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Sphero Visits Mission Middle School!

posted Nov 12, 2014, 4:15 PM by Colin Hanel   [ updated Dec 3, 2014, 1:15 PM by Tom Borer ]

Sphero is our newest robot at Quantum Academy and as such, he has been named Quantum. You may be wondering, what is Sphero?

Sphero is a robot designed to help students learn coding in a fun and interactive way. Sphero connects to your iPad via bluetooth technology. Orbotix, the company who designed Sphero, has many free apps in the AppStore that allow you to control, program, and even play augmented reality games. Sphero is also able to be controlled with Android devices.

As Quantum Academy researches ways to integrate STEAM into our curriculum, we found Sphero to be a great tool to not only teach coding skills, but also to integrate science and math.

When we first received Sphero we started tinkering by using the Sphero app that allows you to drive Sphero around using the iPad as a joystick. Although this app is super entertaining, it isn't all that educational. It is a great tool to use when introducing Sphero to students for the first time.

To bump up the educational value of Sphero there are apps such as MacroLab and OrbBasic that teach students how to program Sphero to perform tasks. This is what we wanted to do with middle schools students at Mission Middle School. Vanessa Miramontes was kind enough to open her doors to Colin Hanel and Jo-Ann Fox and allow them to try out a lesson with her 2nd period students.

When you visit the Sphero website, they have created lessons that are STEM based. They call these lessons SPRK Lessons (this stands for Students, Parents, Robotics, and Kids). They have CORE lessons that focus on teaching the important basics of coding with Sphero and they also have STEM Challenges (these are great to use when students have a better fluency with Sphero and coding). We chose to do lesson 1 in the CORE lessons that focuses on Speed, Time, and Distance.

Students were tasked to create a simple code that moved Sphero in a straight line to understand the relationship of speed, time, and distance. In the first task students programmed Sphero to travel for 3000 milliseconds (or 3 seconds) at 20% speed. Students measured the distance then made predictions about how far Sphero would travel if we changed the code to have Sphero travel for 6000 milliseconds. After measuring that distance, students changed the code yet again to have Sphero travel for 9000 milliseconds. The one thing that stayed the same through this portion of the lesson was the speed at which Sphero travelled. Students were able to figure out that when the speed stays the same but the time changes, Sphero travelled farther. Also, students figured out that if Sphero travels for two times the amount of time, Sphero would also travel two times farther.

The next part of the lesson challenged students to keep the time the same, at 3000 milliseconds, but change the speed. They again determined that when Sphero travels two times faster, he will travel two times farther.

Here is an example of what the code looks like:

Our favorite part of the lesson is the STEM challenge at the end. Students were tasked to write a code that sent Sphero out at 40% for 5000 milliseconds. Then then needed to have Sphero return to the exact (or approximately) the start point. Students were guided to change Sphero’s heading to 180 degrees and his speed to 20%, but they had to figure out the distance or (delay).

The group of Mission Middle School students were reluctant and quiet at first. We were new faces and we brought new toys and they were timid to participate. But once the lesson began, students began to come out of their shell. They began to surprise each other with their predictions. The smiles on their faces when they were in control of writing the code and testing the code to see if it worked was priceless. In fact, these students opted to stay in class during their nutrition break to continue the lesson!

We were so excited to share Sphero with these students we decided to leave Sphero in their classroom for the rest of the week. We can’t wait to hear what else they have learned with Sphero driving their learning.