sequence was important as well. The first lesson was exploratory and allowed the students to spend a lot of time trying different ideas that the team came up with. During this lesson when teams cracked the code to getting Dash to execute their program, they had time to play and discover the function of each of the Puzzlet pieces.

As a follow up to this lesson, we talked about sequence of events, and how they were were writing a program with the Puzzlet pieces to give Dash commands just like they had on Code.org. Students had prior experience with Code.org where they wrote programs and used the proper sequence of events in order for various things to occur. The next step was for us to apply the knowledge the students had uncovered. I created mazes on the floor, and teams would plan, test, and revise a sequential program using Puzzlets to navigate Dash through the maze. They would work together to debug and revise their program if they were unsuccessful. Students also designed courses for their classmates to navigate. They used things like straws and empty boxes to build their own maze. Teams would design the course and then challenge another team to successfully navigate their Dash to reach the finish line. I used Puzzlets to introduce Dash to my second graders for their first two experiences with the robot.

Then, we moved to Blockly on the iPad. The transition went very well. The second graders had experience with Code.org, so they had worked with block-based coding already. The teams started with solving a few of the puzzles built into Blockly. They found success by seeing the progression from very simple commands to adding more complex commands in each level. The feedback provided through Blockly was also helpful to the students. This experience was something that built them up to be prepared for the Challenge Cards that are in the Wonder Workshop Curriculum Pack. Students finished our unit with Dash by completing a series of challenges from the Challenge Cards set. The challenges encouraged critical thinking and problems solving, and the students enjoyed working together to complete them. I think the progression from block-based coding on Code.org, to using Puzzlets to program Dash, to using Blockly to program Dash tied everything together very well for my students and helped them to see that there are a number ways to program even when working with one robot, in this case Dash.

I had the opportunity to participate in a showcase through a local organization called ABC Create, which is a group of fourteen local schools and universities that collaborate to share information about innovative teaching practices. This showcase allowed teachers from the collaborative to share different technology and innovative teaching practices that they have used and found success with. Since the Puzzlets for Dash are new, and I felt my students gained a deeper understanding of programming, critical thinking, and problem solving through the lesson they completed I requested to share my experience. I did the same inquiry based lesson with teachers as well. We didn’t have as much time as I did with my students, so I gave them the Puzzlet pieces, Dash, and the Puzzlet tray, and I challenged them to see if they could get Dash to work. It was funny to watch adults do the same task because they also grappled with the same issues the students had trouble with in figuring out what that key component was in order to trigger Dash to start his movement.

The collaboration between Puzzlets by Digital Dream Labs and Dash from Wonder Workshop has allowed two incredible innovative teaching tools come together and allow for students to experience computer science, coding, problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration. In my opinion, the partnership has made Dash more accessible for younger students as well as the average classroom because it eliminates the need for a tablet, which can be an expensive and not always available.The accessibility piece is allowing exposure and experience to kids at a much younger age due to the nature of the Puzzlet pieces being tactile and simple enough for young children. For example, my four-year-old is able to interact with Dash using the Puzzlet pieces. Previously he could only drive Dash using the Go app, but now, he’s actually building purposeful sequences, problem solving, and making connections between input and output. These materials are opening up the opportunity for schools to use the same robotics materials across a wide range of ages. Puzzlets and Dash have been a great addition to my classroom and I'm looking forward to continuing to share them with my students.

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