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Until recently much of learning how to code has been screen-based. There are now many good codable robot toys on the market. Robotics (when I say Robotics I'm referring to any device that is controlled by a computer program) has really taken off. Students engage differently with real world physical objects than with virtual software, and that the process of making physical artifacts is a powerful tool for fun, engaging, and lasting learning experiences.

At school we have been fortunate enough to recently take delivery of a set of Sphero's. The Sphero is a robotic ball that can be controlled in a variety of ways from simple directional apps on the iPad to written code called Orb basic making it a useful tool right throughout the school.

The great news is that it can now also be controlled by Google Blockly a block-based programming interface. Blockly is very similar to Scratch, it's a drag and drop programming language allows anyone to start programming the Sphero right out of the box without any prior coding experience. Want to turn the LED red? Simply drag the 'Set Color' command block to the main screen and snap it to the 'On Start Program ' block. Other actions include setting the speed, heading, and directly controlling the motors individually. You can also listen for events like 'On Freefall,' 'On Collision,' and 'On Land,' and perform actions based on these events. Sensors on the device can give feedback regarding heading, speed, and vertical acceleration, and you can use these values as parameters for other actions or operations (e.g. 'if Speed is greater than 100, set LED light to red').

2016 is a great time for educators or parents to spark an interest in programming via robotics. Hardly a day goes by where someone else isn't announcing a new Internet of Things or robotics project on Kickstarter. There are plenty of programmable robots available the makers of one popular toy Robot explain their product Dash and Dot' 'We wanted to give it a form that children could imagine being anything in their own world: sometimes it could be a monster, or an animal, or a ghost. Whatever they imagine it to be,' he says. 'Dash has wheels, but it doesn't look like a truck or a car, so it's not just perceived as something for boys.'

Dash and Dot also uses a customised version of Google's visual-programming tool of the same name to teach children how to create code to make Dash drive, move his head, light up in various patterns, make sounds and respond to obstacles, motion and nearby voices or clapping.

Light Painting With the Sphero

A very fun P6 experiment combining Science, Technology, Art and Maths- we used a slow exposure app 'Longexpo' to capture the movements of the Sphero after inputting the commands.

The Sphero comes with a great app 'Lightning lab' that uses a programming language based on Scratch. The code below will draw the square using a loop. Children get to see how programming can control real world objects, not just screen sprites.