Monday, December 7, 2015

Sphero SPRK Lightning Lab

I've been a fan of  Sphero, both their Robot and the Company, for a couple of years. The robot is a magnet for kids and the company is a magnet for great people. Last Spring, Danielle and Lauren opened Sphero's doors to Room 216 as we (with Noah Geisel) pioneered a Periscope virtual field trip of Sphero's HQ and work spaces in Boulder, CO. A great experience for sure.

The little "app enabled ball that does it all" really does. So much more than a toy, the Sphero line of robots are a great way for kids to learn basic coding, collaboration, and problem solving skills. I particularly like the way that it gets my 6th grade girls excited about coding, creating, and problem solving. Besides, they are a ton of fun. It is a vital part of #Room216's maker space.

A couple of months ago I was asked by the Sphero folks if I'd be interested in helping them use and test their new SPRK Lightning Lab website & app? Interested? Uh, yeah! I couldn't wait to get started. The new interactive platform, designed for kids, parents, and teachers, promised some great additions to an already compelling Sphero app quiver.

The new app/platform allows users to create, publish, and share new Sphero content with a global community. The app allows users to download and run other people's programs, comment, and remix for their own creations. You are able to cloud save programs and access them with other devices as it syncs and makes your creations available to you anywhere.

I've beta-tested for the last few weeks and really love it! The SPRK Lighting Lab site is easy to navigate and intuitive to use. I could immediately see how useful the site and app would be in helping to demonstrate and teach some of the learning objectives that are part of our science standards. I published a couple of activities and shared them with my fellow SPRK Lightning Lab Innovators. As a diverse group, it was great to see what they had created as well. The activities my kids and I created are located here.

Teachers can create compelling activities using text, pictures, as well videos to guide students towards the learning objective. Creators can choose themes (awesomely, prank is a theme!), subject, tie-in NGSS or CCSS standards, activity duration, and grade level range. Teachers (Instructors) can then create steps and add resources to each step of the activity to make a compelling lesson. Teachers can add as many steps as necessary, but I think it's best to keep it around 5-7.

In the SPRK Lightning Lab App, students use block-based programming, to program their robot to do almost anything. If you create an account, you can seamlessly share and save programs between the app and the website for use in activities. A particularly nice feature for teachers is the ability to place notes for instructors. These teaching tips or project notes are only available to users that are signed in as instructors, which will helps teacher guide students without giving them the answer to a problem within the activity.

Teacher can share lessons with others around the world by making their programs public or just shareable with their class. You can also explore and try out what others have created and modify once you've downloaded them to your device.
Programming on an iPhone/iPod
Programs created on the app also sync with an activities on the SPRK Lightning website and can be set as a default program for any activity created. You can build a program in the SPRK Lightning Lab App, make it public, and then make it available on the activity page to set as the default program for that activity! That functionality gives students, teachers, and other users a great place to start with their program, but also allows them to modify to suite their needs.

When they create an account teachers can create student logins and assign activities within their class. You can track progress in real-time and review student work.

My class uses the class iPod or our iPad-mini with our Sphero, but another great thing about Sphero is their concern for accessibility. The SPRK Lighting Lab App is optimized for the new iPad Pro, a pricey option for most, but also works great with the $40 Amazon Kindle Fire (Nook as well). A great thing! The SPRK Lightning Lab app is available in Android and iOS and is compatible with the Sphero 2.0, Sphero SPRK Edition, and the Ollie.

Of course I had fun helping the Sphero folks out while they developed the app and the website, but when I handed it off to a few of my kids, that's when the fun really started. My 6th graders really took to it and absolutely dove into the different functions and actions that the app made available for programs. Students are able to program lights, sounds, headings, turns, and some of the cooler Sphero Functions like the Raw Motor, X&Y accelerometers that are built into the ball! The options and combinations are limitless and naturally lets the creativity and problem solving come out.

We're incorporating the SPRK Lightning Lab into our week of code activities and is already in regular use during "lunch upstairs" sessions in Room216.

I'm looking forward to getting more of our class involved with the app as our school year progresses and utilizing the classroom features and student tracking.

Great stuff from a great company!

Thanks for reading
I'm on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher


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