Introducing SPRK Lightning Lab for Sphero and Ollie


SPRK Lightning Lab


Those spherical little robots have found a special place in my heart and in the heart of the students at my school. Seeing how much students love to interact with Sphero, I am in constant search to find more ways to make learning meaningful through the use of Spheros and programming.

So you can imagine how excited I was when Sphero contacted me back in November about writing lessons for their new (then unreleased) SPRK Sphero Lightning Lab. The SPRK Lightning Lab is a place where teachers, students, parents, and makers can gather and share ideas about how to interact and learn with Sphero and Ollie. With the new SPRK Lightning Lab you are able to create a class to push out peer-created lessons to students and track student progress. Being able to create this virtual classroom is perhaps one of the most unique features of classroom use of Sphero. In addition, the Lightning Lab app utilizes blockly programming where you can design programs and share them with the community. You can read more about this here.

As a Sphero Innovator, I was able to publish a few of my lessons that I have already vetted with students. They are:

  • Collaborative Art with Sphero. You can read more about this lesson here.
  • Sphero Knock Down
  • Geometry Maze

Here is how to get started:

Sign up for a SPRK Lightning Lab Account and login.

Your Dashboard– Where you can see your classes you have created and assign activities.

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Go to My Classes to create a class and add students.

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Visit the Activities page to see what lessons are already out there, add your own activities, or meet some of the Sphero Innovators. There are tons of great ideas to incorporate Sphero into all different types of content areas. Go to My Activities to add your own ideas and activities for students. Also, click on Innovators to see the teachers who are publishing lesson ideas and activities. Check out this great list of educators from around the world.

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Explore- See and try other’s programs. You can copy or download others’ programs as well so you can make your own iteration.

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Hopefully you will find the new SPRK Lightning Lab a great way to solve the workflow problems of using Spheros in your classrooms. Hopefully I will one day see your amazing lessons posted here as well!


A Beginning STEM Lesson for Parrot Minidrones and Tickle


Parrot MiniDrone and Tickle

If I had asked myself 17 years ago what type of lessons I might be planning in 2015, I’m 100% certain I would not have predicted I would be planning a lesson involving the programming of a drone for students.

But yes, this blog post is exactly that… How to teach your students the safety of flying a drone and how to program a drone. I did this lesson with a group of 5th graders in my friend’s classroom and we had 16 Parrot Minidrones.

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Here are some tips we learned:

  1. Plan your lesson indoors. We used the multipurpose room with a lot of open space. If you do this lesson outdoors the wind will cause problems for the measuring in this lesson.
  2. Be organized and go over the safety tips I have included.
  3. Have students organized on one side of the room and plan for the drones to fly away.
  4. Often a drone gets dropped from the Tickle app and picks up another drone. So after a few times of this happening, when a group was ready to fly their drone they announced for the class to step away from the drones just to be certain it wasn’t picked up by another drone.
  5. Since there is a lot of room for inquiry in this lesson, check student programs before they fly to be sure they didn’t get too far off from the program you were hoping they would create.
  6. It is okay to be run a teacher centered drone lesson for the first few lessons until students gather confidence with programming their drone.
  7. Lessons with Sphero and Tickle first really help to build background skills for this drone lesson.
  8. Battery life is only about 7 minutes. We were able to finish this lesson without a problem with the battery.

Quadcopter Safety Tips:

  1. Always communicate well with your team. 
  2. If you are in charge of driving your quadcopter, you must be sure no one is holding the quadcopter in their hands or kneeling near it and be certain everyone on your team knows when it is time to fly.
  3. Be aware of other groups around you.
  4. Act out your program before you hit play.
  5. Do not try to grab the quadcopter while it is flying.
  6. Put your hair back in a ponytail.
  7. Do not run after the quadcopter if it is running astray.
  8. When in doubt, parachute out. (Use the emergency landing button).
  9. Each person in the group has a role. Please share the roles by taking turns.
  • Operator- in charge of the iPad and adding program changes
  • Observer- in charge of quadcopter
  • Recorder- in charge of recording measurements on sheet
  • Measurer- in charge of measuring

Goal of the Lesson:

The goal of this lesson is that students will learn the basics of blockly programming in Tickle and program a Parrot Minidrone. In addition, students will learn the relationship between time, speed, and distance through inquiry. The time, speed, and distance portion of the lesson is a lesson that I found on This was originally a STEM lesson designed for programming Sphero with the Macrolab App. I adapted it to fit with programming with Tickle and using the Parrot Minidrone.

