Half a dozen yellow sheets line the entry hallway of Deer Hill School. Suzi Corkhum’s fourth-grade students swarm around them, marking out the lines and angles of triangles. In a few minutes, each team will take a small robotic ball from the cart and program it to follow the path they’ve drawn out.

The robots, called “Spheros,” were provided through a grant from the Cohasset Education Foundation (CEF). Corkhum asked for them last year, and they’ve been a huge hit so far. Her students are having so much fun that it doesn’t even feel like learning. Children passing in the hallway can be heard whispering to each other, “I wish I was in that math class!”

“It’s a way to add an element of excitement to math,” said Corkhum. “It’s a more hands-on approach. And it has real-life applications: It teaches the design process for engineering. It integrates math, science and writing through coding.”

All of these, said Corkhum, are important for students’ future careers – especially girls, as the technology sector looks to add more women to its ranks.

Right now, Corkhum’s students are using the robots to learn about geometry. On their maps, they must scale up a drawing made in their notebooks, identify which kind of triangle they’ve drawn – equilateral, isosceles, or scalene – and measure each of the lines and angles.

They can then enter these values into Sphero’s touchscreen remote and direct the robot along the lines they’ve drawn by coding a new program. They’ll tell the robot how long to roll and in which direction, when to stop, and which way to go next.

“They become the teacher,” said Corkhum. “They don’t need me.”

Of course, the class didn’t start out writing its own programs.

Students first followed an existing program within the Lightning Lab software, guiding the Sphero around a simple square. There are a lot of variables involved, said Corkhum, so it’s important for kids to learn the idea of programming first before trying to design their own.

The class has now moved beyond squares to create original programs. Some students have even moved beyond geometric shapes entirely and are exploring Sphero’s abilities at home.

One stuent, Topher Comerford, likes to program Sphero to navigate around objects in his house. He’s also started experimenting with other materials, using Sphero as a motor to move a hamster ball along a wire or push a salad bowl through water like a boat.

He didn’t know it before, but now that he’s spent so much time working with Sphero, Topher has decided to be a mechanical engineer when he grows up.

Corkhum and the Deer Hill School are grateful to the CEF for providing this opportunity for students like Topher. Without their help, Sphero would not have been in the budget.

Cohasset Mariner
By Amanda C. Thompson
Posted Apr 18, 2017 at 6:21 AM