Pluto, polygons and Sphero

Today’s Sphero lesson with my two year 4 classes focused on coding Sphero to trace polygons on the floor. Students were not very familiar with polygons and some of the other terms in the lesson, however, during the starter it was evident that some girls had some knowledge, enough for the lesson at least. Students were just about to learn about polygons in their maths class so this was a nice introduction.

So, a polygon is a 2D shape with at least three straight sides: triangle (3 sides), quadrilateral (4 sides), pentagon (5 sides), hexagon (6 sides), heptagon (7 sides), octagon (8 sides), nonagon (9 sides) and decagon (10 sides).


To help set up the lesson and relate the learning to a real-life, STEM scenario I used a great article from NASA called ‘The Polygons of Pluto’. This blog article by Katie Knight, an undergraduate student at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee. Katie works with the New Horizons team to help map some of the unusual terrain on Pluto, seeking patterns and estimating sizes and shapes of some of its unusual features.

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This fascinating article talked about the work Katie does to study the geological features and ‘chaotic terrain’ of the surface of dwarf planet Pluto. This also raised an interesting discussion of what is a dwarf planet and why was Pluto downgraded from a planet to a dwarf. This BBC article provides a nice explanation of why Pluto was downgraded. The image below also states the requirements to be classified as a planet.

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I love lessons where I can relate the learning to space, and this was a great example. We talked about how NASA scientists use knowledge of polygons to study the surface of planets to try to discover what the terrain is made from, how big it is and how it formed. They also look for patterns that they try to match with other planets that could help unlock more clues about our solar system. Young girls are curious about space and mentioning NASA always seems to engage young minds. One day some of these girls could be working for a space agency such as NASA and perhaps they could even be coding robots on far away celestial bodies like planets and dwarf planets. This lesson could have gone in so many directions and we could have explored much more about space and NASA, but time limitations meant we could not venture too far into deep space. Perhaps a flipped activity here where students look for polygons on other celestial bodies, how many can they find, what shapes can they discover?! Example below is Eros, an asteroid famous for its close approaches to Earth.


After describing how Sphero moves using a 360 degrees heading system it was time to start coding some polygons. We started with a square and moved onto a triangle. Some groups absolutely flew with the challenges and were able to complete them quickly. When they completed the challenges they moved onto extension tasks, including coding Sphero to display different colour lights on each side of the shape and coding the shapes in reverse.

Observing the groups at work is interesting. Some girls just want to play for the first few minutes while others start the challenge immediately and can’t wait to finish and show the teacher. However, all girls are engaged, all girls are participating, all girls are collaborating and communicating, all girls are problem-solving and using technology constructively. Using Sphero and an iPad means girls are not staring at screens the whole time, they are actively using technology by using a small robotics device that they love to make move and follow. They are active and mobile coders.

In the lesson girls learnt about polygons, Sphero heading, how to find the angle needed to draw any polygon, how NASA scientists use amazing technology to explore distant bodies and search for certain shapes and the information they can get from them. For me this lesson definitely ticked the STEM box many times over.

Lego WeDo 2.0 Teacher Training Workshop

On Monday 14 March I attended a workshop for the brand new Lego WeDo 2.0 STEM kit. I was involved with arranging this event to be held at my school, Ravenswood, in Gordon. I attended with a year 3 teacher from school. The event was arranged with Modern Teaching Aids and Lego Global Master Trainer Rob Widger led the workshop.

During the workshop we were introduced to the kit, the curriculum included with it, how to build and code kits using the software.

This kit is billed as being a hands-on, innovative and creative way to meet certain science standards in a fun and engaging way. This kit is a step down in terms of ability to the Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot that we use with year 6 students.

After unpacking a few items from the kit we were challenged to build a table fan to help keep Rob (from Dorking, Surrey) cool in the heat, and humidity, of the day! I got nice and hot helping the guys set up, the humidity really was a killer! We made our fan incorporating the motor and the battery hub to provide the power. We then had to Bluetooth the hub to a computer or tablet so the code could be downloaded to it. I could not connect the hub to my school laptop so ended up borrowing an iPad from Sandra, from Lego. The iPad worked fine. I hope the kits will work with the laptops at school! I need to try this asap. So we coded the fan and made it spin.

We also got to construct small Lego ducks during the first part of the day, proof that Lego was fun, creative and you don’t need a lot of it to make something interesting.


We then delved into the lessons included with the core software. There are lots of science based lessons that aim to teach core science concepts through making, coding and doing. We did the Pull and Push lesson and constructed, with help from the built in guide, a machine that could move and pull something at the same time. Our model worked fine and we coded it to pull some more Lego. Other groups managed to set up a tug-o-war with two machines to see which was the strongest.


After our lunch break we delved into another lesson, Predator or Prey. In this lesson we had to team up with another group and decide who would make the predator and who would make the prey animal. There were a few rules to make the challenge more interesting. In the end we went with a predator and built a crocodile with wheels. Other groups designed some awesome looking creatures, that moved in some weird and wonderful ways. This task highlighted the creativity of WeDo and with just a few basic motors and sensors you could add more complexity to the design, along with the code element of course.

After packing away the WeDo kits we got to experience the Lego Story Teller kit. This is themed Lego that students use to tell stories on a series of small panels to represent a beginning, middle and end to a story. We were shown the educational and behavioural benefits of the kit in a nice Lego video and then we had to construct our own story with a few ideas to guide us and make our Lego sets to help tell the story. Our story was a bit out there, as you can probably tell from this pic.


It was fun for a few minutes and a good resource for small children, but just some regular Lego would do the job really.

Overall, we were impressed with the WeDo kits and these would make a great addition to years 2-4 in the junior school.

Thanks for a great day Lego and MTA!

Using Padlet

The task

I used Padlet for the first time in a lesson today, with 8 Blue R.E. A Padlet is an online wall that people can post opinions, links and images on. The Padlet is a great interactive and collaborative tool to collect opinions, thoughts, feedback and more.

The topic

The topic of the Padlet was Volunteering. I asked students to create a post on this topic, something about Volunteering, such as an opinion, benefit or an experience. I explained how the Padlet worked, but I should have gone over the ground rules (digital citizenship) in more detail, something to do next time. I passed the keyboard around for students to do their post, however, some students took a long time to post, so next time I could time them, say 2 minutes per post. When the time is up they must move the keyboard on.

Student reaction and engagement

The reaction of the students was fantastic! They immediately liked the idea of posting on a wall, voicing an opinion and using technology. A couple of boys were a little over excited and had to be calmed down. Comments posted were thoughtful and relevant to the topic, use of images was effective and showed a positive attitude towards the topic. I was extremely pleased with the engagement of the class, students were watching the board to see what people were posting, and commenting on them as well, which is what I wanted them to do. We ran out of time so I was able to share the link to the wall with the class so other can post for homework, a great feature of Padlet. Some students copied the link in their books, which was pleasing.


I will definitely use Padlet again, just with a few alterations:

  • Impose a time limit in class of 2 minutes
  • While people are waiting they can plan their post
  • Must keep to the topic, digital citizenship
  • If people want to post privately after class they can copy the URL

Finally, the engagement and reaction of the class was fantastic, it was great to see them so involved in an R.E. class.