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.


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?


Building and Sustaining an App Smashing Culture



When I returned from the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit and shared the word “App Smashing” with my students they were super excited. Having that term to place onto what we had been building as a part of our classroom culture led to even more creativity and innovation with my students. Thanks to Greg Kulowiec for coining the term!

Here is how App Smashing works:

One App + Another App = Published Creativity!

Yes, it is that simple.

But before you start to get your students into app smashing you have to build a culture of app smashers in your classroom. Here is how you can do this:

Step 1: Build App Fluency

1. Use the first month of school to introduce your students to all of the creative apps on their iPad and help students build their app fluency. Use this time to guide students through projects that perhaps only use one or two apps. You will want students to experiment while providing some level of guided instruction with the capabilities of each app.

2. Throughout the first month also show your students what each app icon mean. They will need these tools to navigate the App Smash world.

addnewicon= The plus symbol means add new project or if you are inside a project it will indicate for you to add something new to the project.

menuicon= The three parallel lines usually indicates that you can move the object or it will open up a menu.

shareicon= The box with the arrow means you can share or export your object.

infoicon= Inspector icon is where you can find your tools within a project.

Provide ample opportunity to have successful interactions with collaboration. Collaboration sometimes does not come easily or naturally to students, especially when you are navigating digital collaboration. You need to spend time teaching digital citizenship to build a culture of connecting online. Here are some of my favorite collaborative apps:

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Learn from my failure: The first time I had 4th graders collaborate on a Google Doc was a complete failure. I assumed my students would be able to collaborate on a Google Doc, but boy was I wrong when I heard someone shout across the room… “You are in my cursor space!” I immediately pulled that small group to the table to help them navigate their digital space. We learned that each person in the group needs to be aware of what each other is working on and that no one should ever delete another person’s work without discussing it first. In addition, using the comment section to discuss problems is a great alternative to shouting across the room. What I learned was my students really needed some direct instruction with collaborating on a digital platform.

Step 2: Build a Culture of App Smashing

After your students have become app fluent begin to build a vibrant app smashing culture. Just how do you do this? Build a “menu” of app options for students. Here is an example of mine:

As you begin to build an app smashing culture help guide your students to create delicious app smashing meals. In the beginning, I provide the first few steps of app smashing. Then for the final step, students can choose an app to finalize their project. Here is an example of how I would guide my students in the beginning:


Here is how this App Smash Recipe works:

The idea is to use the gradual release of responsibility model when students are ready. As you see students become masterful at app smashing, gradually release the responsibility of app smashing to them. The goal is to get 100% of your students to a “master chef” level of app smashing! Of course, students will become “ready” for more independent smashing at different rates. Be prepared to differentiate for your students.

The Rest of the Year: Sustaining the Culture of App Smashing

 Share your work: The ONLY way to sustain an app culture is for students to share their work! You need to provide a place for students to publish their work and share their app smashing meals. Here are a few of my favorite ways for students to share their work:

showyourwork.001Serve Up Fresh Apps: You can’t keep the app smashing menu the same all year… be on the constant lookout for new creative apps to add to your menu. When searching for new creative apps look for apps that can do the following app smashing friendly tools:

  • Can easily be saved to camera roll.
  • Can open projects in other apps.
  • If you find an app that you absolutely love and it doesn’t have great sharability… perhaps you can use screen capture.

Here is an example of an app smash we did for Mother’s Day. You can read about this project here.


So get started and inspire your students’ creativity and innovation by creating and sustaining an app smashing culture! Feel free to share your favorite app smashing recipes in the comment section.


App Differently: Reach for Redefinition {EdtechTeacher iPad Summit}


No longer does our old pedagogy match the changing world that is all around us.

Our students today deserve more. They deserve more time creating; less time filling out bubbles. They deserve more time collaborating;  less time sitting quietly at their desks filling out worksheets. They deserve more time communicating in ways they never imagined possible. And they deserve to be challenged to think critically about the world around them.

Some of the biggest critics of students using technology in the classroom visualize “zombie” children mindlessly clicking away on their screens. Well I am here to shout from the rooftops that when implemented correctly, technology integration can redefine how students learn in your classroom.

Take a look at Ruben R. Puentedura‘s SAMR model.

Or watch the simplified version of the SAMR model here.

In order to reach the Modification and Redefinition level, you need to take an honest look at how you integrate iOS apps into you classroom. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are the apps my students using “creative apps”?
  • Are the apps my students using primarily “skill review” type of apps?
  • To read more about the difference between these types of apps visit this blog post.

