Review by Emily Pohlonski, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2016
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SPRK Lightning Lab - Programming for Sphero Robots

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Cool robots and creative play make programming irresistible

Subjects & skills
Skills
N/A

Subjects
  • Science
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
3-8
Great for:
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (1 Review)

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Pros: Block- and text-based code and an engaging community make programming accessible to all.

Cons: The learning curve may frustrate some kids, and teachers will have to be creative to fit this tool into their curricula.

Bottom Line: Hub for Sphero robots draws crafty kids who love making into coding, and it empowers them to be collaborators.

Teachers, media specialists, and makers can best use SPRK Lightning Lab to help kids embrace STEAM philosophies. When they work together and build on each other's programs, students experience the collaborative nature of careers in science and technology. Kids learn that engineering is a creative process when they thoughtfully make a program for their robot and persist when that program fails.

Teachers can sign up for an instructor account and assign activities for students. Start with the provided introductory modules to help students learn how the robot works. After they see the potential of the Sphero robot, let them loose to plan their own projects. Kids will be clamoring for paint, water, glue, and cardboard to build environments for their robot to navigate. Whether your budding programmers are working in a school library or a classroom, be prepared for some highly productive noise and mess.

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SPRK Lightning Lab is an app that lets kids program their Sphero robots from a tablet or phone. Beginning coders use block-based programming to direct and control their robot. A text-based code viewer is also available so kids can see how their block code translates into actual code. This gives experienced programmers more flexibility and is a scaffold to help students scale up their coding skills.

Sphero is a water-resistant robot shaped like a ball. It can be programmed to roll around, jump, and change color as kids “drive” it through environments they create. Preset activities are provided through the app, like creating a moving solar system model with multiple robots. SPRK Lightning Lab also provides a digital community where kids both create and collaborate. 

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SPRK Lightning Lab inspires future coders by pairing creative play with programming. Sphero is inviting to a large audience of kids with its playful ball shape and large variety of applications. Students who aren't normally into science or math can get hooked by programming Sphero to paint a beautiful picture or have a dance party. SPRK Lightning Lab instigates friendly competition as kids challenge each other to building mazes or obstacle courses for the robot to navigate.

The sharing hub provides authentic ways for students to experience a collaborative design process. As they share programs, they will get ideas from others, then modify them to make them their own. There is definitely a learning curve to using this device; kids may get frustrated if their program doesn't work right away because the ball is slipping on certain types of surfaces. Orbotix sells Nubby covers that provide extra protection and give the smooth robots traction. Even with the Nubby covers, the Sphero robot does not move that well on grass.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Sphero robots are crazy fun once kids figure out how to use them. Kids love the huge range of environments that they can create to challenge their robot.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Students use both art and engineering skills, developing solutions to problems within constraints like materials, time and cost. They can compare multiple solutions and test their programs to see how they can be improved. 

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Modules are already created that walk kids through the logistics of programming and using the robots. Teachers can assign activities to kids and track their progress using the instructor login.


Common Sense Reviewer
Emily Pohlonski Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

(See all 1 reviews) (1 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Sarah P. , Other
Other
Anchorage School District
Anchorage, AK
Make Coding a Ball!

The Sphero robot and SPRK app have a lot of promise as a teaching tool in the classroom. It would be difficult to use this to the full potential with only one Sphero robot. I would recommend one robot for every two students.

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