STEM Education: Ignite Creativity and Learn Through Play with SPRK+ Robot

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Posted June 17, 2017 by Wendy Wright in Technology
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The reviewer has been compensated in the form of a Best Buy Gift Card and/or received the product/service at a reduced price or for free.

SPRK+ Inspires Creativity and Learning

Sphero, the popular company that brought a remote control BB-8 droid from Star Wars: The Force Awakens into many homes, is back with another rolling ball encouraging STEM education that ignites creativity and a way to learn programming with SPRK+.

Developing core skills in science, technology, engineering, and math are key ingredients in STEM education, which helps a child’s developing mind.

SPRK+ utlizes the STEM approach with logic and problem solving through a programmable little robot that rolls

When parents think of a robot they imagine a machine that physically looks like a robot but children have a totally different view of a robot with the amazing technology available to them. SPRK+ redefines a robot.

Clear polycarbonate shell lets you see all the components inside

Upon opening the box, the first thing we all thought was it was pieces we had to put together. This is simply not true. It arrives completely put together but the glass like effect shows off all of the insides that make up the complete kit. It is definitely a new sight to see when can see inside the machine. Sphero’s website indicates the outside is made up of a super durable UV coated polycarbonate shell, which is what gives it the glass like effect.

Also included in the box is the charging base with a USB charging cable. You do need to provide a USB wall adapter but do not use your own USB cable in order to protect the device. Other items included are maze tape, a sticker sheet, 360 degree protractor, and a quick start guide to get you started.

SPRK+ is controlled simply by using your smartphone or tablet with the Sphero Edu app. It is available for download in the App Store, Google Play, Kindle Store, and Chrome Webs Store.

SPRK Plus comes with USB charging stand charger and protractor

How to get started

Download the app on your device to get started. You can either create an account to save your progress and programs or use it as a guest. There are three types of accounts to use: student, teacher, or parent. We chose to use the parent account and set up accounts for our children within our account. Going through the apps provided tasks and assigning the tasks to one child or all children in our account is an excellent way to ensure your children complete the tasks you desire for them to learn.

SPRK+ does not come pre-charged. Be sure to allow three hours for the initial charging. While it is charging there is a blue light blinking from the charging base. When it is completely charged the blue light becomes solid and indicates it is ready to begin exploring. From our experience, SPRK+ was ready for the first time in a little over two hours and did not need the full three hours. Your experience may be different.

While we were waiting for it to be fully charged, creating our programs was a great way to spend the time. It took some time to figure out what we wanted the program to do when we had our chance to hit start. We watched quite a few of the Thursday Learn Day videos provided by Sphero and were very surprised to learn the multiple things you can do with it.

How long can you use SPRK+ without needing to be recharged?

We were very surprised to actively use and play SPRK+ for two hours and 34 minutes before it needed to be recharged. That is quite a bit of playing and learning time, ensuring that multiple children have an opportunity to interact. Your experience may be different. According to the Sphero website they list this as over one hour of play time on a full charge.

Free play

Once the app is downloaded and SPRK+ is fully charged, the most logical place to begin is free play. Turn on bluetooth in order to get your smartphone or tablet paired with the robot. There is a range of up to 100 feet.

Free play is simply using the remote control on the smartphone or tablet to direct the robot where to go. You can also change the color and the intensity of the color. Adjusting the speed and the direction also are features of free play. All of these features combined give you the opportunity to figure out what this little rolling robot can do. At least it is the beginning of what you think it can do.

Allowing for free play gets the ecstatic excitement of a new toy out of the way to sit down and get on to some serious learning through play.

SPRK+ can speak and make sounds

Be sure to check out our video where we showcase some of the sounds this little robot can make. From a cat’s meow to a lion’s roar and so many animals in between, your child will love all of the sounds. Animal sounds are not the only sound it can make. Sound effects, video game sounds, and mechancial sounds add another level to programming. There are also the personality sounds where the robot can cry, be curious, have an evil laugh, snore, or sound surprised.

Storytelling sounds are an incredible way for a child to write their own story and have SPRK+ simply be the one to share it with others. Sound choices include: adventure, battle, cartoon, comedy, happy, mischief, mystery, romance, and scary. They each have a beginning sound, middle and an ending. The sounds will help inspire your child to craft their own story.

While SPRK+ does not actually emit the sounds from the robot, they are shared through the sound on your device. Be sure to turn your volume up so everyone can hear the special effects.

