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Reading, writing, robots: A look at education technology on display at CES

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Christopher DeVargas

Meccano Maker System robots are seen during CES, Wed. Jan 6, 2016.

Technology in the classroom has come a long way.

What started with a simple chalkboard has evolved into projectors, computers, tablets and now robots. If you go by what you see at CES, which kicked off Tuesday in convention centers on the Strip, the beeping, booping machines are the future of technology in the classroom.

It’s not a surprise that the programmable gizmos are taking center stage given the recent obsession with improving science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

2016 CES: Education Technology

A look at the Lego Education booth during CES, Wed. Jan 6, 2016. Launch slideshow »

Here are some of the leading-edge education products on display Wednesday at CES:

Lego’s WeDo 2.0

By far the biggest name in the CES education sphere, Lego unveiled its customizable robot a day before the start of the conference. Meant specifically for use in the classroom and an upgrade from a previous model, the robot is a blocky Lego creation but includes a motor, Bluetooth communicator and several other high-tech sensors. Kids assemble the WeDo, then use an app that runs on smartphones, tablets and desktop computers to give it basic commands. The program allows young kids to grasp the concept of coding by reducing the process to a simple drag and drop. What’s more: The WeDo comes paired with 40 hours of classroom curriculum that teachers can use with the robot to teach concepts in subjects like science.

Retails at $159.99

Square Panda’s Phonics Playset

Tools like Hooked on Phonics are staples in classrooms when it comes to helping kids learn how to read and spell. This California-based company is trying to make learning to read more fun for a new generation of digitally savvy kids by integrating it with game apps for the iPad. The set itself is a small pad that connects to the tablet via Bluetooth. As kids play through the game on the tablet, they are prompted to spell certain words by placing small letter blocks in the correct order. The company has a local tie to Nevada, as Andre Agassi invested in the company. Square Panda also has tested the product at Head Start programs in San Francisco and private schools in Las Vegas. More games are expected to be developed for the playset this year.

Retails for $99, currently available for pre-order

Wonder Workshop’s Dash and Dot

Like Lego’s WeDo, these robots aim to teach kids to learn to code by simplifying the programming process. But unlike WeDo, the robots require no assembly. That was a decision by the designers to make it easier for teachers to integrate the devices into their classrooms. Kids simply charge the robots and fire up a mobile app where they can control them and chain commands via Bluetooth. The company claims that about 1,200 schools currently use the product, including the Adelson Educational Campus and Nevada Virtual Academy. The robots also come with lesson plans based off of Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards.

Dash $149, Dot $49, discounts are available for teachers

Metas

Think traditional Legos combined with electronic circuitry and you have Metas, a Chinese company that says it has been using its product in schools all over China. The core of the product is a set of module items that include motors, batteries, lights, switches, sensors and servos. Attach a power brick to a LED brick and the attached light will instantly turn on, but slap a switch brick between the two and you can toggle it on and off. The company makes simple kits for the retail market as well as a larger “toolbox” for use in schools, but they currently are only sold in China.

School kits around $100, retail kits around $80

Meccano Mechanoids

More robots! But unlike the others on this list, the most advanced models are geared toward middle and high school students. That’s because Meccano, a U.K.-based subsidiary of Canadian toy company Spin Master, is famous for the complex machines built using its kits (old school examples include working miniature steam-powered excavators). These Erector-set-like robots come with a number of servos and motors as well as an advanced processing system equipped with voice recognition, and are programmable and controllable using a mobile app. The biggest model is several feet tall, but smaller versions are geared toward younger kids. A classroom curriculum is currently being developed for the products.

Small robot $40, medium $179, large $399

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