When I was little, I wanted to grow up and play with robots. June Lin of Wonder Workshop is living that dream. She helps design and develop the adorable robot duo Dash & Dot, who make coding tangible for the smallest learners. In this third interview of my Inspiring Women Series, June talks about her robot friends and her journey here.
June, can you tell us more about Wonder Workshop and its mission?
We started Wonder Workshop because we wanted to create a way to inspire kids to explore, tinker, laugh, ask questions, and figure out how the world around them works. In today’s world, the ability to understand how technology works is more important than ever. Coding enables creativity and advancement, and we wanted to figure out a way to make it fun, accessible and relevant to kids’ lives at a young age. Our mission is to empower every child to question, think, and create.
Please introduce us to Dash and Dot and how they support our students.
Dash & Dot are playful, adventurous, and helpful robots designed to be your partner in crime and creativity. By controlling how they move, light up, and interact with the world around them kids are learning the foundational concepts behind coding while having fun. In schools, Dash & Dot help bring STEM concepts to life, engaging students in further exploration and making abstract concepts more concrete.
Here are some of my favorite student projects from schools a part of the Teach Wonder program:
- Getting down to bees-ness. In first grade science, kids dressed Dash & Dot up as bees and programmed them to do a waggle dance, imitating the behavior of bees in the natural world!
- Loopy shapes. In fourth grade math, students explored geometry as they learned what shapes they could make with loops and what shapes can’t.
- Conquer the world with code. In a first grade class, kids learned about geography and storytelling as they programmed Dash to travel from country to country on an atlas and act out parts of a story!
What is your role at Wonder Workshop?
I’ve been in a mishmash of roles at Wonder Workshop, working on everything from getting our crowdfunding campaign off the ground to writing things that live on the website to managing the design of our Blockly app. Now I am focusing on making the play and learning experience engaging for our customers, connecting customers so they can inspire each other, and helping teachers with what they need to make the most out of using Dash & Dot in their classrooms through the Teach Wonder program! The education initiative is positively impacting thousands of students nationwide and our goal is to continue growing the number of schools using Dash & Dot in the classroom to teach coding, problem solving, computational thinking, STEM studies and more. We’re also building an online community for teachers to share their activities, ideas and content and ask questions.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
If you asked me in elementary school, I would say that I wanted to be a teacher! I looked up to the teachers I had and wanted to help kids learn.... and also be the boss of everyone.
How did you get to where you are now?
My journey with learning to code actually started when I was 9 years old. My dad sent me to coding class at the local community college where I learned Visual Basic. It was the worst because there was no one my age, and it was completely developmentally inappropriate. Since then, I learned to code in engineering classes in college and as I started to tinker with websites at another startup job. I joined Wonder Workshop because I wanted to make fun tools to help those other 9-year-old versions of myself and even kids as young as 5 years old learn to code!
What advice would you give to little girls dreaming of growing up to play with robots?
You don’t have to wait until you grow up to play with robots - you can program robots when you are a kid too! When we designed Dash & Dot, we strived to make them equally appealing to boys and girls, because we wanted to inspire little girls to pursue STEM careers. The way girls and boys relate to Dash & Dot is different, but we see coding as a way for everyone to be able to express their own unique personalities. While boys might create a robot racing game, girls might use them to communicate with others or act out a story.
But here’s my advice for girls who want to pursue STEM careers in the future:
- Try to start early. In college, a lot of boys already have experience with coding, and it can be intimidating at first. Play with tools like Dash & Dot, download coding apps, or join a local summer camp so that you can gain confidence and get used to computational thinking.
- Find allies. Make friends with other girls who are into STEM studies, and find role models you can look up to. Even if you are from a town that doesn’t have a lot of female engineers or scientists, the internet is full of inspiring women! Check out Twitter, Quora, and also this blog!
- Pursue your dreams, and don’t let anyone else hold you back. Don’t let anyone, peers or otherwise, hold you back from pursuing your dream career. Remember that everyone is trying to figure their own lives out, and sometimes the things they say don’t actually have to do with you at all. I’m not going to sugar coat it. The technology industry is sometimes hard to navigate as a woman, but many of us are trying to help change that. But for now, you just have to stand your own ground and pursue your interests.
Read more interviews in the Inspiring Women series:
- Ronahy Alzagha, Student Leader
- June Lin, Robot Whisperer
- Rafranz Davis, Passion-Based Educator
- Axie Oh, Young Adult Writer
The opinions expressed in Teaching Toward Tomorrow are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.