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Sphero - Catch me
if you can

Years 5-6

By years 5 and 6 many students may have had some experience with a visual programming language such as Scratch or Blockly that is the basis of the Hour of Code.

Sphero will take the screen based control of an image to the next level by introducing a robotic device controlled by a visual programming language.

This lesson idea was created by Peter Lelong.



Overview

Resources

Prior Student Learning

By years 5 and 6 many students may have had some experience with a visual programming language such as Scratch or Blockly that is the basis of the Hour of Code.

Sphero will take the screen based control of an image to the next level by introducing a robotic device controlled by a visual programming language.

If your students are new to visual programming languages there are a number of excellent resources they might try to help them become familiar with computational thinking tasks. The Hour of Code is a good place to start.

Learning hook

Sphero is wanting to find his/her friend who has become stuck in a tight spot in a corner of the classroom and cannot find a path out through the maze of objects scattered on the path.

What set of instructions could you give Sphero to help navigate to his/her friend and then help them both to return?

Alternatively, students may wish to explore a particular seafarer or land explore from the past by drawing a large stylised map on the school playground and have Sphero take on the role of Captain Cook of Burke and Wills for example.

What adventures might he/she have on his/her voyage? This could work in nicely with a history or geography lesson on significant historical figures navigating parts of a geographical landscape.

Learning map and outcomes

  • Students work together to plan a solution to a problem
  • Students create a series of instructions (Algorithms) with alternative solutions should one plan fail.
  • Students connect to robot using bluetooth device to send instructions.
  • Students test visual program algorithm and debug until successful.
  • Students create a game that could be shared with their peers. Instructions could be written for the game that others could use to learn how to play the game.

Learning input

The teacher introduces the Sphero or Spheros to the class and asks them what they think it might be.

After a number of responses and the eventual answer being a robot that can be controlled by a digital device, have the students discuss how Sphero can be sent instructions.

Allow time for discussion on Bluetooth and comparisons to Wireless. Discuss wireless, bluetooth and connected networks.

Introduce or elaborate on visual programming languages and the importance of clear instructructions (Algorithms) when controlling Sphero and setting tasks.

Learning construction

Using the Tickle app for iPad or Android devices make a connection to Sphero and explore the visual programming language in Tickle.

Send instructions to Sphero to follow.

Students, once they are comfortable with the visual programming language, might set up paths using masking tape or objects for Sphero to negotiate.

Have students work in teams to solve a number of challenges.

Use the Sphero Edu app to program Sphero to roll in the shape of various polygons. See more information here.

To introduce the lesson, the teacher briefly revise the concept of a ‘regular’ shape and the language used to describe polygons Greek prefixes for numbers.

Students worked in teams of about five to follow step-by-step instructions to ‘draw’ Square and Triangle, then Extension to create obscure paths using learned skills.

The Sphero Edu app for iPad or Android has a series of tutorials that explains how to change the colour and/ or direction and/or speed of Sphero along with a range of other commands.

Create a maze, or obstacle course and then program Sphero to navigate the course (see Maze Mayhem). Opportunity for team learning in the areas of measurement, problem solving, and programing using Sphero Edu app.

Plan and implementing a solution using a visual programming language, for example designing and creating a simple computer game involving decisions and repetitions, suitable for younger children, that requires user input to make selections, taking into account user responses.

Learning demo

Introduce some of the apps available for Sphero on an iOS or Android device. How might Sphero Exile or Sphero ColorGrab be used in the classroom to encourage problem solving?

Can the students adjust the speed of Sphero and its direction?

What games could the students create of their own?

Learning reflection

Students could look at the limitations and advantages of a spherical robot. Could such a robot be used for supporting rescue missions or exploring unfamiliar environments?

What sort of features can students think of to enhance Sphero’s capabilities?

Are students able to explain in plain English their instructions (algorithms) to others and carry out testing of algorithm to check for bugs. Can they then debug their algorithm if problems are found?

Were the students engaged and prepared to solve the problems they came up against when creating an algorithm for Sphero to complete the challenge presented?

Resources

There are many Sphero apps now available to explore with your students on the iPad, more being added over time. Only a few are currently compatible with Sphero SPRK+. Here are some of the ones you might explore with your student:

Spotlight and other stores sell street map carpets for under $50 which might work well for setting instructions for Sphero.


Also available are mats for Snakes and Ladders which might be suitable for Bee Bots if introducing algorithms for the first time.