girls on a blacktop completing a challenge with their Spheros

8 great ways to STEAM up your class with Sphero (and other edtech)

It's more important than ever to teach STEAM principles throughout the curriculum

Jobs in the computer science field are the top source of new wages in America, and a quarter of all jobs are now “highly digitalized.” Twice as many Americans use computing in their jobs, with half of these positions in non-STEM fields.

Yet, only 25 percent of schools across the country offer a computer science class with coding or programming as part of the curriculum. It’s more important than ever to incorporate STEM and STEAM principles into the classroom to prepare our students for the workforce. Kids are already immersed in the world of technology, but it’s important to incorporate STEM principles into the classroom to arm students with the skills they need to succeed in the job landscape of the future.

In our classrooms, we use a variety of tools to teach the values of STEAM education, including Sphero, the technology company utilizing play as a powerful teacher with its product line of robotic balls and other app-enabled gadgets that inspire STEAM learning.

Now, with the evolution of art in STEAM, educators have the opportunity to structure their coursework in non-traditional ways that create excitement and fun around learning.

There is an art form to teaching STEAM principles in creative ways outside of writing out math equations that make kids excited to go to school and learn. Taking something students have designed and encouraging them to use their artistic skills to create can help them learn and grow in new ways.

It’s much easier than most educators think to incorporate STEAM into their lesson plans. My best advice is to just give it a try. Learning STEAM principles alongside students is a great way to lead through example, and it helps teachers develop better relationships with their students. Finding a great network of other educators, like my own personal network of other Sphero Heroes, allows me to connect and share ideas on how to best teach STEAM to our students.

However, it’s important to incorporate STEAM into the classroom with a healthy amount of skepticism. Jumping into new opportunities like STEAM is exciting, but educators should be mindful of the purpose behind what they teach and how they teach it. It usually helps to have a process in place, but with STEAM, don’t model lessons. Rather, give students guidelines on activities that allow them to think outside the box and learn to problem solve on their own.

The activities we use in my classroom with Sphero all enforce the knowledge that play is a powerful teacher of STEAM principles. Here is a list of some of my favorite ways to use Sphero in the classroom to get your students on board with STEAM.

1. Playground days

On playground days, we bring ramps and other obstacles out just to get kids used to driving the Sphero and engaging with the Sphero EDU app; plus it’s fun for the kids. They come up with their own ideas for races and other games, like tag.

2. Battlebots

Battlebots is a crowd favorite in which kids design battle armor for their Spheros and test them out in our Battlebot Arena. The goal is for kids to knock their opponent out of the arena.

3. Olympics

We recreate the Olympic Games as the Robot Olympics and do a variety of events such as two-robot bobsledding, “ski” jumping, slalom skiing, and speed skating. Events vary in skill levels for driving and coding.

4. Egg Drop

In our “Egg” Drop challenge, kids design a capsule to hold their Sphero and a mechanism to slow the robot’s descent from a fall. Using a code and the sensors within the robot, we calculate how fast their Sphero fell and how successful their deceleration attempts were.

5. Linear equations

Using basic block coding, we program the robots to “run” linear equations. It helps kids see linear equations in a practical and real setting beyond a worksheet.

6. Pythagorean Theorem ramps

Kids use the concepts of the Pythagorean Theorem to design ramps out of cardboard or other everyday materials. Then, they use their Sphero Ollies to jump their constructed ramps and calculate both how far and high the robot jumped.

7. Mission to Mars

The Mission to Mars activity encompasses coding, communication, collaboration, and heavy problem-solving. Kids have a crew on Mars and a crew on Earth. Mars is an area that cannot be seen on Earth. The crew on Mars is tasked with getting their Sphero from point A to point B while navigating obstacles on the planet’s surface. However, they cannot code their robots because the controls are on Earth. They must relay instructions to the Earth crew, who provides the code to get the robot to point B.

8. Coding Boot Camp

During Coding Boot Camp, kids are put through a series of coding challenges. These activities range from coding their robot to move from one spot to another to creating sophisticated if/then statements based on multiple variables. The goal is for students to progress through these challenges and gain coding proficiency.

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