Our students have been learning how to use a Sphero for the past few weeks. A Sphero is robotic toy that is controlled through apps and makes it easy for students to learn robotic basics and how to code. This is some of the things we did in our classroom with the Sphero, and some things that I learned along the way! I am sure that you can apply some of these tips to different interactive robot toys in your classroom.
1. Be Prepared
I used two different apps when learning to use the Sphero: SPRK Lightning Lab and Sphero. Make sure you download them to your tablet or Ipad so they are ready to use. I played with the Sphero for a while before introducing it to our students so I could get used to the different features. I began by using the Sphero app, and made sure I had figured out how it all worked. You need to know how to turn it on and sync it to the app, how to calibrate your position in relation to the Sphero so that you can move it properly, how to move it around, and the different things it can do.
I also made a play mat for our Sphero. I wanted to designate an area for Sphero use, and to make sure that students knew where they could play. I bought a plastic tablecloth at Wal-Mart, and cut it to size. I used tape on the edges to make sure it would not fray. I also wrote ‘START’ on one of the sides to help orient students when they were working.
I started off by explaining the Sphero and what it was. With all the students sitting around me on the carpet, I showed them how to calibrate it, and how to move it. They were intrigued to say the least!!! I also made sure to correct behaviours that were innapropriate as soon as I saw them happening. We had a zero tolerance approach- if a student was being too silly and not following the directions, they were asked to leave the center. They were given a chance to return at another time and try again.
3. Let them Play!
Your students will need time to play with the Sphero and get used to the controls. I gave them a week of just free exploration with it. The only guideline at first was that they had to try and stay on the carpet. Then, after a few days , I challenged them to keep it on the play mat I made for it. We discussed how to problem solve if they were not able to control it- was it calibrated? was the speed too high?
4. Make a Maze
The next week, we added wood blocks to our Sphero play. I showed them how they could make a maze with the blocks, and then challenged them to make their own. It was great seeing them problem solve and work together to try and make their mazes work. I observed one of our JK boys build a maze, then try and steer the Sphero through it. He had made it too narrow so the ball couldn’t smoothly roll, so he looked at it for a moment, then moved the blocks so that they would be spaced further apart. Then he tried the maze again:
After they became maze experts, we moved on to making ramps for our Sphero. This was a difficult one. Not many students succeeded, but it was a great opportunity to discuss momentum and how the Sphero needed speed to get up a ramp.
6. Other things you can do…
Build a bridge for the Sphero- this was an idea one of my students had. The Sphero had to enter one side of the bridge and make it out the other. They really had to keep control of it to make sure it went through.
SPRK Lightening Lab app- you can also have students explore coding with this app. We have not gotten to this stage yet, but I hope to soon (there is just so much for them to do with this thing!) Students can be challenged to make shapes, letters or numbers with the Sphero by using the coding tools provided.
Painting- the Sphero is waterproof- so it can be used in paint! We placed paper and paint in a big plastic container (to try and contain the mess) and we let students play with the Sphero in it. The container had a ridge around the outside edge so our students had a hard time getting it to go through the middle because it kept getting caught. So we changed tactics and I put down some paper and challenged them not to get any paint on our floor. It kinda worked, I had to clean up a bit of paint, but not much! Our students had a blast!
Incorporating robotic toys into your school day can work on so many different aspects of the curriculum. Have you used a robot in your classroom?
See our Sphero in Action! Watch some of the videos I took of our students using the Sphero:
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