Friday, April 19, 2019

Sphero, Students, and Science- Our Journey Continues

I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Sphero robots since 2015. I wrote a proposal for a set of 10 robots and was awarded that set to begin piloting. Wow! What an adventure it has been since then.

Before I share this year's experiences, I want to share a couple of big ideas that I have developed in regard to Sphero robots, my students, and our use in science. These will hopefully resonate with others, but they are my core beliefs after using the tools for the last 4 1/2 years.

  • It's not about the coding. It never has been. Learn the basics of coding is a great benefit from using these robots with my students, but it is not the most important benefit. Amazing skills and habits develop through the use of the robot that far outweighs the coding knowledge. Skills and habits such as communication, building, persistence, empathy, science information, curiosity...and more. Don't get me wrong. I love the fact that some students find their passion for coding. I'm just more focused on the other areas.
  • There are five million ways to use these robots, and I'm just skimming the surface. There are plenty of brilliant educators out there that I'm learning from and amazed by their use of the tools. Just check out the activities shared at or jump onto Twitter and check out @SpheroEdu and you will see how vast the resource list and uses are in this area.
  • The people you connect with and the relationships you develop in this adventure are priceless! My learning partners make this journey so powerful. From the phenomenally dedicated people at Sphero to the teachers around the globe that I partner with, I feel so fortunate. Learning through play, experimentation, failure, and robotic fun is at the heart of all these interactions. I find that my conversations with both people at Sphero and abroad are uplifting, inspiring, and reaffirming. Such a great community!
  • My students are the best learning partners. I am a believer in the phrase, "I don't know, what do you think?" in response to students questions on how to do something. I love the genuine environment of collaboration that develops between my students, myself, and other learners around the globe when working with Sphero robots. I learn so much from my students, and they learn so much from me in this mode. 

So, what has this year brought with Sphero? And, how will we be closing up our year? There is so much to share. I thought a fun way would be a Top Ten Moments with Sphero! They really are not in a specific order of favorite. I tried doing that but found that I kept rearranging them. Ha!

Here goes...

Moment #10- Hungry, Hungry Sphero
Intro to @lacrossescience and intro to the engineering design process with this one!
I actually put this as #10 because it was the way I jump-started the year with students. I used this activity to get to know my students, as builders, communicators, and problem solvers. This also introduced them to the room, the materials, and the process of working in this type of building environment.

In this challenge, students used Sphero as a motor in their design to capture the most solo cups in an arena. The prompt was to create a way to grab and retrieve the most amount of cups to be the winner. While the competition was awesome and a ton of fun, the process that led up to it was eye-opening for me. It gave me an opportunity to identify my students that felt comfortable leading, building, communicating. I was able to see group dynamics in this new population of students. And, I was able to set the stage with my role as facilitator...not the answer giver to all questions.

Moment #9
Hello, BOLT!
This seems silly to make as an actual "moment". But, oh my, that new robot rocked our world. From the LED display to the added sensors, there have been so many areas opened up for us!

One super simple way that we used BOLT and the new sensors was in a growing activity for my Martian Class. We were reading the book, The Martian and working through some fun activities when the BOLT was incorporated.

A quick activity that I asked students to use the BOLT for was in sensing the best place to grow our potato plants. They needed to use the sensors to determine the amount of light in the room. So, using a program developed by the awesome people at Sphero students found the light levels around the room and decided on plant placement.

Moment #8
Calculating speed, learning about opposing forces, and having fun with food coloring in the water!
Such an easy way to get kids learning some physical science topics. We explored Sphero speed in air and water practicing speed calculations the whole time. The food coloring was such a great bonus talking about currents and ways to see the motion of the water. can see my super high tech gutter system. ;)

Moment #7
Our Martian connection with Rich Perry, his students, and Julie Wilcott was seriously "out of this world". This project was early in the year, and the Sphero robots were all through this unit of study. From Rich's HAB wind storm engineering challenge to coding BOLT across our cardboard Martian surface to receiving a code with Ollie programs written by Rich's students...this was a great way to connect science, literature, engineering, coding, and FUN!

Moment #6
This is the second iteration of this project, and it is still amazing! This year, I added another component to really make it a powerful way to use robots with earth science.

We used Sphero robots in our seismic safe building challenges. Learning about ways to protect buildings from seismic waves involves material science, methods to redirect motion, earthquake information, and with the robots...creating and sensing the motion of earthquakes.

Students researched building designs and created their own seismic safe building that could withstand seismic activity on the class shake table. To prepare for that shaking test, they were able to use my shoebox mini shake tables that were powered with Sphero robots using a raw motor code that provided motion to simulate P-waves, S-waves, and surface waves.