Student Handout:

Here is the link to the student handout I created to guide students through the lesson. Originally I had wanted the lesson to be student led, however, we had some glitches with the drones and so I moved the lesson to be one that we followed together.

Be sure you have time to get to the student challenge. That is where you will really see students collaborating, thinking critically, communicating, and creating.

I hope you enjoy flying drones with your students!

Please let me know if you think of anything else I should add to this lesson.


Collaborative Art with Sphero and Tickle App



Talk about putting the A in STEAM!

This week students in my Explore class will be learning the basics of blockly programing with the Tickle app and learn how to program Sphero. With an introduction to action art by famous artists such as Jackson Pollock, students will work together to learn how to program Sphero using the Tickle app to create a collaborative art piece! Yes, we are painting and programming a robot. Engagement is high in my classroom and my little programmers are using inquiry to figure out how to code. We begin with programing the Orca in Tickle and move toward programming Sphero. Our grand finale will be a collaborative art piece we can proudly display for our school community.

Here are my lesson plans:

Day 1 Introducing Tickle App


Goal- Program the Orca Whale to do tricks

  1. Open Tickle and scroll down to Orca Whale
  2. Comes with a blockly program already. What is blockly programming?
    1. Visual programming used for people just learning the beginning steps of code
  3. Show how to read (or decode) the program.
    1. Event- Start command (red)
    2. Sounds (pink)
    3. Controls (yellow)
    4. Motion commands (blue)
  4. Then show how to “play” the program. Did the Orca do what you thought it would do?
  5. Show how to throw away part of the program. Hit play to see how it changed the program. What was different?
  6. How do you think the Orca was able to go in a circle? Decode the repeat code.
    1. Repeat 36 times.
    2. Turn right 10 degrees.
    3. What happens if you turn right 10 degrees 36 times? 10×36
    4. What does that make? 360 degrees!
  7. Show how to add new code.
    1. Add a control- Repeat, change the number of times
    2. Add a motion- move 10 steps. What does 10 steps mean? Play code to find out…Did the Orca move very far? Now you know what 10 steps looks like. Try changing the number of steps. 20.
    3. Can you make the Orca turn around and go back? 


Day 2 Self Explore More Programming of Orca in Tickle


Goal- Failure leads to learning!

Show Michael Jordan Failure commercial.


  • What do you think Michael Jordan did when he faced failure?
  • What does Michael Jordan have to do with failure and programing?


  • Create your own program for the Orca.
  • Work together and learn from each other.
  • What tricks can you learn to do?
  • What do you do when your program fails?
  • We will share our programs at the end of class.


Day 3 Program Sphero in Tickle



Goal- Explore how Tickle programming interacts with Sphero


  • How to connect Sphero to Tickle app.
  • Explore the program that it comes with and see what Sphero does.
  • What shape does this program create?
  • Modify the program by changing the time.
  • Modify the program by changing the speed.
  • How might you program Sphero to create a circle?
  • What other creative tricks can you program Sphero to do?

Discover how far Sphero moves when…

  • Move for 1 second at 50% speed
  • Move for 1 second at 100% speed
  • Move for 5 seconds at 50% speed
  • Move for 5 seconds at 100% speed
  • Focus on programing Motions (blue blocks) and Controls (yellow blocks)

Share programs at the end. Reflect.

Day 4 Action Art with Sphero Inspired by Jackson Pollock

Image Credit

Goal- Be inspired by action art and create a program for our collaborative art piece.

Introduce Action Art by Jackson Pollock with this video from MOMA.


  • How might we be inspired by Jackson Pollock?
  • How might we paint with Sphero using Tickle?

Show this video of painting with Sphero.


