Mission Impossible: The Engineering Process with SpheroEDU

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Is your “mission” to get kids excited about learning, or is it testing?

“I have a math test to give you, but I thought we could program some Spheros instead,” I said Friday morning to applause from the Polite Pirates of Room 207. Students’ cheers gave way to music… Mission Impossible Theme Music! 

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it… And, you’re going to want to accept it… is to rescue people from certain peril,” I proposed. With everyone on the carpet, I explained that before a rescue, engineers would set up models that they could use to plan out their efforts to minimize loss of equipment and life. Their mission was to program Spheros to make it through a model of obstacles, getting to someone or group of people who needed help. The Sphero couldn’t stray from the path or touch the walls because it would be damaged and not be able to complete its mission. 

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I walked them through what they would experience.

The students were riveted to my instruction as I taught the “Engineering Process” that they would need to use while figuring out the most effective code for completing their rescue. This was the real reason for the lesson, but simultaneously they would get so much more out of learning/practicing coding, problem-solving, and working together in a team. 

I went over each scenario, pointing out the “criteria” and the “constraints”, two vocabulary words from the “Engineering Process” model from Foss Science. Students whispered with neighbors about which they were more interested in trying. I told them that if they mastered one, they may move onto another “Mission”. 

Students then returned to their seats to get out their math spiral notebooks for taking notes about how they used the “Engineering Process” while solving their missions. They opened the Google slideshow that had all of the missions, as well as an image with the Engineering Process in it. I had “made a copy for each student” through Google classroom. 

I pulled popsicle sticks with student numbers on them to pair kids. As numbers were drawn, pairs came to the carpet to redeem their Sphero robot. Then they chose whatever mission fancied them most. With two pairs per mission, the class was a buzz of engineering within moments.

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“The Medic was difficult, but a lot of fun,” one student told me as I circulated the room.

 No one got to complete more than one mission, and most did not completely finish every parameter I had set for them, but every single student was 100% engaged in a learning activity full of purpose. 

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The problem-Solving was explosive!

I want to back up to the beginning of the day, before I tell you how this memorable lesson came to a close. Students entered my room to find me painting posters. They asked what I was doing. Because I didn’t know exactly what to call it, I didn’t give them a straight answer. That drove them crazy. They asked to help. “Sure,” I answered, getting out more paint brushes, cups and paints. All I had to do was outline things, and kids would fill in. When I told them that the white was snow or that the red was fire, it fueled their curiosity all the more! Dave Burgess calls this “Preheating the Grill” (Teach Like a Pirate, 2012). My students were so hooked on this upcoming lesson, they hardly wanted to go to gym! Have you ever heard of such a thing? 

While students were at their special, I made some finishing touches and turned a fan on to help the paint dry quickly. Then I came up with names, stories, and varying parameters for each mission. I took pictures of the maps, typed up the scenarios, and threw together a slideshow to share with the class.  

Back to the lesson. Throughout the “Engineering Process”, while students were working on coding Spheros, I stopped everyone a couple of times to instruct them to take screenshots of their code. That way they could have snapshots of different levels of success. It would help them describe their problem-solving, later. Finally, I put together a Flipgrid for students to make selfie-videos describing how they used the “Engineering Process” to solve (or come close to solving) their mission. If they finished, they could watch their peers’ videos and comment. 

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I didn’t even realize that this was National STEM day! (November 8th, 2019)

We DID take the math test, but in the afternoon. They did fine. I’m sure they will remember that forever;) 

Published by

Matt Weimann

Classy to the core, I teach the whole #3rdGrade child @EPSDWillowLane. I have eclectic tastes with interests in chess, cuisine, art, good literature, strong coffee and other drinks, jazz, and fashion... Mostly bowties;)

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