The Sphero: Teaching Kids STEAM Skills

Your elementary school student has another science fair, and you dutifully attend expecting the standard baking soda volcanos and diagrams of the solar system that kids in your day made. Instead, you are greeted by what looks like a scene from the future. Robots of all shapes and sizes spin, walk and play music with children under 10 at the controls. As you wonder at the advancement of education, a small robotic ball rolls up to your feet, changes color three times and then rolls away again. That little guy is the Sphero.

What Is Happening in Education?

A lot has changed since the days of collecting leaves and flowers or dropping eggs from balconies. While these age-old lessons in ecology and physics are still essential and taught in schools, the focus of education has shifted to include STEAM skills.

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. These are areas that are growing every day as society advances. The skills they embody are the ones that the next generation will use the most.

The Advent of Educational Robotics

With STEAM skills becoming increasingly more in demand, the toy industry began looking towards filling the need for toys that taught those skills. Sphero — originally called Orbitix — began designing their ball-shaped programmable robot to fill that very niche. After a successful campaign on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter, they launched their first Sphero app-controlled robotic ball in 2010.

It wasn’t long before other companies followed suit. Today, there are several manufacturers that make robotic toys that teach kids valuable STEAM skills. They include:

  • LEGO
  • Makeblock
  • WowWee
  • Anki
  • Wonder Workshop
  • Ozobot
  • Vortex

Schools and industrious parents are snatching up tools like the Sphero and its competitors. For instance, Trail Ridge Middle School near Sphero’s base in Denver, Colorado was highlighted in a New Yorker article for their use of iPads and Spheros to teach these STEAM skills.

What They Do

The Sphero specifically is a versatile little guy. It’s designed to grow with the student’s understanding of those STEAM skills. From pushing colors to get the Sphero to move, to write a full program for the robot ball using a smartphone or iPad, users can make the Sphero do all kinds of interesting things.

They can do more than just rolling around and changing colors. Kids — or adults learning to code — can program the Sphero to follow a specific path, complete a set of commands and are even able to design their own control app.

Sphero has its very own YouTube channel where you can see everything that’s possible with the versatile device. You can check out a Sphero in action there or in the clip below from the QuadSquad, four kids who review and play with items online.

Special Features of The Sphero

Sphero entered into an agreement with Disney in 2015. From that partnership, Sphero produced several branded programmable robots including its popular BB8 model. Looking like the robot from the second set of Star Wars movies, this cute little guy was fully programmable like all Spheros are.

The Future of Robotic Toys

Development of the Sphero and other toys like it shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, Sphero listed their new incarnation, the Sphero RVR, on Kickstarter in 2018 and earned more than a million dollars towards its launch.

It’s not alone though. A company called Zoetic AI listed its programmable robotic kitty they call Kiki on the popular crowdfunding site. So does SB Components Ltd. Their offering, STEM:BIT is a programmable block kit. Robotiky is another programmable robotic toy for children, and it raised £25,000.

 There’s no doubt that learning STEAM skills is important to the future of kids. These types of programmable robotic toys make teaching children these skills simple and fun. This makes them a vital product on the marketplace that the world is likely to see more of in the future.