  • With a partner, create a program in Sphero that will help create a collaborative art piece.
  • Be sure your program stays within 6 feet long and 4 feet wide (the size of our canvas).
  • Be as creative as you would like.
  • Share programs at the end to see if Sphero stays within the 6×4 feet canvas.
  • Reflect

Day 5 Create a Collaborative Action Art Piece with Sphero!

Goal- Create a collaborative art piece!

My principal is helping me by creating a wooden frame with a cardboard base that will ensure Sphero will not run off of the canvas. We are using large butcher paper as our canvas. Notice there is a Sphero assigned to each paint color and a sign indicating the name of each Sphero. This is how it was set up for students.



  • Allow time for students fix/adapt programs from yesterday.
  • Be sure to use tempera paint. We are only using blue, green, and black paint (our school colors). Avoid using red paint, as it tends to stain Sphero.
  • Use both the Nubby Cover and Turbo Cover for a variety of texture.
  • Try not using the cover for some of the paint.
  • Take turns running the program for each group. Allow groups to choose their color.
  • Display the art for everyone to see!

Discuss and Reflect:

  • How might we change this activity for next time?
  • What else does this activity inspire you to create?

Here is one of my students’ creations:

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What I learned:

It is best to use a cover over Sphero as it helps with cleanup.

Have a bucket of warm soapy water for ease in cleanup.

Darker paint makes it hard to see where the light is to point Sphero in the correct direction. So use lighter colored paint. That is why you see so many programs that ran into the boards.

Have baby wipes ready.

Only have adults place the Sphero onto the canvas, this will help avoid paint getting onto the iPads.


I would love some feedback or ideas from all of you. Please leave a comment about how I might make this lesson even better.

I will post more pictures after the lesson is complete. The students are so excited!


Add Images in iOS Google Slides



You can now easily add images without any “tricks” with the most recent Google Slides app update! Hurray!


You might be wondering why would I need a “how to” for something as simple as adding an image into a Google Slides project? Well the answer is that sometimes Google and Apple don’t play nicely together. Currently, you are unable to add images while creating a Google Slides project on an iOS device.

But have no worries… there is a hack.

Watch this “how to” created by my colleague, Colin Hanel, and I:


SDCUE Tech Fair Reflections


SDCUE was a great day of learning, connecting, and collaborating! Since I was led two sessions and helped with the Google Certified Teacher’s panel, I only had the opportunity to go to one session. My biggest takeaway came from two people!

The first person I learned from was Vicky Sedgwick. I was able to attend her session called Coding with iPads. She has done a lot of work with giving her students experiences with coding. She really helped to make something very clear… there are really two types of coding apps out there. Skill review based apps and open-ended creative type coding apps. If you are regular reader of my blog, then you know that I am a huge supporter of using iPads for student creation rather than student consumption. I happen to believe creative apps lead to more critical thinking and well… creativity!

When talking about coding apps we can categorize them this way too. Take a look at my sketchnotes from her session. It is clear which ones are creative coding apps that start with a blank screen and allow students to create code to build something new. Some of these apps even allow you to remix codes other people have posted to the community. Thank you so much Vicky for introducing me to many new apps!

The other person I learned from was Nicole Delasio, the keynote speaker at SDCUE. During her Google Slam session she showed us how to easily create a black and white silhouette image using Snapseed. Then she suggested posting these silhouettes onto a Google Slides presentation. From there you can annotate or animate. I would even suggest putting the image into Google Draw to add annotations as well. I will work on a sample of this tomorrow.

After SDCUE I had a chance to sit down with her and talk about sketchnoting. She showed me a great new tip that I didn’t know about Paper53. When you save my sketch to camera roll one of the options you are given is “save background on” or “save background off.” If you select “save background off” then it will only save the sketch, not the background. Then you can use a app that allows layers like Photoshop Touch (an app she encouraged me to purchase… $9.99) to create something entirely new!

Here is an example of a sketch I created in Paper53, saved with the background off, then layered with a photo (that I too while beach camping this summer) in Photoshop Touch.


