4 Design Challenges for Sphero®

In my first makerspace, we had an area called “The Robot Petting Zoo.” The idea behind this part of our makerspace was to expose our students to coding and robotics in a fun and exploratory way. We also had computer science and robotics classes, so this was a great way to pique students’ interest and allow those who weren’t in the classes to still have some robotics fun. Students loved all the robots in this space, but Sphero was definitely a universal favorite. New sixth graders were excited to drive Sphero all over the library. Seasoned eighth graders would use their coding and design skills to take the robot beyond the limits we thought it had.

While it can be easy to look at something like Sphero as the new remote-controlled car, it’s so much more. The variety of apps available allows for far more than just driving — you can code, control multiple robots at once, play augmented-reality games and more. Here are four different design challenge ideas you can use to incorporate robotics into your makerspace:

1. Build an Obstacle Course

Challenge: Design an obstacle course or maze out of cardboard that Sphero can navigate through. Test throughout the design process and refine your design.

Bonus: Create a storyline that goes along with the course.

This was by far one of my students’ favorite projects. Driving Sphero around on its own is fun, but why not design an obstacle course that the robot has to battle other robots in? Or a maze that you have to find your way through? We chose to take on the design challenge for the course with cardboard, as it allowed for the fastest and largest-scale prototyping.

Students used cardboard, packing tape, hot glue guns, acrylic paint and other materials to create their obstacle courses. For one obstacle course, Sphero avoided Dash while trying to knock Dot off a pedestal. In a maze, the robot had to navigate through various obstacles and take the “road less traveled.” This is a great interactive project and is especially fun at maker fests.

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2. Create a Course and Code Sphero to Navigate It

Challenge: Build a physical maze or use painter’s tape to create a maze on the floor. Use different Sphero coding apps to guide the robot through the maze. 

Bonus: Add obstacles to avoid. If you’re successful with one app, try to master a different one.

If you created a maze or obstacle course in the first design challenge already, this can be a great way to extend that project further. There are several different apps available where you can use programming to control your robot. In the Sphero Edu app, you have three different options:

  • Draw: Students draw a path on their device and the robot follows it.
  • Blocks: Students use block-based coding to program Sphero.
  • Text: Students use JavaScript code to program Sphero.

By creating a course and working through these apps, students can build their coding confidence while having tons of fun. It’s easy to use masking tape or painter’s tape to quickly create a course. Or, if you have whiteboard tables, you can draw paths with dry-erase markers.

3. Design a Chariot for Sphero

Challenge: Design a chariot or other creation out of K’NEX® or cardboard that Sphero can push or pull.

Bonus: Include space in your chariot to carry a load. Or create a double-horsepower chariot that requires two Spheros to move it.

Sure, you can buy a chariot, but why not make your own? You learn a lot about physics and dynamics as you try to tinker with combinations of wheels that work, how much weight Sphero can handle and how to keep the robot from escaping the chariot. Students especially love creating cargo areas to transport other objects (or robots). If you have multiple Spheros, have students test out design ideas to use the Multi-Drive function and steer a chariot with multiple Spheros. We found that K’NEX and cardboard worked best for this challenge because they are light, but you could certainly design a 3D-printed chariot or use other materials as well.

4. Create a Sphero Practical Joke

Challenge: Design and plan a practical (but safe) joke using Sphero.

Bonus: Use coding to create your joke and share it with the community on edu.sphero.com.

My middle schoolers discovered that Sphero was great for practical jokes. One hid the robot underneath a small box and then drove it toward unsuspecting students. Another used the robot to knock over books unseen, as if there were a ghost in the library. And there’s plenty of possibilities beyond that. Trust me, if you unleash this challenge on your students, they’ll get creative with it. Just make sure to set some ground rules up front to avoid breaking school rules or causing too much chaos.


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Diana Rendina

Diana Rendina

Diana is the media specialist at a 6–12 independent school in Tampa, FL. She is the creator of the blog Renovated Learning, where she documented the creation of her makerpsace at her previous school, a public magnet middle school. Diana is the winner of the 2016 ISTE Outstanding Young Educator Award, the 2015 AASL Frances Henne Award and the 2015 SLJ Build Something Bold Award. She is an international speaker on the maker movement and has presented at many conferences, including AASL, FETC and ISTE. Diana co-authored Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace with Colleen and Aaron Graves, and is the author of Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget.