This past year, our Library purchased a classroom set of Sphero SPRK+ Robot, and I broke a tech integration rule – I built a lesson around the tech. The dominant tech integration theory right now suggests that teachers begin with curriculum, and then consider how technology might amplify the learning experience.* But I’ve found that, occasionally, starting with the tech has produced some very successful learning experiences.
For example, there was one year when I had a group of 6th graders who were always talking about Minecraft. In fact, they started coming in on Monday mornings with examples of Ancient Roman villages they were building in Minecraft, inspired by our units on the Ancient Roman Forum and Pompeiian homes.
That’s when I broke the rule and started with the tech. I was so inspired and looked for a place to inject Minecraft into my curriculum. At the time, I had a lackluster research project on the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The topic was interesting, but the recycled-materials reconstruction project was not inspiring my students they way it had in the past. I decided this would be the perfect place to insert Minecraft into our curriculum. The following year, the new 7th graders dove into their ancient architecture projects, reconstructing ancient buildings in a class MinecraftEdu world. Technically, the curriculum was driving the project, but I truly had started with Minecraft, and then looked at the curriculum.
Fast forward a few years, and you’ll find me breaking the same tech integration rules. This time, I had a classroom set of Sphero SPRK+ Robots at my disposal, and a group of kids excited to use them. During our end of year project period, I always let the choose the topic of the 6-week class project. With the Spheros inspiring us, the class decided to study ancient chariot racing and build their own chariots to be driven by the Spheros.
Sphero SPRK+ Robots are heavy duty balls that are controlled by an app. In the app, you can drive the Spheros with a controller, or program them with block building coding. They can go pretty fast, change colors, submerge under water, and withstand middle schooler crash-testing.
We spent two weeks researching ancient chariot racing, and then established the ground rules for our chariot race. We decided that we would model our chariots on quadrigas, that each student would be build their own chariot model in teams of two, each chariot must have 2 wheels, a carriage to hold a Lego person, and did not need flexible reigns. Then we were off to the maker space!
This project was design thinking inspired, and we spent two weeks building chariot models, testing them with the Spheros, redesigning our initial plans, and constantly tweaking our designs. Balsa wood, hot glue, solo cups, and, of course, spray paint were invaluable supplies during the process. The last two weeks, we built a chariot track out of cardboard, about the length of our basketball court. It was not perfectly to scale, but we estimated it was about 1:32, which gave the class some ability to visualize and appreciate the magnitude of the actual Circus Maximus.
On race day, we had 3rd and 4th grade classes join us in the gym for the big race! They chose teams to cheer for before the race began, and were very excited about the laurel wreath prize! We ran the first race as the Romans would have – seven laps around. Then we ran additional races with different challenges.
The best part? When we came back to school the following Monday, one of the fourth grade students showed us the chariot he had made over the weekend. We tested it out with the Sphero, driving it around the classroom – it was pretty fast – and decided we might need a rematch with his chariot!
It was a great end of year project for our students – they learned a lot of about chariot racing and engaged in impressive design thinking at one of the busiest times of year. And I have no doubt that we achieved our learning goals for unit – even if we did start with the tech first.
Comment below: Have you every started with the tech, and then found the learning goals?
Kathleen Reardon is excited to be the first Director of Academic Technology at Dedham Country Day School in Massachusetts. Prior to joining, DCD, she held the positions of Latin Teacher and Technology Coach at The Park School in Brookline, MA. She is also a Private Tutor in Needham, MA, and Attorney at Reardon Law Office LLC in Boston, MA.
Kathleen focuses on using digital tools to foster learned discourse among elementary and middle school children. As sole owner of Doctiloqua, she develops curriculum and programming that help education professionals integrate technology into the classroom. She regularly presents on topics related to digital citizenship, social media in the classroom, game-based learning, and educational field trips and experiential learning. She has hosted workshops and presented at the ISTE Conference and Expo, AISNE’s The Connected Teacher Conference, MassCUE Annual Technology Conference, The Park School E3 Conference, and the American Classical League Institute.
Kathleen believes it is important to give back to the community and foster an appreciation for the preservation of cultural heritage. To this end, she works with cultural institutions to improve educational programming that promotes the protection and preservation of our shared cultural heritage. Kathleen is a member of the Board of Education Advisors at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, one of the first participants in the Teacher Advisory Council at the New England Aquarium, a Panelist on the PBS Education’s Teacher Advisory Group, and an Ambassador for the TES Global Network.
Kathleen holds a Preliminary Teaching License in History in Massachusetts and is a member of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Bar and the New York State Bar. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Classics & Political Science from the College of the Holy Cross, and her Juris Doctor in Comparative & International Business Law from the Catholic University of America.
As Mom of an amazing 6 year old, and Director of Academic Technology, I am always thinking about parenting and teaching in our digital world. This is where I post exciting projects, observations of good edtech practices, and new ideas!
The title of this site, “doctiloqua,” is Latin for “learned speaking” (I’m a former Latin Teacher!), so the posts here all center around fostering meaningful conversations about edtech. Please join in our conversation by commenting on a post or filling out the contact form!
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