What are Spheros and why do we use them?

Have we just run out of ideas? Surely not, surely there's more to it than a ball that rolls around...
Aveea Sphero Pink

Have we run out of ideas?

Spheros, we’re always going on about them, but why exactly are we so fascinated by them? They’re just some small robotic balls that we can control, doesn’t exactly sound all that different from an RC car you can buy at a toy store, heck they probably have spherical RC cars too. 

Yet we have multiple sessions a year with these, are we just running out of ideas? Surely not, surely there’s more to them than just a ball which rolls around—and that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss here.

The comparison to RC cars isn’t far off, there’s a good reason why they have stuck around in stores for so long, they’re amazingly simple works of technology, yet incredibly fun to play with. Spheros take this one step further by enabling us to write the code for them ourselves. 

Aveea and Spheros

Unlike regular RC cars, which will be pre-programed and simplified so that anyone can move them with a controller, Spheros provides us with an easy interface to manipulate, and even write, the code ourselves. This might seem largely like a roundabout way of suggesting that these are a way to teach coding, and while that is true, Spheros can provide so much more compared to just staring at simulations on a screen.

We think: Coding is just better when it interacts with the real world

Coding is amazing, there’s billions of lines of code in all the technology around you, but when practising, you don’t truly get to appreciate your work when all that changes is on a screen. Spheros allows us to incorporate code in a more dynamic way, interacting with the real world and letting us see exactly what we can achieve. 

Aveea Spheros

Not only is this more satisfying, but it gives us a more practical experience in coding. Sure you can create a calculator without considering the real world, but when you start looking at things such as cars or machinery, you need to take into account what exists in the real world, including resistances, obstacles, and so on. We can tell a car to go forwards for 100m easily, but what happens when it gets stopped, slowed down, changes direction, these are all challenges coders face that we can replicate with Spheros, see for ourselves just how difficult it can be, and maybe even come up with our own solutions.

Year 3 pupils teaching Year 6s (nope that's not a typo)

Creativity is truly a mystery, we’ve all heard how children are oozing in creativity, and it really shows with the Spheros. Our challenges will usually have direction, but the path to get there is all up to the pupils themselves. Ordinarily, pupils will look up to their peers, it’s what we’ve come to expect when we see someone in, for example, year 3, look at the work of someone in year 6. But that’s not always the case with challenges like coding, the Spheros especially.
The creative options that pupils are empowered to take with these, oftentimes will result in the most surprising outcomes, it’s not unusual for us to see our year 6 pupils take inspiration from our year 3 pupils. Truly flipping the status quo from what we’ve come to expect—the innovation which we hope to bring forth in the next generation.

It must get boring eventually though, right?

You might be thinking that coding sessions like this will get boring, that they have their limits, but that is absolutely not the case here. Rather than just another session of coding and Spheros, it’s a brand new challenge to tackle each time. Not only that, Spheros can cover all principles of STEM to some extent, not just the technology aspect.
Whether that’s the engineering required for our chariot challenges, or the science to understand how much weight these can pull in water, some pupils may even cover aspects of art by dipping their Spheros in paint and coding out a path to create a painting. We have tons of challenges, and hopefully sharing them here will convince you that our fascination with these robotic balls is more than justified, perhaps even turn yourself into an avid Spheros supporter.
Challenges like racing might initially seem superfluous, that we’re just pandering to the fun aspect of it, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Besides the competitive drive which we hope to encourage, there must be something that affects the speed which pupils achieve, otherwise all the competitors will end up finishing at similar times. Believe it or not, that’s where maths can come in, there are all sorts of calculations that happen in Formula 1 for the optimal path to take, such as minimising speed loss on turns whilst still taking the shortest turn possible.
Aveea Sphero

We don’t expect our pupils to be able to perform all these calculations perfectly, but to be able to understand the fundamentals behind why it might be better to turn early or later will give them that little edge. On top of aspects such as the terrain and how it might affect the Spheros, perhaps they need to code the Spheros to react differently while on carpet compared to a wooden floor. 

All these considerations might seem tedious at first, but when you’re fully invested in a challenge, it becomes a source of invigoration. That’s why we do so many sessions on Spheros, and as time goes on, the more challenges we’ll have for our pupils.

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