I need a Sphero

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.

Next, we looked at Lego Education.

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.

Then we heard about Sphero.

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.

Potential Benefits…
  1. It’s instantly engaging, with wide raging applications across the curriculum, particularly in Maths.
  2. The ‘Tickle’ app offers coding in a familiar format to those familiar with Scratch.
  3. Differentiation and progression is straight forward given the range of apps available.
  4. It’s relatively cheap. Around £90 a go on Amazon. While the apps I’ve used so far are all FREE to download.
Potential Problems…
  1. 10-15 robots being controlled by Bluetooth could well lead to a drop off in connectivity and lead to confusion.
  2. As apps like ‘Tickle’ are currently not available on android, you do need iPads to get the most our of Sphero.
  3. 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.

Learning journey.
  1. 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.
  2. Use the Drive ‘n’ Draw app to instruct the robot what you want it to do.
  3. Use the Tickle app to programme Sphero to follow paths, complete mazes, etc…
What next?

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.

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