Like many other tangible tech enthusiasts, I was excited to hear about the new Fisher-Price Code-a-Pillar toy when it made its debut at the 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show. Over the summer the Code-a-Pillar became widely available to consumers and I was thrilled to finally get my hands on one in August.
The Code-a-Pillar is a wonderful example of tangible coding. Children create a sequence of commands by building a caterpillar-like creature. Each segment of the Code-a-Pillar communicates an action to the “brain” of the creature — actions such as moving forward, turning right, or turning left. The commands are represented by an icon on the back of each segment. When the user pushes the start button, the Code-a-Pillar performs the sequence of commands in order.
Unfortunately, when I began testing my Code-a-Pillar, I was immediately disappointed by the product because the toy constantly makes noises and plays music at a very loud volume. This could be a potential disaster in an early childhood classroom, especially among children with sensory issues. I wrote to Fisher-Price through their website and asked if there was a way to disable or mute the sound and they replied no.
Then I contacted Michael Peshkin, a Northwestern robotics professor and a member of the advisory group for the Center for Talent Development summer Leapfrog program where I work as the Early Childhood Coordinator. Michael made a quick house call and coached me through a simple hack that resulted in a very quiet caterpillar.
I removed the batteries and opened up the main section of the device by unscrewing the four silver screws with a Phillips screwdriver. I wasn’t able to fully remove the cover from the base because there are wires connecting the main device to the lights and the speaker on the underside of the cover. But I was able to identify the blue wire that connects the speaker to the main device and I simply snipped that wire.
Now my Code-a-Pillar is completely silent, but all the other functions still work perfectly. I’ll be testing this device with a group of young children this fall and I look forward to observing how they play with the Code-a-Pillar. I’m interested in incorporating the Code-a-Pillar into a growing inventory of tangible tech devices that I use to teach coding and robotics concepts to young children through hands-on, collaborative, and developmentally appropriate activities.