Author Archives: Courtney Pepe


How to use Sphero the Robot for incredible STEM lessons

As someone who primarily taught math and science when I was a classroom teacher, I associated robots, robotics curriculum, and robot apps as things that were only used in those subjects. However, this past year my school received a robot grant that provided ten robots for us from the company Sphero. Sphero emphasizes the power of play in education and has a variety of lessons that are aligned to the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards on their website. They also have a number of STEM challenges in the form pre-designed engineering projects designed for collaborative group work with students and are helpful for teachers using the robots in their classes.

Sphero is a robotic ball that can pair with an iPad, tablet, iPhone, or smartphone through Bluetooth, and getting started is relatively easy. Once you are ready to use Sphero, you take it off the charger stand and give it a “tap-tap” to “wake it up.” When the robot wakes up, it starts to flash three different colors until it pairs with the device you are using it with via Bluetooth. Once it turns blue, then you know that it is paired and ready to go. There are at least 14 different education related apps that are available with Sphero: some of them use augmented reality technology, some of them teach the basics of coding, while others allow students to draw on a tablet to manipulate the color and movement of the robot.

During the last week of June, I did a presentation at the ISTE conference with many other educators from all over the country who also received the robot grant. What amazed me was that people who taught subjects like language arts and social studies found incredible ways to integrate robotics into their curriculum to create some really engaging lessons for their students.

Sphero in the Physics Classroom

Maine high school science teacher Julie Wilcott used Sphero in her physics class this past spring to determine velocity and speed at different settings. Students also used Sphero to learn about advanced concepts like rate of acceleration and the coefficient of friction. By varying the type of cover on Sphero (nubby cover, ballon, turbo cover, and no cover) they could determine velocity, acceleration, and friction under different conditions.

Sphero, EdTechTeacher

Sphero the Robot used in high school physics class to teach lessons about velocity, friction, and acceleration.

Robots in the Language Arts Classroom

Long Island, New York high school English teacher Rich Perry used Sphero to teach his 11th grade students how to empathize with migrant workers in the novel Grapes of Wrath. The teacher said “it was difficult for the students to find common ground with the characters in the book, and I was looking for an opportunity to create some interest.”

Rich created an obstacle in the form of a core foam mountain, covered it with fake grass, and had his students try to steer the robot over the mountains. This symbolic journey represented the characters’ travels over the Sierra Nevada Mountains and was meant to mirror their struggles in the book as they traveled from Oklahoma to California. The teacher split the class into groups, gave them a Sphero, and told them to cross the mountains.

“This [experience] gave the high school students the opportunity to encounter real challenges and failure in the classroom setting as they were reading the book. The student groups became their own family, and Sphero was a representation of the car that the family had to take over the mountain. The robot allowed the students to experience real life challenges, frustrations, and setbacks that were also felt by the characters in the Grapes of Wrath.”


Rich also had the students keep a log of their attempts to have Sphero cross the mountain, which they turned into a written journal about their travels.

Grapes-wrath, Spehero, EdTechTeacher

Robot Grapes of Wrath literary challenge in high school classroom in Merrick, Long Island

Robots in the Art Classroom

Sphero-Janice Schiavo, EdTechTeacher

Janice Schiavo sets up a Jackson Pollock style robot art painting experience with two Sphero robots at an NJCU event

Janice Schiavo is an art teacher at the A. Harry Moore School of New Jersey City University. This spring, she used Sphero the Robot to teach her students about the famous painter Jackson Pollock. Janice works with students ranging from ages 3 to 21 who have low-incidence disabilities and creates art lessons that are accessible for all of her students, many of whom are in wheelchairs. For this project, she used the basic Sphero app, placed a rubber knobbly cover over the robot, and dipped it in different colors of paint as she arranged and placed a giant canvas in front of the whole class. Then, the students took turns holding their iPads to drive the robot as it splattered paint all over the canvas. Even if a student had challenges with their mobility, they were still able to paint with the robot by switching the app from joystick mode to tilt mode. The robot promoted accessibility within the art curriculum.

In the extended school year program, students will be making 3D props and sculptures for a miniature golf course through which others can drive Sphero. The art students will ultimately maneuver the robot through authentic sculptures related to the New York Skyline, Central Park, and the Boardwalk and Rides. It is great example of technology integrated with concepts related to humanities and the human experience.

Though robotics are often associated with math, science, and engineering classes, hopefully the examples in this article will spark ideas for using Sphero to also teach subjects that are related to the humanities like literature and painting. Additionally, Sphero is interested in seeing as much technology get into kids hands as possible and has put together a collection of Sphero related grants on their website. It is my hope that this article will serve as a resource which will inspire teachers to use robots to nurture the creativity of the next generation of inventors and engineers in their classrooms.

