Sphero is a robot ball with several features that can be controlled through mobile apps, including computer programs that the students build. Sphero can roll at a given speed and direction for a given amount of time and it can light up in any color. Its really fun for the children to program and includes mathematical concepts such as angles, distance, speed and shape.
Here's a video which we shot as part of the Digital Schoolhouse project which includes me teaching a group of children using the Sphero:
The first job is to get the Sphero to connect to the tablet via bluetooth. This is relatively straightforward to do by going to settings on your tablet and then connecting to the Sphero. The Sphero is controlled by a free app called Lightning Lab which has a block based interface, where the children drag and drop blocks to make up a program. They then run the program which connects to the Sphero and controls it.
You can get the children to do many different tasks using it and it ties in quite nicely with maths. As moving the Sphero depends on speed, distance and angles there are a whole host of shape, space and measure objectives that it can cover. Here are some that we've devised so far but I'm sure you'll see many more:
- Measure angles in degrees (a big protractor is supplied with the Sphero to help with this.)
- Know how many degrees there are in a square, triangle, pentagon, etc.
- Measure distance in mm, cm and metres and convert between these.
- Measure perimeter and area of a rectilinear shape.
- Recognise that shapes with the same areas can have different perimeters and vice versa
- Measure time and speed.
As you can see in the image below, we used a playmat to add some storytelling to the Sphero. The children were told that the Spero had landed in a lake and they had to try and guide it around the town.
I have found that three children at a time with the Sphero works best. If you want to give each one a responsibility, one of them can physically move the Sphero, one can work out the program on the ipad and the third can either help record the program or record it on a sheet of paper.
Including all students
All children can be included in the activities by either differentiating the activities (e.g. 90 degrees vs 120 degrees), having mixed ability groups or by giving them scaffolding in the form of starter programs to get them going.
As each Sphero links by bluetooth to a tablet, you can have multiple spheros being used at the same time, either in the classroom or in the playground. To manage this, we labelled each Sphero with a number and then associated each Sphero with only one iPad. This made it easy to manage. We also gave each Sphero a name to make it more personal for the students.
I've found the Spheros a lot of fun to use and to teach with. If you want to make your maths lessons come to life, bring a robot into the classroom. They are a little expensive but they're fun and exciting and the children will definitely remember this!