A few months ago I wrote about my desire to get some Spheros in school and learn how they might be used in lessons to meet the ks2 computing curriculum in a creative and engaging way. Since then I’ve taken delivery of 10 new Spheros and started a Coding Club with children from each class in the school. I wanted to begin with a club so I could iron out any teething problems before introducing them across the school. While I made sure each class was represented so that when they do go into the classrooms each teacher will have a few experts to call upon to help them out, should they need it.
The purpose of this post is to give an update on where we are now and pass on the things I’ve learnt along the way.
You need a lot of space.
It turns out 16 children and 8 spheros in one classroom can be a confusing squeeze. The robots are controlled by iPads via Bluetooth and sometimes keeping them all connected can be an issue as can finding enough room for each child to explore the capabilities of the apps we have been using. It was great fun when we got into the school hall and had a race!
Have a designated iPad for each Sphero. I began by getting any iPad and searching for devices to connect via Bluetooth. This is fine if you only want to connect one or two, but will take ages if you want to connect 10. Each device has it’s own 3 letter code. I’ve written these on to each Sphero and also made a note of them on the designated iPads. This has simplified the logging on process and keeps the children engaged.
Keep it simple.
During our Coding Club sessions I set the children a variety of challenges. By far the most successful ones were the simplest. The challenge in the video above was to race up the hall, turn around past the cones and then race back. This allowed the children to use the Tickle app to create their own algorithms and debug them in order to accomplish a specific goal. Other challenges included being the fastest around a chair and following a paper path on the floor.
It does the job.
We purchased the robots to help meet the ‘design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts ‘ bit of the KS2 computing curriculum. I’m very happy that we fulfil our statutory requirements comfortably here. But more than that we are discovering many cross-curricular possibilities and the children absolutely love them.
The next challenge is to plan a scheme of work that can be delivered to the whole class. I’ll probably write another blog post as and when that happens, I’ll just have to think of another sphero based pun first.
I have been struggling with the bit in the computing curriculum where it talks about ‘controlling physical systems’. I can see the importance of applying the coding skills we’ve be learning on Scratch and the like, to something with a more physical presence. Something tangible. But I don’t want to spend loads of money on something that will only be used occasionally and require a lot of staff training.
First we researched RaspberryPi as they do seem to have a vast range of applications across the curriculum.
It is a single-board computer the size of a credit card. You can get a starter kit for around £50 from Amazon, and this means a whole class set is certainly reasonable. For early computer science, RaspberryPi looks very good. But it all seems a bit complex for the majority of our ks2 pupils and I worry the staff would also require a lot of training and support. It is something I may well return to further down the programming line, as the children’s knowledge and expertise has developed and they need the next challenge.
They had a big, shiny stand at BETT so we had a look. It’s certainly a brand our children have heard of and connected with themselves. This would no doubt help with engagement. The two stumbling blocks as I see it are that it is bloomin’ complicated and can be expensive to get some of the better, more interesting kits. As with RaspberryPi, Lego Education is great for those children who have an interest or some talent in coding, but when it comes to whole class engagement I worry it might be ‘a bridge too far’ for some. Both would be great for a ‘Computing Club’ though.
It’s essentially a programmable ball. It’s controlled using a tablet via Bluetooth. We are lucky enough to have iPads in school and these do seem to have the better apps currently available to download. As there are so many apps available, differentiation is quite straight forward and it can be used in ks1 and ks2.
It’s instantly engaging, with wide raging applications across the curriculum, particularly in Maths.
The ‘Tickle’ app offers coding in a familiar format to those familiar with Scratch.
Differentiation and progression is straight forward given the range of apps available.
It’s relatively cheap. Around £90 a go on Amazon. While the apps I’ve used so far are all FREE to download.
10-15 robots being controlled by Bluetooth could well lead to a drop off in connectivity and lead to confusion.
As apps like ‘Tickle’ are currently not available on android, you do need iPads to get the most our of Sphero.
This will not stretch our more able year 6 pupils when they become more proficient with coding over the next few years. This is when we might need to look at the other options previously discussed.
Our story so far…
I ordered one for school at the end of the Summer term and took it home to experiment with over the summer. I found it straight forward to use and when I shared it with children of friends and relatives aged between 5 and 15 I got very positive responses.
Begin using the original Sphero app as a remote control to allow the children to see what is possible. Set challenges and get to grips with the controls.
Use the Tickleapp to programme Sphero to follow paths, complete mazes, etc…
Order 10. I wanted 15. We compromised. When these arrive I will introduce them initially to Coding Club. This will allow us to iron out any teething troubles we may encounter and mean that many classes across the school will have pupil experts able to help out when they are used in lessons. We can also try out a range of the many apps available, to see which ones are best suited to our needs.
By January I will have trained the staff how to use them and hope to see them being used to across the curriculum. By the end of the year the whole school will have completed a module in controlling physical systems. I best get planning.