Saturday, 9 January 2016

Getting Started with Sphero in the Classroom

Getting Started with Sphero:

Sphero is a small, robotic ball that gives block coding a real-world connection for students. It is reasonably priced and widely available, and connects to iPads through Bluetooth. 

To control the Sphero with an iPad: turn on bluetooth and wait for “Sphero-___” to show up. Each Sphero names itself by the first letter of the colours it flashes to connect (this will be important if you have more than one Sphero in your classroom). Tap on it to connect. If you are going to use more that one iPad with the Sphero, make sure you disconnect “unpair” the Sphero from the current iPad when you are finished working with it.

Coding Apps that work with Sphero:

Tickle is a simple, block coding program that tells Sphero what to do. Tickle is a paid app.  Download it at the App Store for Apple iOS devices only:

SpheroEdu is available for Android and Apple iOS devices, and is now available on Chromebooks as well. It is a free download on all platforms. It was created and is regularly updated by Sphero.

Here is my video tutorial on how to connect a Sphero to SpheroEdu on a Chromebook. When I created the video the app was called Lightning Lab, the name has changed to SpheroEdu, but the app is the same.

If your students have never coded before, or are too young to read the code blocks, you can still have them "code" the Sphero in Lightning Lab. Select the "Draw" Program option and they will be able to draw the path for their robot to follow when they run their program.

Human v.s. Robot:

To get your students started, create "code blocks" with arrows and numbers for time in seconds (basic). Have the students arrange the "code blocks" to send the robot and a person on two courses in the classroom. Each of them will make a square (hopefully!). Have the students mark each turning point with a traffic cone so they can see the shape they created once they are finished.

If your students are reading, then write out the lines of code on coloured paper. This will help them to get ready for coding on the iPad later. Have them do the above activity, once they have done it with the written blocks. 

Once students have been successful with this, remove one line of code and put it up on the board the next day. Ask students if the program will work, have them try it to see what is wrong. This gives them their first chance to "debug" a program. 

Another way to extend it would be to ask them what they would need to change to make a rectangle. Have them create the new "code blocks" they need, and then they can run the program with a human robot, or a Sphero.

Have them try it with a coding app afterwards.

How does this connect to measurable student learning?

To have Sphero successfully complete any of the challenges below, students will need to show the following Learning Skills:

-fulfills responsibilities and commitments during the learning goals of the activity
-takes responsibility for and manages own behaviour

-devises and follows a plan and process for completing the learning goals of the activity
-identifies, gathers, evaluates, and uses information, technology, and resources to complete task efficiently

Independent Work:
-monitors, assesses, and revises plans to complete tasks and meet the learning goals of the activity

- accepts various roles and an equitable share of work in the group
-responds positively to the ideas, values, and traditions of others when the group is generating ideas
-effectively works with others to resolve conflicts and build consensus to achieve the learning goals
-shares information, resources, and expertise, and promotes critical thinking to solve problems and make decisions

- looks for and acts on new ideas and opportunities in order to successfully complete the learning goals
-approaches new challenges, and/or problems within the learning environment with a positive attitude

Self Regulation:
-sets own individual goals and monitors progress towards achieving them
-continually strives to persevere and makes an effort when responding to the challenges provided by the learning goals of the activity

Sphero and Math:

Set Sphero to travel forward for 5 seconds at various speeds. Have students measure how far sphero actually moved at each speed percentage.

2D Geometry:
Give students the beginning code to create a 90 degree angle (half a rectangle)
Code a shape.jpg

Measurement and Geometry:
After they have established how far sphero moves at each speed. Have them try to code sphero to trace over 2D shapes on the floor (have students use masking tape to build the shapes).

Measurement of Perimeter and Area:
Have students create different shapes based upon an agreed upon area (I use a 30 cm by 30 cm square tile. To mark the perimeter, use masking tape. See if they can code Sphero to navigate the various perimeters of the 2D shapes they have created.

Have groups try to create a shape that will be difficult for other groups to navigate with Sphero, this elevates the challenge, as they will strive to create as many turns as possible.

Sphero and Language:

Writing a Fictional Story and 3D Geometry:
Have students write the “Tale of Sphero”. A young sphere who woke up one day alone in the world. As she navigates the new world she finds herself in, she meets several other 3D figures. Some of these figures are friends, and some are not. How does Sphero learn who to count as her friends?
-to add to this activity, have the students film the story with an iPad, and present to the class.

