Business & Tech

Root, the code-teaching robot, goes to school

The Root robots can be programmed to race and the tablet can be used as a steering wheel.

Scansorial PBC

The Root robot can be programmed to race and the tablet can be used as a steering wheel.

The little robot that teaches children how to code has come a long way. What started as a project out of Harvard’s Wyss Institute is now a company called Scansorial PBC that has put its Root robots in its first elementary school. They’re available for another week on crowdfunding site Kickstarter for a discounted price of $145.

Root can defy gravity and drive up whiteboard walls as it performs tasks programmed by kids. The robot can be told to draw, race, play music, light up in different colors, and find its way out of a maze. The accommodating app has three levels that get more complex as users improve. The final level introduces text programming with Python, JavaScript, and Swift.

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“Teachers want to have kids exposed to tech and computer science, but they’re not necessarily experts at computer science. Root solves both sides of the equation,” said Zivthan Dubrovsky, CEO of Scansorial. “Root makes it incredibly engaging for the teachers to use, but also incredibly engaging for the kids because all kids love robots.”

Scansorial has no funding yet and launched its Kickstarter campaign on Oct. 24 with the goal of reaching $250,000. It had raised over $197,000 by Monday.

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Five to six Root robots can be found weekly in classrooms at the Woodward Memorial School in Southborough, a school for second and third grade students. Amy Benford, the school’s technology integration specialist, helps teachers integrate tech into their teaching. She uses Root robots and tablets to drive home lessons the students are already learning in class.

“For the second and third graders, you want to start slowly. Our first point to try to get across is robots and computers do exactly what you tell them to do,” said Benford. “With the app that we use, the kids learn that the series of directions put together is an algorithm.”

She has used Root to teach cardinal directions, and had her students program the robots to go north, south, east, and west. They’ve learned parts of speech with Root, and students made the robots find nouns and adjectives on a paper map on the table.

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“As a teacher, my mind starts racing. I could use it for this, for that lesson,” said Benford. “It’s great because it’s very engaging. It’s not paper and pencil. All the kids are into apps and video games.”

Dubrovsky plans to keep Root in Boston and hopes to hire 25 employees in the next year or two. The company’s focus is on getting the robots into as many hands as it can. The long-term goal is to have everyone coding, not just computer scientists, to fill future computing jobs.

“I hope Root becomes the standard of how we teach computer science in this country and the world,” said Dubrovsky.

Hae Young Yoo can be reached at haeyoung.yoo@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @HaeYoung_Yoo.

Correction: An earlier version of this story’s headline gave the wrong name for the robot.

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