I wrote early in the semester about my first experience with using Spheros in a lesson in my English classes. While it was incredibly engaging and fun for the kids, what I loved most about the lesson was the critical thinking that it generated about complex texts. Giving students the opportunity to have an active, hands-on experience related to the text seemed to trigger a different kind of thinking in my students. It created a sort of relatability to these older texts that my kids couldn't gain by just having a class discussion about it.
My students have been asking about "those little robots" all semester, so I decided that early December was the perfect time to pull them back out for another lesson. This time, Dr. Michael Mills came to co-teach the lesson with me. We decided to have students use the SPRK app to do some block-based coding rather than having them use the basic Sphero app to manually control each Sphero during the activity. This added another layer of engagement but also another level of challenge to the activity. Many of my students had never been exposed to a program like this before.
The first time I used the Spheros, we had just read John Smith's A General History of Virginia and William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation. This time, Dr. Mills and I decided that Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was the perfect novel with which to integrate the use of the Spheros. After reading the novel, students completed a plot map and a character chart to ensure that they all had the necessary background knowledge to participate in the Sphero activity.
Next, we moved all the desks into one corner of my room, so we had lots of space. Guys, I think my co-workers thought I was crazy, but the kids were so excited to walk into this altered classroom environment! After we cleared the room, we created the Mississippi River on my classroom floor.
We placed markers along the river to represent various settings in the novel. When students came in to class, we asked them to form small groups. We had six Spheros for this activity, so we formed groups of 4-5 students. Each group was asked to pick a character for their Sphero to represent. We asked the kids to first create a storyboard for a small piece of the plot in Huck Finn in which their chosen character played an integral role. Then we asked them to create a second storyboard explaining how the Sphero could illustrate the character's emotions and actions in this part of the story. In addition, students could take notes about their code.
Once students had brainstormed as a group and completed the storyboard handout, they began programming the Spheros on the iPad. As they created, they began engaging in the process of inquiry by testing their code and making adjustments in order to make the Sphero do exactly what they wanted it to do. It was incredible to watch them cooperate with each other to problem solve and test their work until they got it just right.
At the end of the class period, students got to present their Sphero's program to the class. They had to explain which character their Sphero represented, which part of the plot the Sphero was reenacting, and why they had chosen certain colors and actions for their Sphero's program. This forced them to go back to the text and establish a strong link between this activity and the novel.
As we head into Christmas break, I am already brainstorming new ways to incorporate the Spheros in my spring classes. Story identification races for The Canterbury Tales? Sphero battles for Beowulf? I just can't wait to see what we can make happen with these little robots next!