Sphero balls spark Erie students' curiosity

If you've seen the new Star Wars movie, you know the rotund BB-8 is the latest droid character to hit the big screen.

With the popularity of the film, you might guess BB-8 would be an instant hit with elementary school students. That's why Red Hawk Elementary School computer lab teacher Chris Schmitz likes to use a replica toy version of the droid in his teaching in Erie.

BB-8 is based on Sphero, the robotic toy ball created by Orbotix in Boulder. Red Hawk Elementary bought 12 Sphero toys, and Orbotix donated 12 more, all of which get used in Schmitz's class — they cost about $150 per toy if you buy them at the store.

Second-graders at Red Hawk were so excited Monday morning to learn they were going to use the Sphero balls, they could barely contain themselves in computer class. Schmitz divided the class into five "teams," each with its own Sphero ball and Apple iPad. Students in each team took turns using a computer application on the iPad to pilot the ball toward 10 bowling pins.

After several tries, students in a couple teams figured out how to use the computer application on the iPad to make the Sphero go fast enough and on a direct enough trajectory to hit the bowling pins and knock some down.

Schmitz gave instructions and encouragement to each team — showing the students how to make the ball go faster or move in a more direct line.

One student was designated as the scorekeeper for each team and wrote down the number of bowling pin hits.

Principal Cyrus Weinberger pointed out that working with iPads and Sphero balls teaches students a variety of skills they'll need in the jobs of the future, from critical thinking to collaboration with others.

Red Hawk is meeting its goals and standards in such areas at the same time that it "piques student interest," Weinberger said. 

Read the full story at the Colorado Hometown Weekly >>

From left: Second graders Ofelia Palacios, Noah Bridgewater, and Lily Azevedo operate a Sphero robotic ball in their computer science class Monday morning at Red Hawk Elementary in Erie. (Staff Photographer Lewis Geyer)