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.
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.
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)
It must get boring eventually though, right?
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.