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Middle School Sphero Robotics Project

Eighth graders develop their knowledge of physics through a design thinking project utilizing linear motion robotics.
Classes began the year by discussing the differences between distance and displacement in eighth grade science. They then moved on to the concepts of speed, velocity, acceleration, force, mass, weight, power, and friction in regards to motion in a straight line. 
 
In order to bring the concepts to life, the classes were then introduced to the Sphero. Sphero are remote controlled, sphere-shaped, interactive, programmable robots used in a myriad of educational applications. To adhere to ODA’s COVID-19 protocols, every student was given their own Sphero to use for each class period. At the end of each class, Mrs. Sassetti disinfected each Sphero, ensuring a continued safe environment for the students to conduct their experiments.  

“I understood there would be challenges posed by COVID-19 when working on hands-on experiments, but I knew my students would best understand these complicated concepts by immersing themselves completely,” said Mrs. Sassetti. “The additional cleaning protocols I put in place in the classroom, on top of what we already do daily, protected the students and allowed them to fully engage in the experiment.”

Utilizing their Spheros, students measured and calculated distance, displacement, speed, velocity, and acceleration of their robot on a solid surface at intervals of power between 25-100%. They then created Google spreadsheets for the data they gathered, learning how to format columns and cells to make calculations and how to graph the information. The spreadsheets and graphs allowed students to analyze and discuss how power affected the Sphero’s motion. 
 
Students selected building schematics from the K’Nex website, choosing base plans from which to begin building a car. Each eighth grader modified the original base plan to fit the Sphero in the car’s chassis to propel their car. 

Once the cars were built, students tested the cars at interval powers of 25% - 100% over various terrains to see the effects of friction on their motion. After running various tests, they chose the power they believed to be optimal for completing the path in less than 3 minutes. This was a test of not only power and motion, but accuracy of driving. The terrain ranged from bumpy bricks, grass, smooth drive, and a ramp over the mulch. Finally, students entered their data into a spreadsheet to gather the final averages and create a graph. To conclude the unit, students took all of the information gathered to answer analysis questions on how forces affect motion. 

“I really liked being able to do an interactive project like this instead of taking a test to show what I learned,” said Ellie Hierholzer ’25. “The experiments were challenging–some of what we were learning was pretty hard, but it was fun to be able to do our experiments outside and learn by doing everything ourselves.”

Through this hands-on experiment, students not only learned the scientific concepts, but also gained confidence in important skills like coding, building, calculating, and tracking data.
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