Our programming club has been progressing steadily through the lessons on Code.org. We enrolled our students in Course 1, which is appropriate for students who have basic reading skills and no prior coding experience. In this first course, students have been introduced to computational thinking as they work their way logically through problems and try to solve challenges. Students have also learned about looping through a series of fun activities like Getting Loopy and dancing games.
As students are beginning to have a deeper understanding of computer science and programming, we wanted to bring in some other science and robotics elements into our programming club. Enter our Spheros! Sphero is a robotic ball that students program using an app. They can write a basic program that simply makes their Sphero roll a direction or change color, or students can write a very complex program that will allow the Sphero to navigate a maze. You can see Sphero in action in this video.
We started off pretty basic because we wanted our second and third graders to feel successful and excited about using the Spheros. The first app we used was the basic Sphero app for the iPad. Through this app, students can change the color of the Sphero, change the speed of the Sphero, and navigate it using a simple joystick .
We had students work in partners because we find pairing always helps kids work better, are more creative, and can help each other with problem solving. Pair programming is a popular model with big tech companies you may have heard of – like Google.
Once kids had a basic understanding of how to navigate the Sphero, how adjusting the speed affected the control they had, and how to “calibrate” the Sphero so it understood what direction you meant when you pushed the joystick forward, we moved on a to more robust app.Sphero is somewhat similar to a toy car in that you are controlling the movements of the ball, but it’s much more challenging because students have to write the program to make their Sphero act in a particular way. We used the SPRK Lighting Labs app which uses drag-and-drop blocks, just like students are used to with Code.org.
Mr. Stalter walked the students through the basic commands – Roll, set heading, change color – and then we wrote a program. Each student got to choose either a color, or how long the ball would roll and in what direction. That was a challenging part for our students was figuring out the direction of the roll. It’s not a simple forward, left, right, back, but rather measured in degrees based on a circle. So we had to figure out what direction rolling 180 degrees was and then we stuck to basic degrees – 360, 180, and 90.
This was a really fun activity and kids loved being able to write a program and see it actually “happen” in front of them. One of the students mentioned how long it took to write a program to get the Sphero from one side of the room to the other, turn, and knock over a cup. We talked about how long it must take – and how many people – to write a computer program for a video game. I love that kids are making real world connections and getting excited by the opportunity to create something of their own. It’s so incredible!
Your Turn: How have you used Spheros or other robots with your students?