CodeSnaps, Braille Blocks and Sphero City Activities

"Quiet on the Set!" With fingers crossed and breaths held, students listened carefully as the Sphero robot navigated through the Sphero City. Cheers erupted when the Sphero did it's 'happy spin' at the destination. Occasional groans when the Sphero crashed into a building or went the wrong way. Laughter when the Sphero randomly turned the wrong way and traveled out the door!

In honor of the CCSForAll (Computer Science for All Students), Governor Morehead School for the Blind students were learning to code using the free SAS CodeSnaps app and the Sphero robot. The course used the amazing Sphero City buildings (Created by April for Tim and the Winsconsin Center for the Blind) and the new Braille Code Blocks (created by SAS).  

In Tim's original Sphero course, the Sphero City was set up on top of conference tables and students used the old code blocks which enabled them to choose how far forward the Sphero moved using increments of .10 meters. For simplicity, the new Braille Blocks only have the option of moving 1 meter, requiring more space for the Sphero City. Today's activity was set up on the floor. 

Image 1: The 2 meter by 3 meter Sphero City has 7 buildings: John's house, Pizza, and Mary's house are in the first column, the high school is at the end of the second column, and Sarah's house and the Post Office - with the bank beside it - are in the third column. A row of red solo cups marks the Start line.

Students sitting at tables around the Sphero City. The city has 7 buildings spaced out in a 2 meter by 3 meter grid.  Four adults and a guide dog are near the solo cup Start Line.

While seated at tables, students were given hands-on time to explore a Sphero building, Sphero robot, and Braille Blocks (accessible code blocks). In today’s activities, we used the four commands: Forward 1 Meter, Turn Right, Turn Left and Spin).

Image 2:  Student exploring a Braille Block with a building on the table in front of her.

Two students sitting at a table with a Sphero City building; one student has her hands on a Braille Block.

Each student learned the concept of 1 meter by using a meter stick to estimate how tall he/she is and by learning how many step(s) he/she takes to walk a meter. Then the student applied the 1 meter knowledge by measuring the Sphero City, using either the meter stick or using their stride when walking the course.

Image 3: Student measuring the course using the meter stick.

Student bending over using a meter stick to measure from the start line to the Pizza building. A guide dog watches intently in the background.

The Designer team member explored the course, measuring as needed, and determined the route. The Designer then shared the route information with the Coder. The Coder used the Braille Blocks to write the code that will navigate the Sphero Robot to the desired destination.

Image 4: Coder placing braille code blocks in sequence in a column to run the first course.

The Coder has these Braille Block commands in order:Move Forward 1 Meter, Turn Right, Move Forward 1 Meter, Spin.

Image 5: Sitting beside the Coder, the Designer is providing information about the route while the Coder is choosing the Braille Blocks and placing the blocks in the desired order.

Designer and Coder are working together; The coder has 4 braille blocks in place with additional braille blocks available beside her. The Tester is standing behind them listening closely.

The Designer (if two-person team) or the Tester (if 3 person team) use the CodeSnaps app to run the Sphero through the course. This person was responsible for determining if the Sphero ran the course correctly or if not, where the Sphero went off course. 

Image 6: Standing by the start line, a student uses an iPad to run the code. 

A student standing beside Mr. Summers at the Start line, holds an iPad within inches of his face. The Sphero robot begins to move forward 1 Meter.

If the Sphero did not successfully complete the course, the team met to ‘debug’ the route/code. The Designer/Tester can re-walk and re-measure the code. Designer/Tester and coder can also work together, with the coder calling out each code block and the Designer/Tester following the directions by physically walking forward 1 meter, turning, etc.

Image 7: Holding a Sphero, the Tester is following the Coder's directions to debug the code. He is standing the center of the course (1 Meter from the Start Line) facing the Start Line. The Pizza building is 1 Meter on the Student's left. The current code was move Forward 1 meter, Turn Right, Turn Right. The code to the Pizza destination should have been Move Forward 1 Meter, Turn Right, Move Forward 1 Meter, Sping.

Student standing in the middle of the course facing the Start line, holding a Sphero.

Run the new code – did the Sphero successfully complete the course?

Image 8: Designer/Tester is running the Sphero through the course again, after debugging the code.

The Designer/Tester who is standing beside Mr. Summers, listens to the Sphero moving through the course.

Teacher Hints

  • The first course should be simple, so that students can quickly figure out how the process works. (Many students forget to add a Move Forward 1 meter block after a turn.) Example: The Sphero's route began at the Start Line and ended at the Pizza building. The Sphero should be coded to spin when arriving at the destination.
    • Course Code: From the Start Line, the robot was coded to Move Forward 1 meter, Turn Right, Move Forward 1 Meter and Spin.)
  • The second course can build on the first course. (Add on to the first course. If the first course was going to the Pizza building, the second course might be a scenario of John picking up pizza and going to Mary’s house for a movie night.)
  • Students love scenarios! Date night scenario, an Uber driver, paper route, etc.
  • When running the second route, team members should switch positions, so that each team member has the opportunity to be a Designer, Coder and if applicable, the Tester.
  • If time allows, encourage the students to create the scenario and routes!
  • Encourage students to work “smarter not harder”.
    • Add street names to the Sphero City and give O&M-like directions that include these street names.
    • Use a tactile map; even better, have the student team create the map! (See Tim’s post using the APH board or use a quick tool such as the Sensational Blackboard.)
    • If working with a class of students who are visually impaired, consider making tactile maps for each student. These maps will provide opportunities to actively engage students (while team members are doing their part) and will help develop a stronger mental map of the Sphero City.
  • If time allows, have the students create a Sphero City – ideally of a real location such as their school for the blind campus or nearby area!
    • Each student can be given a building and determine where it should be placed. First, students should create a simple tactile diagram of the streets/area.  

Image 9: The Coder and Designer have switched team positions for the second route. The new Designer is providing the information about the route while the new Coder is choosing the Braille Blocks and placing them in the desired order.

Coder is reading the braille on the Braille Blocks before putting them in order.

Sphero City Buildings

The buildings used in this activity were loaned to us by Tim from the Wisconsin Center for the Blind. (Thank you Tim and April!) These buildings fold flat for storage and shipping, and are sturdy for longevity. The buildings are made out of foam board, carboard, tape, Velcro circles and have large print letters and braille labels.

Image 10: Front view of the Post Office Sphero Building. This is a three dimensional building with the sides created out of foam. The roof, window overlays, and door overlay is made of cardboard. The door and labels (print and braille) indicate the front of the building.

Front view of the Sphero City Post Office in it's 3D "box" position.

Image 11: Inside of the Post Office building with the roof removed. The "floor" of the building is two pieces of overlapping cardboard with Velcro circles. The two pieces Velcro together, helping the building to keep it's shape.

Sphero City Post Office with roof removed to display the inside of the box and the overlapping "floor" pieces.

Image 12: The Post Office building laid flat. The roof is in the up position, the floor is in the up position and the front and one side are visable in the picture. (The parts are all taped together, enabling the pieces to stay together while lying flat or when in the 3D "box" position.)

Sphero City Post Office in the flattened position for storage.

Here is a quick video that shows a closeup on how the buildings are made and how they fold up.

 

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