Website review by Shaun Langevin, Common Sense Education | Updated January 2021

Kai's Clan

Innovative STEAM package takes robot coding to the next level

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Grades
3–12
Subjects & Skills
Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication & Collaboration
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Pros: A versatile kit that encourages cross-curricular and collaborative learning, both in-person and remotely.

Cons: The initial setup process could intimidate some teachers. Python and JavaScript coding not yet available.

Bottom Line: A nearly perfect spin on STEAM coding that combines a bunch of technologies into one, and effectively fuses the real and virtual worlds.

Teachers can use Kai's Clan to introduce coding to students, or take the experience to the next level. Teachers might use the Kai's Clan card deck (which covers coding basics) as a jumping-off point. They can then have students do simple digital coding tasks, gradually introducing more complex challenges and the other Kai's Clan technologies. The built-in lesson plans target differing skill levels, so teachers can use these to assist in scaffolding. As everyone gains more confidence, start trying out some of the more advanced features. Students can begin by experimenting with moving their robots around and utilizing various sensors and attachments. Once they've got that down, introduce the Virtual Viewer so that students can see things in augmented or virtual reality (AR or VR). Thankfully, if mobile or VR devices aren't available, students can just see on their screens what they're coding on. 

The overlay of a virtual world does more than add a "wow" factor. Students could use Tinkercad or Minecraft to create a 3D model and then import it into Kai's Clan. This adds a design dimension to the learning experience, and it also allows teachers to integrate coding into other subject areas more easily. For example, students could code and design models for a story they've written, an important scene in a book, a historical event, and more. 

Since Kai's Clan allows students to code their robots remotely (via the cloud), the kit will work in distance learning scenarios or partnered with classrooms anywhere. This also translates well to coding clubs and other hybrid scenarios, where students might not regularly share a space. To help facilitate, teachers and students can make use of the built-in chat feature. However, for safety purposes, there's no student-to-student chat, so plan accordingly.

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Kai's Clan is a coding platform that combines physical robots, sensors, and roll-out "adventure mats" with digital coding. It features two apps (iOS, Chromebook, and Android) and a web-based coding platform (Safari and Chrome). One app -- the Kai's Eye Robot Tracker -- is used to watch the adventure mat, robots, and other objects with the help of a tripod (included in the kit). The objects other than the robots can be anything, thanks to QR codes. All students need to do is print out the codes and then place them on Lego creations, toy cars, clay models, etc. Students can then (with teacher approval through Kai's Clan) assign a 3D model to this QR code. This is where the other app -- the Virtual Viewer -- comes into play. It transforms the physical space of the adventure mat and the QR-coded objects into a digital space. This virtual world can be viewed as an augmented reality (AR) experience via a mobile device or a virtual reality (VR) experience via a headset attachment or device. Suddenly, instead of a robot, students will be coding a knight, an elephant, a Minecraft character, or any other 3D model that they have found or created.

Students use block-based coding (similar to Scratch) to control the robots on the adventure mat. This includes things like moving around, opening and closing the robot's gripper, plugging in various attachments and sensors (such as infrared, dot matrix, motion, temperature, and humidity), creating loops, and more. As they code, the Kai's Eye app tracks things and relays the coordinates and data through the cloud, where students monitor this in real-time via Chromebooks, iPads, or computers with Safari or Chrome browsers. This cloud-based solution is one of the best innovations of Kai's Clan. Not only do students get real-time data, but setup is much easier, eliminating the headache of connecting multiple devices to the correct robots every time they're used.

Teacher and student dashboards are clean and friendly, but since Kai's Clan has a lot to offer, there tends to be more on the screen than with many other coding platforms. That said, it never gets too cluttered, but younger students will need time to explore. In the dashboard, teachers can see the status of each robot, including battery levels and which sensors are attached. Teachers also have access to developer-created, ISTE-aligned lessons, and there's a section for projects contributed by educators.

Importantly, Kai's Clan allows teachers to remotely access their students' coding environment to help if a student gets stuck. Students can also view the Python or JavaScript version of their code. The developers plan on adding the option for students to code in Python or JavaScript in early 2021, but it wasn't ready at the time of this review.

The Virtual Viewer and remote coding capabilities of Kai's Clan offer learning experiences that go beyond most other robot kits. For instance, a lesson could simulate a NASA mission to Mars, wherein the teacher sets up the adventure mat in one location, and students control it from another -- relying entirely on the data they get in real time. This is perfect for distance learning scenarios. And when they're in person, students can pull out their tablet or headsets and see the experience from a new perspective in AR or VR. Teachers can also encourage students to re-theme the virtual world, creating learning experiences that cross over from STEM to STEAM and go beyond the gee-whiz gimmickry of so many other VR and AR applications in edtech.

Kai's Clan is also flexible, and won't just be a one and done activity. The mix of block coding, Python/JavaScript, and a variety of lessons helps teachers cover a lot of intro-to-coding concepts like functions, logic, arrays, and more. Data from sensors can be viewed in real time and exported to Google Sheetd for analysis, turning a coding activity into a science lab. The coding projects are all presented as real-world challenges, which adds relevance to the activities and, alongside the AR and VR, will likely intrigue students.

Perhaps the biggest struggle with Kai's Clan is getting oriented and through the initial setup. Since it's such a unique approach that blends coding, physical robots, adventure mats, sensors, and mobile devices -- as well as relying on two apps and a web platform -- teachers will need support. Thankfully, there's strong professional development and supporting info from the developers, including two hours of professional development to schools that purchase a kit. Beyond that, there are 10 free certificate sessions to help teachers build their skills. The platform also has integrated lesson plans and a user guide that can serve as the basis for initial use. For extra clarity, there's a support page with helpful videos. With all of the support available, every teacher should be able to get up and running, but if teachers run into trouble, they can contact the developer. Improvements are implemented every two weeks, informed by this direct feedback.

Overall Rating

Engagement

Students will like seeing their coding come to life. The creative features and authentic challenges will appeal to students from third grade through high school. 

Pedagogy

The virtual viewer and remote coding open up fresh and inventive learning experiences. Lessons are ISTE-aligned and bridge science, coding, and design.

Support

The developers regularly improve Kai's Clan based on teacher feedback. There's a free two-hour onboarding intro and 10 free certificate sessions. The support page offers plenty of help. 


Common Sense reviewer
Shaun Langevin Technology coordinator

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