The next part of the challenge allowed them to use Sphero on the full shake table to sense the level of seismic waves as they tested the building. Students had to provide enough motion to qualify in the intensity of the quake, and the robot did all the judging for us!

Moment #5
The concept of seismic waves moving through the earth at various speeds during earthquakes isn't the easiest for my students to get. It can be hard to believe what you can't see and haven't experienced. So, I tackle this many ways with students. From diagrams, discussions, and drawings to...
a simulated earthquake with Sphero robots!!!

This was a new method for me this year, and I was somewhat worried about the outcome. With the exception of one class that sort of stumbled during this activity, it was fantastic.

The Sphero robots were positioned around a hula hoop. They simulated points on the globe that would be receiving the seismic waves from a HUGE earthquake. The robots would begin a raw motor sequence that would represent the motion from the quake in TIMING and INTENSITY. The position was key in showing the ways different seismic waves move through the earth.

Loved, loved, loved this simple activity! We learned vocabulary, process, coding, and a pretty tricky concept in science.

Moment #4
How about partnering with classrooms around the country on Sphero Challenges? That was an awesome way for me to connect my students to other learners and give them engineering challenges that helped them explore forces and motion, friction, point of view, and more!

This started as Brendan Kelly's brain child. With a text from him asking if I wanted to set up challenges for classrooms, the Sphero Challenges journey was created! The timing was perfect in that my students were just getting started with forces and motion, and these challenges allowed them to have some ah-ha moments without me being the complete provider of knowledge.

We worked with challenges about snow plows, the Iditarod, and even a Lyft challenge. Using our engineering and coding skills, students had a blast! 

***The website has all the materials and challenges loaded. YOU MUST GO THERE! Fun!!!


Moment #3

We are on our way to participating in the very first Sphero Robotics Mission with Space Center Houston. The BOLT Squad (our team name) is assembled. We have our mission packet. And, these kids are ready to rock this out after Easter Break. My little lunchtime Coding Club of 5 students is going to WIN IT ALL! I am so excited to get back and tear into this. :)

Moment #2
Another upcoming event for my students that I am beyond excited about is my Monster Robot Mystery game that we will be playing in science class with BOLT. This activity will close up our genetics unit and help to solidify the concepts of heredity, random assignment of traits, and allele combination with Mendelian genetics & codominance. Super thrilled!

Students will receive sections of code for BOLT in which they have to work to discover the characteristics of the Mystery Robot. They will have a line up of robots (that they made earlier this month) to try to identify the correct robot. BOLT will give them clues to work with using the LED panel, sound, and light. Stay tuned for this!

Moment #1
Finally...the event that I am so excited for! We will be rocking out a Ready Player One Class Challenge in May. After watching the movie and learning a little about the 80s, students will work through a series of challenges as individual classes. They will be competing to gain the most amount of points as a class to win the very first Ready Player One Class Competition. This adventure will blend Sphero Robots, drones, art, music, science, and more in a station based competition. Stay tuned for this awesome adventure.

Well, if you made it to the end of this blog, congratulations! That was a lot of reading and looking at images. 

I just want to close with a few last thoughts...

I can honestly say that this isn't even a full list of ways Sphero robots have been used in my world. 
We had fun reviewing earth science concepts with coding Sphero:

Students loved making Ollie dance with his back up dancers (Mini Sphero and Parrot drone)!

And, just last year, my students participated in my Sphero Pollution Pick Up Engineering Challenge and LOVED IT! So, why didn't I do it this year? We just ran out of time. With all the other ways that we have rocked out science and robotics, it just wasn't on the list this year. I will definitely pull it in again with a class in the future, though. It is a favorite!

You can find the plans for that project at:
(link in image)


I'm very fortunate to have access to robots, devices to run them, and an administrator that supports my style of teaching. It comes down to that. Yes, I write a LOT of grants and 90% of my materials are grant funded. I do not let lack of funding slow me down. I invest time in writing and researching grant opportunities. Even my 4 little Sphero mini robots came from a grant. Small local grants combined with bigger grants make all the difference.
My principal, Chad Carter, is also a huge reason that I can teach physics through robotics and turn a classroom into a sand pit, pool, or Hungry, Hungry Hippo arena! Find your champion. 

Do you have any wicked cool ways that you have used Sphero robots?
Are you looking to partner up with a class on fun activities?

There are so many possibilities!

1 comment:

  1. Very educational and informative. Also, not as much filler content as in other Posts I have read about this topic so very nice to see that. Keep it up!

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