5 Tips for STEM Learning with Sphero Robotics

All my middle school students came back to school this year bragging about their newest Christmas gift - a Sphero robot! Since we have spent the last couple months programming SPRK+ robots in our afterschool Space Club program, I will take this as a positive sign of success! Students love how quickly they can learn to program, never get bored with the endless games and challenges, and have fun showing off their dancing, flashing, spinning robot. Read on for more tips and tricks on teaching with Sphero robots in your classroom, home, or program. 

Honest SPRK+ Review

As a STEM Director for an afterschool program, I spent countless hours researching the best investment for adding a robotics component to our program. Serving over 200 students, I needed something easy to teach, portable, unbreakable, and fun. I settled on the SPRK+ robot, and now several months later, I am here to share my tips and lessons learned. Here are some initial thoughts on SPRK+ followed by my top tips for teaching. 

  • Connection: SPRK+ is easy to set-up and connect via Bluetooth. Check the iPad compatibility list as older versions do not work - I learned this the hard way! You need Wi-Fi to program the robot, but you can drive it without one. 
  • Interface: Lightning Lab app is an easy drag and drop programming language with many video tutorials and challenges that guide students through the activities. This app works great for student-driven learning as well as an opportunity for a teacher to monitor student progress. 
  • Hardware: I love that this robot has no building component - you can focus entirely on the programming and driving. SPRK+ is also waterproof and shockproof to allow for durability during hours of handling by students. Plus, the clear case lets you see all the electronics!
  • Battery life: SPRK robots always last the duration of my 1.5 hour program, but not much longer than that! Plan on charging your robot continusouly. 

5 Tips for Teaching with SPRK+ Robots

Tip 1: Allow free play time

Kids are most engaged when they choose the activities and have ownership of the learning process. I allow my students free time to try out the various Sphero-created programs such as "Fortune Teller" or "Hot Potato" to have some fun with the robot. Once students learn a little bit of the programming, they will start to modify these games to create their own versions. 

Tip 2: Start with driving and learn to aim

The easiest introduction to SPRK robots is to teach driving the robot and changing colors. This requires understanding the concept of aiming the robot, which was confusing for some students. I kept emphasizing that the robot is "dumb" and must always be told which way is forward.

We created two challenges for driving: navigating a maze and playing tag with a second SPRK. Tag was definitely a big hit! To play tag, we set-up a perimeter, and students were put in two teams. The first driver of each team started driving the robot with one being "it" and the other trying to escape without leaving the perimeter. Make sure to set one of the robots to a different color. Once the robot is caught, students switch drivers, and continue the fun!

Student learns how to drive sprk through a maze

Student learns how to drive sprk through a maze

Tip 3: Use Code.org to introduce programming

To prepare beginner students for the drag and drop programming interface, I assigned the Hour of Code challenges. Completing Flappy Birds or similar programming games are a great foundation to learning to use the Lightning Lab software. Once this is achieved, we had students program a SPRK to autonomously navigate a maze. Since this is part of a Space Club program, their mission was to program a "lunar rover" (SPRK) to successfully navigate through a maze of craters on the moon. 

Check out our freebie lesson plan on the SPRK Maze Challenge on TeachersPayTeachers.

Tip 4: Create STEM design challenges

Engineering design challenges are the core to any successful STEM program, and the possibilities are endless with the SPRK robot! The Lightning Lab app by Sphero has several design challenges with activity guides for students as well as more education resources at Sphero.com. Additional lessons can be found at TinkerDoodle or on this great blog post. Here are my favorite SPRK design challenges: 

  • Chariot Race: SPRK drags an object a certain distance. Check out this video
  • Boat Race: Same ideas as the chariot race, except in the water! One example here
  • Balloon pop: I invented this game (called Alien Pop! in Space Club) as a twist on a balloon jousting example I found. Students are given a cup and various objects (push pings, toothpicks, straws, duct tape) to create a way for the SPRK to drive the cup and pop the balloon taped to the wall. This was a huge hit with students, and we had an exciting Alien Pop competition during a family night event. 
Tips for SPRK (1).png

Tip 5: Connect to real-world robotics

We always preach about the importance of real-world connections, and SPRK lessons should be no different! Each week, I started the program with a different video ranging from robotics in space, computer science jobs, or biomimicry. A discussion on robotics in every day life and the careers that support them are a connection that all students should make. 

Do you use Sphero in your classroom or program? Leave us some tips or comments below! 


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