Nicole also introduced me to another sketching app that allows you to have layers, insert images, and sketch called Procreate! It has all the tools I have been wanting with Paper53. Procreate has a lot of art tools to use including oil pastel, artist crayon, markers, pens, Gesinski Ink, a lot of brushes, airbrushing, textures, and some very interesting abstract tools. Here is an example of an oil pastel creation with my Paper53 sketch added as another layer.


These new tools are sure to keep me busy for a very long time.

While I learned about some new a fantastic tools, the best part of any conference is catching up with my PLN in person. I loved seeing all of you there and if I didn’t see you and get a chance to talk to you… we shall meet again. Perhaps at #edcampLA?


SDCUE Tech Fair!


SDCUE has arrived! I am up late making last minute tweaks to my presentations and thought I’d whip up a new blog post in honor of my favorite CUE affiliate… San Diego CUE. Who wouldn’t love them? They made stickers this year!



They have a new location and new format this year. The last several years have been at California State University San Marcos, but this year I get to flock to my hometown, Encinitas, to La Costa Canyon High School (ok… so it’s really La Costa… but I grew up less than a mile away from this school). The new format comes in options of sessions this year. Instead of only offering the traditional 50 minute sessions, attendees can attend 45 minute lecture style sessions or 90 minute hands-on sessions.

Another new change this year is the keynote! I am excited SDCUE chose the amazing Nicole Delasio to host the keynote. Her keynote is called “Nothing Else Matters.”

Here is what my session line up looks like this year:

Session 1: Best Use of Apps in the Classroom

This is my session! I am excited to share about how to create an app smashing culture in your classroom. Also, I will help you understand the difference between a skill review app and a creative app and how using the 4 Cs can help bump up your app game in your classroom and climb that SAMR ladder! I am honored to be a featured speaker this year at SDCUE.

Here are links to my blogs about this session:

One Screen of Apps

Building and Sustaining an App Smashing Culture

Some new apps I’ll be mentioning that are not listed on these blog posts are:

BaiBoard– Great collaborative whiteboard app

Sketches– a free option in place of Paper53

FotoCam Paint– iphone only app that allows you to turn any photograph into a watercolor painting

Resources from this presentation:

Did you like that video? Kid Snippets: Back to School

SAMR in 120 Seconds

SAMR and Starbucks Idea. Not mine. But isn’t it great? Link here.

Blooming Butterfly. Great to keep this by your desk as a reminder. Link here.

Session 2: Coding on iPads with Vicki Sedgwick

Here is Vicki’s session description: Have iPads in your classroom? Want to explore Computer Science concepts and coding with students? Learn how to to do just that with apps like: Kodable, Tynker, Hopscotch, Cargo Bot, and more. Attendees will be creating a project in Hopscotch and exploring other apps; please install apps.

Keynote: Nothing Else Matters with Nicole Delasio

Session 3: #caedchat Live! with Ryan Archer and myself

We are trying out a new and more interactive type of session. We hope to bring new #caedchat folks and “old” #caedchat friends together to discuss issues in technology. This should be a great way to connect with your PLN and something you won’t want to miss!

Session 4: Google Certified Teacher Panel

If you think you are a Google ninja, then come to this session. You are sure to walk away with something new and inspiring and Googley to add to your Google bragging rights. This session was created by Jen Roberts and she recruits Google Certified Teachers from the area to do a 4 minute demo slam. Some of the amazing slams will be done by: Scott Moss, Dan McDowell, JR Ginex-Orinion, Kevin Fairchild, Nicole Dalesio, Jeff Heil, Jen Wagner, and Adina Sullivan. I am sure there will be a few more surprise guests!

So many of friends will be presenting and I am sad that I can’t attend their sessions. I packed myself full of teaching and left little room for me to do some learning. Hopefully, over lunch, I can learn from them or just have some great laughs.

If you aren’t able to attend SDCUE Tech Fair tomorrow, follow the learning on Twitter with #sdcue hashtag. If you are interested in learning more about SDCUE, visit their website at

Thank you to all the volunteers who have worked so hard to make this event possible. Especially thank you to my Escondido colleagues who I know put their heart into this event: Brad Pascoe and Krystle Miller.