I was recently honored to speak at the Computer Science Ed Week kick-off event that brought together 100 CS teachers from across the county in Boston, MA. For my portion of the program, I was asked to share ways to use Sphero™ brand toys/robots in high school CS. Just three weeks prior, I had purchased two of Sphero SPRKs™ for my 6 and 3 year-old daughters for Christmas.
I was introduced to Sphero™ brand toys in the fall of 2014 when I won a grant to purchase robotics equipment for a high school. The relatively large grant was intended to purchase the human social robot, Nao™ but I had about $2,500 left over that had to be spent on robotics. After some research, I decided to give Spheros™ a try, purchasing about 20 balls and 6 Ollies™.
Almost everything I could find online for the toys showed elementary school students using them, but I was convinced they would engage high school students. We gave them to our freshmen and asked them to play for a day. Once they understood how to drive these speedy, rugged toys, we began to show them how to code through the app. The only problem we ran into -- the toy/robots were so fun, the teachers didn't want to let the students use them! It was a success, but there was something lacking to truly make the jump from toy to CS learning device.
Then everything changed. In the summer of 2015, Sphero™ launched a new program with a new app (Sphero SPRK™) for practically any mobile device/tablet. With the new program, the company clearly embraced the learning power in their fantastic product. While I have not used their primary education competitor, Dash-n-Dot™, I have been thoroughly impressed with Sphero's™ engagement and learning power across practically all age ranges. It is easy enough that a 3 year-old can giggle with it. It is fast and rugged enough that a teenager wants to, but can't figure out how to destroy it. AND it is engaging enough that a room full of teachers from 25 to (I'm afraid to guess on the high end) were giddy playing with them for as long as we could let them at the conference!
Following my talk, I was asked by several participants to share the slides. That wouldn't be helpful because most of the slides were just pictures. Instead, I will list some of the major talking points below:
When trying to introduce high school students to CS, it is imperative that we first engage them and help them realize the vast possibilities of CS. This cannot be done effectively through direct instruction. You can't adequately tell someone about the smell of a rose and you can't tell a student about the joy of creating. They have to experience it for themselves. They need to prick their fingers, touch the silky petals, struggle through the process, and emote over a successes to truly understand the power.
To this end, toys/robots like Sphero™ are unlocking an exciting new realm of possibilities in the classroom. Why do I love them so much?
I am working with Jim David from the STEM School Chattanooga in Tennessee to deliver a webinar on Sphero™ integration in CS for K-12 in February. I will post access information with dates/times in the coming weeks! I also plan to blog in January about how my 3 year-old adapts to this amazing toy!
Sphero™ generously donated a free Ollie ™to all of the teachers to take back to their classroom, but as a fellow at a federal agency, I was not permitted to receive the gift nor did Sphero™ endorse this article in any way. As always, the thoughts here are my own and do not reflect the views of the United States federal government or the National Science Foundation.
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