beanz Magazine

Sphero in Literature Class

Henry Shi on Flickr

A clever teacher uses our favourite round robot to bring books to life.

“It’s not possible that anyone could have that much bad luck.”

While reading The Grapes of Wrath in the comfort of their classroom in Long Island, a student pondered out loud. His teacher, Mr. Richard Perry, realized he needed to make a change to the curriculum that would enable students to develop empathy for these characters from a very different time and place. What he came up with sounds more like an idea from the future: robots.

How can a robot help students better understand the trials of the treacherous journey from Oklahoma across the Sierra Nevadas? Some of today’s robotic toys can be easily programmed to travel in given directions, make turns, and change speed. Mr. Perry does not claim to be an expert on robotics or programming, but he knew of the Sphero robot and was confident that it would be easy enough for the students to work with. He applied for a grant that ended up providing him with 10 Spheros. Soon afterward, he went to work creating a model of the Sierra Nevadas out of chicken wire, paper mache, and ground covering of various textures.

With the model of the mountains complete, students worked in groups to get Sphero from one side of the range to the other. Although using a Sphero does not involve the suffering that the characters in The Grapes of Wrath endured, it does give students an appreciation for the challenges of navigating over rough terrain.

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