Teaching Computational Thinking

Putt-putt for robots

Room 210, a fairly ordinary classroom on the second floor of John Jay Middle School, was transformed into a mini-golf course for round little robots. The tight turns and daunting obstacles of the challenges were reflected in their names: Ferocious Puppy, Belligerent Bunny, Dangerous Dinosaur, Voracious Ducks (all adjectives from the grade 6 ELA vocabulary lists).

Welcome to the sixth grade Technology class Sphero Robot Competition! The programmable round robots called Sphero are an engaging new way to teach coding and John Jay students are loving it.

an engaging way to learn how to code

from Blockly to JavaScript

Small groups of students watched each movement of their rolling automaton like anxious parents, tracking its every turn, conferring, making adjustments on iPads, and then placing it back at the beginning to try again.

“Students have so much fun they lose track of time,” said technology teacher, Marcia Daley-Savo. “SpheroEdu allows those who are fairly new to coding to get comfortable with it and others with more experience to work directly with JavaScript.”

Students begin coding with Sphero using the programming language Blockly. Blockly utilizes moveable blocks of code allowing students to produce an algorithm or string of code similar to a recipe which the robot follows. The blocks can be dragged and connected in order to program the robot to move around with commands such as turn and move forward. Within these various commands there are options for the number of degrees to turn or how far forward to roll in time or distance. In addition to this block coding, students can also directly edit and type in code as JavaScript text. Students can also switch between the two to see the code behind the blocks they have compiled.

“Five more minutes,” Daley-Savo called out, reminding the four teams of their goal. “Send me a video of your best run by the end of the class.”

collaboration required

thinking like a programmer

Daley Savo is using Sphero to help students to become computational thinkers.

“I want the kids to learn to think like a programmer,” she said. “The students learn to take a big problem and break it down into smaller pieces and then address them one at a time. Coding is a transferable skill. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed by a task at hand, you can use your problem-solving skills to break things down into smaller manageable steps. Definitely a plus during this challenging time.”