Monday, February 22, 2016

Sphero: Using Robots to Code, Problem Solve, and Create

Amy Murch is a 4th grade teacher at Brooks School Elementary in Hamilton Southeastern Schools. She is a HSE 21 Technology Coach and teaches in a 1:1 ipad pilot classroom. You an connect with her on Twitter @TeamMurch4 and on Skype at Mrs.Murch4.


My students have been using Sphero robots this year for math, science, art, social studies and coding. Sphero, an innovative company out of Boulder, Colorado, has created a robotic ball that is not only fun but also facilitates learning in multi-curricular areas. Students control these robots with their devices, using several apps and a web platform for intentional instruction. Last summer at the Hamilton Southeastern Learning Fair, the company sent representative and presented on this new inventive and creative tool that can be used in classrooms. Teachers from all over the district were ignited with new ideas for incorporating this device into their classrooms for the upcoming school year.

This fall, I had the opportunity to collaborate with our art teacher, Mrs. Flynn, on a painting project with these robots. We decided to investigate the capability of the Sphero being waterproof and virtually indestructible. Students learned about Jackson Polluck, an abstract expressionism artist who is known for his drip paintings. We set up large pieces of wood that served as barriers for the paper canvases; students designed their color schemes and explored two different apps (Sphero Draw N' Drive and Sphero) that would control the robot while they painted. It was magical. We were hooked on the possibilities of this device.

Sphero Macrolab offers students the opportunity to learn to code. Students decide what commands they want the robot to perform; they have to test the speed and direction in Macrolab in order to drive the Sphero. In math, students were learning about area and perimeter. Student groups were given the area of different rectangles and had to find the perimeters for each one. Students were given two essential questions: Can 2 rectangles have the same area but different perimeters? Can you design a program that will make the Sphero drive the perimeter of your rectangle? Once groups found all the ways they could calculate the area, they had to pick one length and width to program for the Sphero. Students then had to decide the speed, distance, and degree of turns for their shapes. Each group had several “jobs” to help keep the group on task. These jobs included a programmer, a student who used Macrolab to program the rectangle’s sides. An architect, a student who created rectangles on the floor using masking tape and yard sticks and lastly the instructor, a student who created a Show Me to document the progress during the project. Show Me is a whiteboard app that allows students to take pictures, videos and articulate their thinking via an audio recording.

It was incredible watching their hard work and problem solving strategies for these rectangles. Most groups were successful in programming their Sphero to drive their rectangles’ dimensions. You can visit the Sphero Sprk Lightning Lab at https://sprk.sphero.com/dashboard for other activities and projects created by educators from around the country. Both of these projects are featured on the website with photos, videos and step-by-step instructions for implementation into your classroom.

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