Robots are everywhere, they open our garage doors, vacuum our floors and if you are lucky they even park your car. Until recently there weren’t many robots in the classroom and now I couldn’t imagine approaching STEM without them. Using the Sphero robots in my after school programming club has opened my eyes to both what can be taught using simple robots and how to do it. I want to share with you some tools and tips for teaching with robots.
[guestpost]This post is authored by guest blogger, Sam Patterson. In addition to being a fun, create guy — Sam is a K-5 Technology Teacher who blogs at www.mypaperlessclassroom.com and shares puppet videos at www.edupuppets.com. You can find him on Twitter at @SamPatue. I love the Sphero and have one in my classroom. We’ll be giving away one of them in the comments on this post. Just reply how you’re teaching computer science or STEM and how you’d use a sphero and Sam and I will pick one of you!
Sphero did not sponsor this post. They did, however, give me one last year and I fell in love with it. They gave me one to give away to a lucky reader (see below.) Happy Hour of Code week![/guestpost]
4 Tips to Start Teaching with Sphero Robots
1. Start simple.
While I have a class set of Lego NXT robots, it is challenging to put together a good lesson I can do with several classes with these robots due to their complexity. Both Sphero Robots and Bee Bots are very simple robots and make content integration accessible to all teachers. As a tech integration specialist for grade K-5 I want a robot that a math teacher is comfortable using. Sphero has several programming interfaces that make meaningful content area application easy without a steep learning curve.
2. Follow a guide.
While Sphero is a connected toy, the Orbotix company has free curriculum that models meaningful content use. The lesson published as part of their SPRK education program are excellent models for meaningful in class use. My favorite lesson is the Rate Time and Distance lesson.
Instead of learning a formula and plugging in values from a series of word problems about Dr. Patterson on his bicycle, now my students program a robot, observe the results, change the program, and observe the changes. The math activity runs much more like a science experiment. The students are guided in a process of discovery about the relationship between rate time and distance.
[reminder]Win your own sphero by commenting on this post about how you’re teaching Computer Science or STEM now and how you’d use a Sphero with your students. In case of a tie, we’ll pick the one who responded first. [/reminder]
3. Support play.
When my students begin using Sphero, I give them time to explore what the robot can do, and they have fun. I don’t have them begin by all doing the same thing. I show them about one-third of the controls and then I give them some challenges. Discovery is an important part of learning, and if I didn’t give them the time to explore they would be playing while I wanted them to explore rate time and distance.
4. Invent your own lesson.
I appreciate the lessons Orbotix has written because they clearly illustrate how these robots can be used in lessons that support common core standards in math and science. These lessons can provide any teacher with a great starting point for designing their own robot augmented lessons.
4 Top Tools for Robot Augmented Instruction
Masking tape or blue tape can be really helpful to organize a small herd of robots in a class. I use tape to mark the start and finish lines for robot races, and to designate the goal for a game of robot boccie ball. Tape goers down quick and comes up easily (as long as you don’t leave it there too long.)
There are so many great ideas about how to use a Sphero robot on Youtube. This video inspired me to give my students a design challenge to build and race Sphero chariots.
3. A label maker.
Once I had 12 Spheros for my classes, I labeled each one with a number and then I associated each Sphero with only one iPad. This made it easy to start class, I activated Bluetooth on iPads 1-12 and woke up the robots, within a minute they were all associated and ready to roll.
Pedagogy Pro Tip
The Sphero programming interface MacroLab enables a teacher to email a program to a student. this means as I assemble my lesson I can create scaffolding for my diverse learners by writing starter programs for my students.
This makes the lesson accessible to all the kids in my class and allows me to deliver extra support discretely, keeping those students involved in the learning without asking them to single themselves out for more help.
As you explore how robots can ad to the learning experiences in your classroom, I hope you share your journey with us here. Everytime I show teachers what I am doing with these simple robots they give me more amazing ideas about how Sphero can support lessons in geometry, math and even color theory.
[callout]Want to win your own sphero? Just share with us in the comments what you’re doing now and what you want to do with sphero. Sam and I will pick one of you to win your own sphero for your classroom or club. Good luck! (We’ll pick the winner around December 15. In case of a tie, we’ll pick the person who responded first.)[/callout]