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Best Buys: Coding Purchasing Guide

Coding Gadgets

Although coding can learned by using a computer and keyboard, many gadgets are available that make coding more hands-on and conceptual. For tactile learners, physically manipulating the variables on a gadget in front of them can teach or reinforce the abstract ideas of writing code using a keyboard. There are dozens of great coding gadgets on the market, and a few have stood out as best buys in their category. Disclaimer: The gadgets listed below are recommended by Wisconsin public librarians and are not intended as endorsed purchases by DPI. 

Best Buys: Coding Purchasing Guide

General Purchasing Tips
  1. If possible, wait until Black Friday or other consumer days before purchasing coding gadgets to receive substantial discounts and make the technology more affordable.
  2. Although some gadgets come with a free app option, when possible, investing in purchasing the paid app is well worth the extra cost. Free apps often come with ads which users can accidentally click, which brings them out of the coding app to a commercial site.
  3. Reach out to join forces! Before making coding purchases, talk with libraries in your system to see if they already have the items you are considering and would be willing to let you try them out before your purchase, or if they would be willing to buy items as a group to reduce costs. All of the gadgets below come with different learning curves, so find out from your peers what to expect from specific items.
  4. When purchasing apps for use on iPads, using one Apple ID for up to ten iPads allows you to purchase the app once and download it to all ten devices.
  5. Be sure to talk with your schools and other tech partners in town to learn what may be currently popular, and how library-purchased items might complement or build on existing tools around town.
When the Gadgets Arrive
  1. Add the item to your inventory with a barcode, property sticker, etc.
  2. In addition to your own experimentation, ask a staff member or library volunteer to test out the new gadget to see how another learner interacts with it.
  3. Look online for additional lesson plans or event ideas by searching Pinterest or Teacher’s Pay Teachers.
  4. Create some basic crib sheets for the gadgets so that others know how to use it, charge it, where the manuals are, etc.
  5. Practice using the line, “I’m not sure how that works, but let’s figure it out together because that’s what coding is all about.”
What to Do with a $0 Budget

If your budget is truly limited, take heart. Numerous computer science principles can be taught and reinforced without gadgets or a computer. Simply having paper, pens, and basic craft supplies can often be enough to introduce and reinforce computer science concepts in ways that are highly interactive for all learning styles. Known as “unplugged activities”, these programs can used alone, or along with other coding curriculum or gadgets. A great place to start and begin program planning, no matter the size of your budget. Check out the resources at Computer Science Fundamentals with and

What to Buy with a $50 Budget

Ozobot: Coding meets STEAM with these tiny robots, suitable for early elementary ages up to adults. By creating color coded sequences, the user programs the robot to navigate along the chosen path. Even more, Ozobots can be coded to change colors and speed. Very hands on and user friendly, Ozobots are widely popular across age groups, and would be a great choice for a passive program as well as an active class.

Makey Makey Classic: A Consumer Reports “Best Tech Toys of 2014” selection. Can you imagine playing a piano with a computer...and bananas? How about playing Pacman by drawing a joystick on a piece of paper? Makey Makey makes out-of-the-box thinking possible with a small board, USB cable, and electrical wires (and a few lessons about circuits and conductivity). Just clip the wires to your object and Makey Makey board, connect them to your computer, and the fun is ready to begin. Because the kit is already pre-programed, the students are free to use any conductive device as the input for the computer. The website offers free lesson plans created by educators.

Squishy Circuits: Using conductive and insulating playdough, users create circuits that can be transformed into almost any configuration, such as animals with light-up LED eyes, or audio speakers. There is a huge educator community with lesson plans on Youtube and online. The dough can be homemade, or purchased for a small fee. This incredibly inexpensive program perfectly blends art and science in a hands-on circuitry project.

What to Buy with a $100 Budget

Ozobot Evo: PC Magazine’s “Editor’s Choice” and one of CNN Tech’s “coolest Toys”. Evo is a step up from the Ozobots, including remote control option and programmable "emotions." Evo allows users to draw with markers on paper, and using its color recognition, Evo responds by detecting the color and spinning, speeding up or slowing down. The ideas now are endless. Users can create a cityscape with markers, or design a racetrack for Evos to navigate. has numerous ideas for programs or projects that Evo makes possible.

Snap Circuits: Winning dozens of education awards, snap circuits allow users to safely experiment with electricity and circuitry simply by snapping pieces together. The included student workbook includes dozens of projects, ranging in skill levels. Be prepared for users to build their own FM radios, voice recorders, and burglar alarms before designing their own circuits.

*Consider purchasing items in the tier(s) below your budget as well.

What to Buy with a $200 Budget

Dash and Dot Robots: These highly interactive robots use play as the motivator to learn coding. The more block style coding the user understands, the more Dash and Dot can do. These two separate robots can be programmed with their free Blocky app on a phone or tablet. Dot does not move, but Dash can spin, race, and talk. These robots are highly durable, and may be an option for circulation in your library collections.

Sphero: A small ball that can be programmed to race on land, or even in water. Sphero is a robotic ball that can be used a full hour before it runs out of battery. Highly durable, these toys are waterproof and meant to be dropped during play without any showable wear. Their durability makes them ideal candidates to include in a circulating collection for patrons to check out and continue coding on their own. You do need an Android or IOS device to code.

Cubetto: Wondering how to incorporate coding in preschool library programs? Cubetto offers the younger audience a chance to develop computational skills by placing small colored blocks on the interface board. Each colored block represents an action. The green block, for example, tells the Cubetto to move forward. Cubetto comes with a world map type rug for the Cubetto to explore and rotate through while the users are coding its directions with the colored blocks. You can also purchase other rug options if you want your Cubetto to explore Egypt, under the sea, or in space. This gentle gadget allows young children to explore coding principles using hands-on toy pieces they can easily manipulate. No computer or screen is required, just lots of coding play time.

*Consider purchasing items in the tier(s) below your budget as well.

What to Buy with a $300-500 Budget

Lego Mindstorms EV3: While Legos need no introduction, the Mindstorms EV3 kits allow users to work on their projects in two parts. First, they build their robot. Then, using the Lego coding apps for a tablet device, they program their creation to walk, crawl, slither, and talk through drag and drop coding. The Lego Mindstorm’s site includes how-to videos to begin programming so there is no guesswork. Best for elementary to adult users, this gadget would work best with an already established LEGO library club, or a group that can meet for several weeks to finish building and coding their project.

*Consider purchasing items in the tier(s) below your budget as well.

For questions about this information, contact Tessa Michaelson Schmidt (608) 267-5077