Creating a play:
With more than one Sphero, and some coffee cups you can create a play. The coffee cups slide over top of Sphero, and become a frame for a costume. Students can design various costumes for Sphero to move in order to make it a “puppet without strings”. When coding Sphero to maneuver on the stage, subtle movement will be a challenge. Having a broad stage will help.
-to add to this activity, record it with DoInk’s Green Screen app and create various backdrops for the play.

Procedural Writing:
Have students take screenshots (to take a screenshot - simultaneously press the power and home buttons on an iPad) of how they code Sphero to do various activities. They then insert these photos into a Google Doc and write instructions to explain the activity to another student, or class.

Sphero and Music:
Have students compose a simple beat/rhythm, or a simple musical composition and then code Sphero to move (dance) to the beat/rhythm of the song

Please create your own challenges as well! Include the hashtag #spherochallenge on Twitter and share your ideas with others!

Here is the Superman challenge originally shared by iPad Monthly:
Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 9.03.35 AM.png

Have fun and happy coding!

Friday, 1 January 2016

21st Century Learners in a Global Classroom

Last year my colleague Michael Frey and I began a project called 21st-century Learners in a Global Classroom. Our goal was to connect our two local classrooms at different schools to other classrooms around the world. What we hoped for was to move beyond having one-off connections, and have a longer commitment to work together on projects started with these classes over the entire year. It was a big undertaking, and was not without its challenges. As time went on we discovered some people were unable to put all the extra work in to make the project successful. We started with several classes but ended with two classes that stuck with us the whole way through.

One class was in Busan, Korea and the other class was in Mexico City Mexico. What was really neat was Michael and I had no connection with these teachers before starting this project. It was through social media and the natural desire of all the teachers involved to make connections for their students, that we had the opportunity to meet. Over the year-long project Richard Campbell from Korea, and Jose Louis Gutierrez from Mexico worked with Michael and myself to collaborate and give students opportunities to work together in a meaningful way.

We started with having the students share about their culture, but moved on to look at world issues happening around the world today. Our students were introduced to Human Rights, something I've never taught before. It was very interesting to see how concerned the students became about injustices around the world, and how to make them better. It gave them a better understanding of the big world that they live in. This was especially beneficial for my class, as they are from a small school in a rural community.
The book that best helped my Grade 3/4 students understand best was the book “We Are All Born Free” by Amnesty International.

Thanks to tools like Google Hangouts,, Google Sites, Kahoot!, and Minecraft we were able to connect students and allow them to work together on various projects. One of the projects the students produced was a book about Human Rights from their perspective. This book was worked on by students from Busan, Korea, students from Cambridge, Ontario, and from New Dundee, Ontario. Here are a couple of excerpts from the book:
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On our World Class Learner's Blog (shared writing space for students from Korea, Mexico, and Canada) one of Michael's students really seemed to get the idea about Human Rights:
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Near the end of the year, the final project with students from Mexico, and Canada was to create websites together that shared about the indigenous peoples from our different countries. One of the highlights for me, was walking past a group of students who were doing a video conference with students from Mexico, screen sharing and showing how to build a sub page in Google Sites. They were working with the students from Mexico, and deciding how to set up their website they were working on together, while also teaching them some of the better ways to use Google Sites. These were eight and nine year old students. We have to be careful not to sell a student short! Here is a video of the students helping their partners from Mexico:

In a perfect world, all the classes would have worked together at the same time on the same projects. That didn't happen, not because we didn't want it to, but because it was too much of a challenge with holidays, different times zones, and reporting periods to make it work. It was through the extra efforts of all the teachers involved, and the eagerness of the students who were excited and interested to work with different students that made the project work. It is been my honor to work with all the people involved, and I carry forward the important lesson that there's a great deal of power and value in a teacher’s efforts to connect through social media and technology. It allowed us to move beyond the four walls of the classroom, and to make learning an exciting opportunity for everyone.

This project wouldn't have been possible without the Ontario Government's TLLP Program. It is an annual project-based learning opportunity for experienced classroom teachers. I urge you to apply to this program through your school board if you work in Ontario.

Here is a link to the website we built to share our resources:

Here is a link to the slideshow we used to present on our project: