What do data mining and targeted internet ads have to do with programming robots? Well, for us, they are directly linked. A Facebook ad targeted directly at me, based on my internet searches back in early 2014 opened up a whole new world for all of us.
It started with a little boy’s fascination with robots.
There’s a pretty universal love of robots. There’s just something special and quite awesome about a controllable entity to do your bidding. I think many of us have had dreams when we were kids–envisioning a robot making our beds, taking out the trash, and doing all the chores we don’t want to do ourselves.
Aiden has always loved the concept of robots. I think he may have been about 4 or 5 when he asked for his first robot for Christmas. Nice try kiddo – if Mom doesn’t have a robot that washes dishes yet, there’s no way Santa is going to supply you with one to skip out on your chores. Besides the seniority factor in the household, there was also the barrier of what he saw in his mind as a ‘robot’ and what actually existed in the market for ‘robots’. Looking back on it, I probably could have given him a Roomba and made us both happy for a bit, but regardless, in his mind a robot was something he could program and control and there wasn’t a thing on the market that would hold up to the ‘delicate handling’ of a young boy. There were products that existed, but I was finding the products to either be ‘too young’, ‘too advanced’, or ‘too expensive’.
I kept my eyes open, and kept prodding the internet to produce the answer I was looking for. I needed to figure out how to keep his interest in programming and robots even though they may be out of his reach until middle school or high school level.
Ask of the internet, and the internet responds.
Many people complain about targeted advertisements. Some see it as a violation of privacy, or an unwanted feature with no point. “Why are all the internet sites ‘stealing’ my info?”; there are a million things to complain about, and while I’m not super keen on my life being ‘viewed’ by others and other companies, it does have it’s good points. I see targeted ads as a world of products and services I may be interested in and may not have known about. The internet is HUGE, and who in the world looks past the first 2 pages on Google now – do you? I know I don’t. So when I search, I’m limited to the internet I already know. Ads are one of the few things that help expand the internet for me. They show me little corners of the world I didn’t know about, and I get to choose to click or scroll past.
That’s where the connection was made. It only took one ad. One single ad, targeted at me on Facebook because I had spent months researching robots, kid robots, robots for 5 year olds, beginning programming, programming for kids… and soooo much more. All these keywords and search queries I put out into the massive world of the internet–and over time, the internet produced exactly what I was looking for.
A Kickstarter campaign that would change our entire world.
The Facebook ad I saw was a promotion for Wonder Workshop [known as Play-i at the time]. It had an image of the robots and a simple message about young kids programming robots. I made the choice to click and not scroll past. This was definitely something I wanted to know more about.
The campaign was created by a small group of brilliant individuals set on developing a robot that was not only kid-friendly, but was designed specifically for kids in elementary and middle school. A robot that could not only be programmed, but would be programmed using real coding language and concepts through apps that were being developed. To me, this meant that the robot would not be outdated quickly and it could offer more and more programming capabilities as they improved and developed the apps that would go along with it.
I didn’t hesitate and immediately offered my backing and support for the project. At the time, it was still early on in the year and production was scheduled in time to get the first run of robots completed and shipped out in time for Christmas. Of course, as with any startup funding campaign, there are always worries–but Wonder Workshop pulled it all off beautifully and Dash arrived under our tree in time.
The enthusiasm for learning and the gift of programming.
Aiden is enthusiastic (understatement of the century) and at the time, he already had access to a computer and had been learning the basics of programming through Minecraft tutorials on YouTube. Since we knew well in advance that his robot would be coming in, we encouraged every educational opportunity in this field and found ourselves completely immersed. By the time Christmas came around, Aiden was getting very familiar with Java commands, had his YouTube channel set up, and was creating and editing content to show on his channel. He was doing so well that I was a little worried we had already advanced beyond the capabilities of this robot that was supposed to be the best gift ever.
Turns out that worry was not needed at all. Christmas morning 2014 did indeed include the best gift ever, and it has been proven over and over since then. Kuazie (Kwah-Zee) the robot became a very important, new member of our family.
Wonder Workshop did it right–and continue to do so.
So where is this world changing part; how does a single gift lead to life altering opportunities? Well, when a company builds a toy, and a series of apps, and also builds an online community; outstanding things happen. It’s been a little over a year since Kuazie joined our family and in that time Wonder Workshop has continuously pushed out firmware updates to add capabilities to the robot; they have updated the apps to include new features and coding aspects; and they built a whole new app with complex coding abilities. All this was pushed out to us FREE! Yes, free.
They know parents don’t want to spend money on toys that break or become obsolete in the first year. They know kids get frustrated and quit if things don’t work right or are too complex. They also know that if we are going to have a future full of good programmers, we need to start introducing basics now. Kids learn second languages much faster than adults and in my opinion, in this world we have created, programming is the best second language to know.
So how do you get a ton of kids and educators across the globe involved in such a short amount of time, well, you build an educational environment, not just a product; and a hold a nationwide robotics competition!
Programming robots at 10 years old.
September/October 2015, Wonder Workshop starts pushing out teasers about their upcoming competition. It’s geared toward elementary age kids and is encouraging teams of up to 6 to sign up to compete for a chance to win a STEM field trip to Silicon Valley. I knew this was the perfect thing to focus on for an homeschool educational unit, and it was also perfect timing. We had just moved to our new home and life was going to be a little unsteady for a bit. A competition with deadlines would give us just the focus he needed. He met all the criteria, but needed to have a Dash (aka Kuazie) and a Dot in order to enter.
Aiden’s birthday is in November, so as an early gift we ordered Dot and told him about the competition. We didn’t have too much information at the time about what it would entail. He was going to be a team of one competing against teams of up to six, in schools all over. I had no idea how our homeschooling was going to pair up with peers around the nation and I was worried it would be too much for just one kid to handle. But lucky for us, fear isn’t what drives our decisions. If he failed, he failed. If he succeeded, he succeeded. Either way, the opportunity to learn and advance was there.
The challenge was amazing! The theme was space exploration; Dash and Dot had a series of 6 challenges to accomplish. Each team was to create a programming solution in the Wonder app that would successfully hit set benchmarks. Point values were assigned to each benchmark and extra points would be added for creativity and flair.
Aiden worked his little butt off. It was more than impressive to watch him struggle through each challenge. He had no teammates to consult with, and parents were NOT allowed to help with the programming. When he was tired or frustrated I could only coach him on how to push past the problem; reminding him failure will happen on every project. That even if it didn’t go right, there was still something to learn from the attempt. He pushed through each hurdle and completed all his missions and even edited his entire project. (The editing wasn’t necessary, adults were allowed to help with that part.) He may have been on his own but he proved without a doubt that he is capable of anything he sets his mind to. There were over 1100 teams signed up for the competition and Aiden placed 5th!
There’s a lot in this world that makes me worry about where the future will lead, but when you take that worry and exchange it for Wonder, the whole world opens back up again and possibilities are endless.
Want to know more about Wonder Workshop and the competition?
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