COMPUTER CORNER

Bill Gillespie
Rosemary McDowall

With Christmas rapidly approaching we asked our contacts to suggest a program or hardware that would be suitable for schools and also a great present for parents to give their children. Our friend Matt Gillard from Sammat Education flicked us an email immediately. Sphero, he thought, would fit the bill.

Sphero, as the name suggests, is a sphere. Inside its polycarbonate shell are electric motors, gyroscope, accelerometer, LEDs and circuit boards which move the ball via downloadable apps.

Not only can Sphero move, it can be programmed.

We started off by charging Sphero via the base unit and downloading the app from the Play Store. Once the app was downloaded we easily paired (connected) our phone with Sphero and were ready to go.

The app comes with several sample programs including Introduction (rolling and setting colour actions), Light, Auto Drive, Circle, Spiral Growth, Figure 8, Triangle, Square, Scared Robot (using Sphero’s collision detection ability), Jump, Toss and Catch and Vertical Acceleration.

Being the intrepid testers we are we automatically went for the Drive program and soon we had Sphero flying up and down the hall of the administration block, narrowly avoiding students, parents and administration staff.

We have to confess that our driving ability didn’t quite match our expectations and it took a 10-year-old student to show the adults how to use Sphero to its true potential.

Fun spoiler alert: do not use Sphero around other adults or children as they will all want to have a go. We had a slight difficulty testing Sphero with Miss 18 Months grandchild around as she would chase after it and cried when we had to put it away. I’m sure she would have slept with Sphero given the chance.

After our exuberance subsided we decided that we should look at some of the other programs that came with the app. The beauty of the programs is that they are fully customisable. All values in each program can be changed and newly created programs can be saved. This is a great way to teach programming from a very early age.

Perhaps the really powerful thing about Sphero is the programming component. Younger users can use the visual based programs in the app to move Sphero then they can progress to text-based programming, object-oriented programming, more advanced programming and creating apps.

A quick look through the Play Store revealed more than 40 apps that have already been created to use with the ball.

Sphero can be used in the classroom for critical thinking tasks, in maths investigation, science and art. Have a look on YouTube and see why we think it would be a valuable addition to any school.

Bill Gillespie teaches at Elanora Heights PS and Rosemary McDowall at The Forest High. They can be contacted at computer_corner2000@yahoo.com. Hardware supplied by Sammat Education.