Last summer, I bought a Sphero, "The app-controlled ball that does it all." A bluetooth connected device that you can drive around with your smartphone or tablet, much like a grounded AR drone. Almost as soon as I received it, Orbotix (the makers of the Sphero) announced the Ollie was in development. Well it arrived the other day and it didn't take me long to get it dirty! My five-year-old son, of a similar name, asked if it was his. I said, "No, this is Dad's toy." To which he promptly replied, "But it has my name on it!" Touche.
My interest in these devices is the apps that control them. While a number of the Orbotix and third-party developed apps are entertainment or play-based, there are a few applications that stand out in a learning context. Most notably orbBasic, MacroLab, and Draw&Drive. If we were to scaffold them for stages of learning in school, it might look something like this:
Stage 1: Draw&Drive - This app provides a blank page where users can free-hand draw lines and shapes, assign colors, and the Sphero/Ollie will perform the drawing. This is a fantastic STEAM application.
- Use line drawings to visualize algorithmic thinking
- Reinforce mathematics skills relating to ratios and scale, as well as their application to giving directions as a foundation for programming skills
- For people into photography, this is a fantastic light-writing tool!
Stage 2: MacroLab - As you delve deeper into a programming context, this app allows you to create commands for actions of any level of complexity for your Sphero/Ollie to perform. There is a listing of already developed actions you can use to explore the app's functionality and device response to inform your own development. You choose from a list of commands and define values/variables to build your program, much like Scratch but without the visual interface.
- Explore the scope of Sphero/Ollie's functionality from the command list to inspire programming options.
- Explore Geometry concepts, like you may have with Draw&Drive, just with greater levels of precision.
- Apply algorithmic thinking.
Stage 3: orbBasic - Code your own! Need I say more? If so, see some of Orbotix's lessons in the education section of their website.