If you’re anything like me, you love receiving mail. Letters, parcels and even sometimes flyers are exciting to receive (all except for bills, of course). I get criticism from my housemates for my almost dog-like excitement when I hear the letter slot open. Despite my best efforts, the office staff are now all to aware of this behaviour after the Sphero robots I ordered for year five arrived on Monday.
Sphero 2.0 is a small spherical robotic toy that can be controlled by a smartphone or tablet using a variety of apps. More interestingly, it can also be controlled by Scratch-like app called SPRK Lightening Lab where pupils can drag and drop coding blocks to create algorithms which the robot then carries out. The difference between Sphero and Scratch is in the output. Motivating pupils to understand the real world applications of coding has been difficult without them seeing the implications first hand. Having a physical device to manipulate has inspired children to implement, evaluate and redesign their programs based on how Sphero carries out their instructions.
Aside from the exciting implications for the computing curriculum, Sphero is a great tool to use in other subjects, especially maths. The computing curriculum closely relates to the maths currciculum around logical reasoning (decomposition for example) but Sphero is an open ended tool that can be tailored to a wide range of topics. For instance, this week my year five class were studying properties of shape and measuring angles. Pupils were having difficulty understanding how angles played a role in identifying shapes so I challenged the children to create a program to make Sphero move in a given shape. My lower ability children were given an easier task of creating a square, while my higher ability group were to create a triangle.
This was a particularly challenging task because it required children to consider the outside angles by first subtracting the inside angles and then partitioning the outside angles to figure out how far Sphero’s tail needed to turn in order to maintain the consistent inside angles of the triangle.
Sphero also comes with a series of lesson plan ideas for a range of topics, which can be modified to suit a particular learning objective. I would be interested to hear of how other teachers are using similar devices in a primary setting, as this area seems to stay in secondary schools more often than not.