Using robots for education is not new. I personally remember learning some basic programming concepts from Lego Mindstorms, robots made out of the building blocks that could follow lines on a table or play soccer with one another.
But in recent years, companies trying to find alternate routes into the classroom are expected to design with Common Core education standards in mind, something Orbotix says it’s doing with its mobile-controlled Sphero robots.
The company’s SPRK program, which test-launched in a handful of schools last year without a curriculum to speak of, is getting a “formalized” launch today that meets Common Core. So, teachers can design lesson plans around the spherical robots, which normally retail for $80 each. Orbotix sells 10-packs of Spheros to teachers and schools for $600.
“People think of the Sphero as a robotic toy, but deep down it’s really a programmable robot,” chief software architect Adam Wilson said in an interview with Re/code.
With a connected phone or tablet, kids can tell the Sphero to follow commands, like moving in a square or “dancing” in place while changing colors. In so doing, of course, Orbotix claims that the kids are learning engineering topics like if-then statements and loops.
As one teacher featured in a new SPRK promotional video says, using programming concepts to control a Sphero provides “instant gratification” — something that typing actual code often can’t provide.
Wilson said the Sphero packs are best for schools that already use iPads in the classroom and said the goal is to help teach traditional school subjects like math and physics as well as engineering and robotics concepts. The company has found that “upwards of 40 percent” of the kids who show interest in programming for Sphero are girls, he noted.
“I can’t imagine that something like Arduino or other robot-like things have very high retention among girls,” Wilson said.
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