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How 2 schools use green screen iPad tools for authentic learning

Two schools are both alike in dignity. Part of our story takes place in Jersey City, NJ while the other part takes place 32 miles away in Roslyn, NY. Some would argue that this is the best of times and the worst of times in education. This case study will celebrate what is good about education today by presenting two stories that illustrate how Green Screen technology on iPad can be used to support authentic student voice in learning environments on different ends of the educational spectrum.

School #1: Roslyn High School, Nassau County, Long Island, NY

In wealthy, suburban Long Island, Larry Reiff uses Green Screen technology to make Romeo and Juliet more modern. As a humanities teacher, he is always looking for ways to infuse 21st Century skills into his units of study. He incorporates iPads, iBooks, and apps to make sure that his students can interact with complex texts in ways that will make them excited about literature that was written many centuries ago.

The DoInk app by Green Screen allows the high school students to take on the role of film critics. In the following example, Larry used the cloud or AirDrop to send students in his class video clips from the 1996 movie version of Romeo and Juliet. The students then recorded themselves commenting on the movie clip in front of a Green Screen. In the DoInk app, they combined layers and placed their literary commentary over the video footage from the movie.


To watch this video is to see that not only are the students in Larry’s class engaging in higher order thinking skills but also in learning tasks that were not previously possible. This particular learning activity would not be possible without iPads and Green Screen technology; it would simply be inconceivable. Hearing the teenager talk in a false British accent saying “this is not the way Shakespeare intended” is a humorous example of student voice. The student then goes on to analyze and critique the use of a contemporary setting in the movie stating that “I think that Shakespeare would have liked his plays to be really timeless because he does use themes that carry on no matter what year it is.” This is the kind of self-directed learning and academic rigor that you get in an educational setting when you take a great teacher like Larry Reiff who is passionate about his content and add innovative technology to the equation.

School #2: A. Harry Moore of New Jersey City University, Hudson County, NJ

Steve Goldberg, Building Principal, and his staff of teachers, therapists, and paraprofessionals use Green Screen technology with the unique population of their inner city school. The A. Harry Moore Laboratory School of New Jersey City University is a historic institution/special education school that serves children ranging from preschool to age 21. While the first school in this article uses Green Screen technology with a suburban population, the students at A. Harry Moore come from Hudson, Essex, and Bergen Counties. The school also has a diverse population where all of the students have individualized education plans, or IEP’s.

At A. Harry Moore, the Green Screen technology is used to extend and expand educational opportunities for their severely disabled low-incidence students. The staff members use the technology to educate, empower, and enrich special education students. Many of the students at A. Harry Moore are in wheelchairs. However, Green Screen technology allows these students to go beyond their disability and experience – on some level – what it is like to walk, swim, or fly. The three preschool classes used the Green Screen app as a component of their physical education experience by dancing in front of the iPad. The project increased the confidence and independence of the student population by allowing them to be Green Screen movie stars in variety of authentic school productions.

The student voice is evident and powerful in these Green Screen projects. In fact, it is a chance to use technology to give communication-impaired students a chance to express themselves. As part of the summer school program in 2014, the students in the 16-21 classes made a music video with the Green Screen app Do Ink and layered it with the Pharell song “Happy.” It was a great community project for the students, and they loved watching the final product. Other classes in the school used the Green Screen to reinforce geography skills. Students who physically might not be able to travel to the United Nations (which is 11 miles from the school across the Hudson River) were able to take a virtual field trip there thanks to the Green Screen technology. To watch the Green Screen footage of the students at A. Harry Moore is to witness the power of creativity and technology in schools.

The Green Screen project infused academic rigor into the curriculum by allowing students to practice 21st Century literacy skills which were integrated with their speech therapy goals. In his 2006 TED Talk, Sir Kenneth Robinson states “creativity is as important as literacy in schools.”

Call to Action

These 2 schools are unlike in many ways, but they are indeed alike in dignity. Both schools use the Green Screen technology to make sure that the voice of their student population is heard. By doing this, the schools promote academic rigor through the use of the Green Screen to create new learning experiences. Both schools allow students to increase their independence when they complete these interactive learning activities. Calling all schools in all four corners of the globe! You simply MUST try teaching with Green Screen technology – it will lead to the creation of meaningful student-driven products in the 21st Century classroom.

Courtney Pepe is the Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction at The A. Harry Moore School of New Jersey City University.

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