In my classroom, I limit my students’ use of “skill review” apps because they really aren’t too different from a worksheet. Skill review apps promote  more drill type of activities. However, I have many “creative apps” for my students to access so they can use iOS apps to create, collaborate, communicate, and to think critically (4 Cs of the Common Core). This is how you can move to the modification and redefinition of the SAMR model. In my classroom my students and I, App Differently.

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If you attended my session at Edtech Teacher iPad Summit session, you may feel a tad overwhelmed by the number of amazing apps that I shared with you today. So have no fear, I have included a list of all the apps I discussed in my session and a few bonus ones as well. Also, in my presentation, I included student samples so  you could see how these apps can be used.

Creative Apps for the Classroom:

Where do you start?

Mind Mapping:

Popplet and SimpleMind+ are mind mapping apps which can be used in a very substitution type of way. However if you think creatively you can use this app in a way that promotes critical thinking. I use this app for my students to document evidence from the text to support their opinions. In addition, these are great tools to use for students to plan bigger projects.

Digital Storytelling:

Sonic PicsStoryrobe, or 30 Hands for digital storytelling, storyboarding, and reading skills.

Puppet Pals is a digital puppet theater that creates recorded movies of puppet shows.

Mad Lips allows you to make any image TALK! See my Talking Book Covers post here.

Trading Cards by Read Write Think allows you to create trading card about historical figures and characters from stories. Another great one by Read Write Think is Word Mover.

Collaborative Reading:

Subtext is one of my favorite apps ever. My students love it too. With this app my students and I do collaborative reading connecting with each other and classes around the country.

Thinking Critically:

Hopscotch is a visual coding app that is a great tool to introduce simple coding skills. My favorite thing about this app is that my students practice essential critical thinking skills. One of my favorite students quotes regarding this apps is, “I failed so many times trying to make this script, but I kept going until I got it right!”

Communicate What You Know:

Explain Everything is an app that allows you to screencast. I use this app in my flipped math class. My students even create videos to show what they know.

Other apps that I love for screen-casting are: Doodle Cast Pro (paid) and Doceri (free). Both of these apps have the ability to save the screencast to the camera; a feature that I love.

Ask 3 takes screen-casting a step further! This app allows you to create a screen-casting collaborative community. As the teacher, you set up a group which your students join. Students can create their own screen casts that the other students can view and respond to. This app is FREE.

Create with Images:

The camera is perhaps the BEST tool on the iPad.

My favorite photo editing tool is Snapseed. This app is full of great tools to edit a photo for artistic expression. Get your students outside with their cameras. Send them on a quest to find geometry in the world around them. Then allow them to create beautiful images in Snapseed.

Annotate Your Images:

There are many comic type apps that will allow you to annotate images. Story Me,  Comic Story, and Comic Life are great for creating comic strips. I also use this app for reading strategy practice and for annotating pictures in science and social studies.

Pic Stitch plus Skitch to annotate images for any content area!

ThingLink creates a “touchable” image where students can type in information, place links, or videos right onto the picture. This is great for students to add to their blog posts.

Create With Video:

My favorite movie making apps are iMovie (paid) and Splice (free). iMovie’s trailers are a great tool for beginning videographers.

iStopMotion is an expensive app, but well worth the price! This app allows you to create stop animations and time lapse videos.

Vintagio is a wonderful silent moving making app. This is great for a classroom environment because students don’t have to worry about sound. Read my Vintagio post here.

Share and Celebrate:

Edmodo (or My Big Campus) are tools that allow your class to interact with each other. It is a “safe” social media for education.

My Big Campus is a learning management system my district has adopted. It has many similarities to Edmodo, except for some things. MBC allows threaded discussions and has a blogging feature built in.

Kidblog is a webpage and also an app. This is a blogging tool that will allow you to set up student blogs and monitor their posts and comments. You can have their blogs set to share with the world or only with each other in the class. Read my Kidblog poster here.

Google Drive is an excellent tool to use to save and share student creations. Many apps have a built in feature that allows you to upload to your Google Drive. Students in my classroom have their own Google account created by our district. This allows them the access docs and sites. In addition, it is a place for them to organize and store all of their iPad projects.


Thank you for attending my session at EdTechTeacher iPad Summit in San Diego. Please come visit my blog often as I love to blog about how iOS apps can redefine learning. Also, I will begin blogging more about Google Apps for Education.


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