Sphero SPRK Plus is controlled with your smartphone or tablet

Programming made simple

Using the building block approach, simply add actions to control the robot. These individual actions are what creates the program you design. Select a specific color or click randomize for the app to pick one for you. You can do the same thing with sounds by either picking the one you want or a random sound. Selecting colors, sound, speed, duration, angle, and heading are what give you all the options to control the robot. Below is a full list of actions available from the menu.

Actions:

  • Roll
  • Stop
  • Set Color
  • Play Sound
  • Speak
  • Set Speed
  • Set Heading
  • Spin
  • Fade
  • Strobe
  • Back LED
  • Raw Motor
  • Stabilization
  • Reset Aim

Addtional controls allow for looping and endless play.

SPRK+ helps children visualize math

If your child is a visual learner, then the operations tab in the control panel will help you. You can design a program for the robot to add 3 then subtract two and show you are left with one. It physically rolls with the numbers and operation you program. We are still exploring this option to figure out how best to add this to our homeschooling curriculum. Below is a list of all the mathematical operations you can program.

Operations:

  • Add
  • Subtract
  • Multiply
  • Divide
  • Exponent
  • Sqrt
  • Round
  • Floor
  • Ceiling
  • Abs
  • Sign
  • Mod
  • Min
  • Max
  • Random Float
  • Random Int

You can put SPRK+ in water

Putting the robot in a tub of water was a fun experience for the boys, although it was nerve wracking for the parents. We wondered if it really could stand up to the claims that it was waterproof. Turns out SPRK+ is completely waterproof and was fun for the boys to learn how to control it to move the bath toys around in the water. After drying it off with a towel you could not tell it had even been in water. Be sure to check out our video for fun footage from this experience.

Maze tape with Star Wars characters SPRK Plus

What else can SPRK+ do?

Navigate a maze and painting pictures are just two additional features of what this little robot can do. It can also tell jokes, tell a story, and help to develop logic and problem solving skills.

Maze tape is included in kit, providing a fun way to learn to navigate and control SPRK+ by hand. You can also create a program for it to go through the maze. The boys really liked bringing out their Star Wars Black Series figures and their LEGO Star Wars characters to put on the border of the maze. Adding their toys reinforced the idea of going outside the border. Of course, laughter ensued with everything toppling over.

The online community through the app is a great way to share your own creations and check out what other people have created. With just a quick glance you can find Sphero creators, children, parents, and teachers who share their programs from a hot potato game to a maze. The possibilities are endless.

SPRK+ Tech Features:

  • Super durable UV coated polycarbonate shell
  • Bluetooth Smart (100 foot range)
  • Goes over 4.5 mph (2m/s)
  • Built-in LED glow
  • Inductive charging with over 1 hour of play on a full charge
  • App and firmware updates that introduce new features
  • Price: $129.99
  • Product Age Range: 8 years old and up

Designed to inspire curiosity, creativity, and invention through connected play and coding, SPRK+ is far more than just a robot. Powered by the Sphero Edu app, you can easily learn programming, complete hands-on activities, and share your creations with the community. Navigate a maze. Program a painting. Mimic the solar system. Swim across the water. Have a dance party… The only limit is your imagination.

Purchase SPRK+ at Best Buy. Connect with them on Twitter at BestBuy and Sphero.

Indominous Rex vs Gyrosphere SPRK+

Utilizing your children’s own toy collection is a great way to add obstacles and add an additional element to the learning through play. With the design, it reminded my dinosaur loving child of the Jurassic World movie. He pulled out his LEGO Indominous Rex and recreated the gyrosphere scene with the dinosaur chasing them through Dinosaur Valley. There are no limits to the imagination of a child.

Our family is grateful for this opportunity to have a hands on experience with this new tech toy for kids. We fully expect to spend many more hours exploring all that SPRK+ has to offer.

Learning programming skills through coding and robotics are key features that will draw many parents to purchase this item for their children, but it is the jokes and playful nature that will continue to draw children back to the programmable robot. After all, learning through play is the best learning of all, even if it involves a clear little rolling robot named SPRK+.


About the Author

Wendy Wright

Head Geek at Plugged In Family often found at Comicon, Disneyland, or online increasing her gamer score on Xbox. As a member of the 501st Legion, Wendy spreads her love of Star Wars across the Galaxy in her Jawa costume volunteering for charities with her husband and two sons.

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