Take it Apart!

Ten Dollar Tuesdays

In the Robot Test Kitchen, we talk about five main barriers that we typically face in conducting technology programming in our libraries: time, budget, skill, interest, and support. It’s our belief that most of these are not impossible barriers, but sometimes it’s hard to see how. Especially when things like your time and budget are already stretched paper thin.

With this new weekly feature, Ten Dollar Tuesdays, we will be tackling the budget question with programs you can run at your library for under $10. We’ll also address the interest and support questions by asking you to share your inexpensive STEM programs in the comments, and to let us know what kinds of feedback you’ve gotten when you’ve tried these or similar programs in your buildings!

Take It Apart

Cost: $0

Age range: tweens & teens

Group size: Up to 20, depending on materials

Staff amounts: 1

  • Give kids an opportunity to explore how things work, how they’re put together, and what happens if they they take them apart.
  • Ask for donations of broken appliances (no tube TVs or microwaves) and computers, supply tools, and let kids explore.
  • Disassembling a PC is a great learning opportunity, and you don’t necessarily need to know a lot about computer hardware. I supplied printed diagrams for kids to match up the components, and I learned a lot from YouTube videos. You may need special screwdrivers for some of the screws on the computer case; our IT department was happy to let us borrow those, and a staff member even helped at the program
  • Taking things apart can very exciting, so caution your tweens and teens not to get carried away and get scrapes or cuts on sharp parts
  • Ask kids what similarities they saw, what surprised them, what parts they already knew about, and what they would like to learn more about
  • After the program, you may be able to salvage some parts for a future craft program (another Ten Dollar Tuesday!), or check with your local recycling facility to see what they can accept.

Have you done a Take it Apart program? Share your experience with us!

Review: Sphero

Reviews, Sphero

Robot Basics:

  • What is it?

Sphero is a sturdy, buoyant, waterproof, hard shelled ball that changes color and responds to commands via a handheld device – a smartphone or a tablet. At the most basic, Sphero can be used as a game controller for a number of downloaded games. But there are more complex functions that teach programming as well. It’s very sturdy and waterproof which makes me much more comfortable about handing it to a rambunctious teen or extremely eager toddler.

  • What’s in the Box?
Sphero: what's in the box

Sphero: what’s in the box

There’s the Sphero itself, an inductive charging base and plug, holder, and best of all — two ramps with rubberized feet. Pencil here for scale.

  • How Much?

Sphero 2.0 retails for $129.99. The original Sphero is available for $79.99. Either can be purchased at a discount in an educator 10 pack.


  • Age Range?

Game play and the pre-coding apps are friendly with kids as young as Kindergarten but Sphero is fun and useful for pretty much any age.

  • How Did We Acquire it?

Purchased with ILEAD funds.

Ideas for Use

Sphero can be used just like you’d use any other gaming platform at the library. It’s really so much fun to play with. But for someone who wants to dig deeper into the technology angle with a more active approach, I like the way Sphero allows for scaffolding skills.

Begin by showing users the basic Sphero app. This introduces the capabilities of Sphero, couched within an origin story and a fun game. Then it’s easy to move on to apps that allow users to code without knowing they’re coding. Something like Sphero Draw ‘n Drive has users draw pictures on their handheld device, and then Sphero will act out the drawing that was created, changing direction, speed, and color just like the artist did while drawing. Beyond that, you can move to Sphero MacroDraw or MacroLab which give allow you to add different action components together to build programs, then give you real-time feedback on the macros that you program.

Time Involved

Sphero needs some time to charge, then you’ll need to download the apps you intend to use, and get your bluetooth connection up and running. Plan at least an hour of playing around with it before you introduce it to kids so you’re comfortable with the basic controls.

One-time or Recurring Program

Plenty here to expand into a recurring program.

Extension Activities

Once your kids have mastered the basics, there are lots of educational projects you can embark on, and another app, orBasic for Sphero, that delves deeper into the coding element. You could also use this in a more hands-on Maker program by creating mazes, obstacle courses, and challenge courses for Sphero to compete in.

Skills You Need

You need to be able to connect a device to the bluetooth on your handheld device.

Other Tools You Need

A bluetooth enabled tablet, smartphone, or iPod for each Sphero.

Good Stuff

It is SO MUCH FUN. The fun is really a huge draw for getting users to engage with it. And it’s SO EASY to begin. There are no necessary skills, beyond basic hand-eye coordination, to start having fun with it. If you’re going to jump in an purchase an Educator pack, I think that would be a good, long-lasting value.


The Bluetooth connection on my Android device was pretty fussy. It was much smoother when used with Apple products. I don’t know if this is a function of the Sphero or of my Xoom, but it happened.

It’s a pricier prospect. It works best as a one device per person project, but you could fairly easily construct your event so that two people share one Sphero. But beyond that, each Sphero must have a dedicated handheld device to control it. If your library already has iPads, you’re set. If your community has a 1:1 tablet program in schools, that should work too. Otherwise, this may be a significant limiter.

Ending Thoughts/Observations

I really like this device and think that there are lots of opportunities for fun, education, and expansion.

Overall Rating:

Have a ball! –But proceed with caution (solely due to the cost and additional tablet constraints).

Review: Squishy Circuits

Programs, Reviews, Squishy Circuits

Robot Basics

  • What is it? Squishy Circuits are a set that helps you explore circuits and electricity using dough.
  • What’s in the Box? I used this set: http://squishycircuitsstore.com/kits.html
  • How Much? $25.00 for one set, plus cost of supplies for dough.
  • Age Range? Our program was for Grades 3 and up, but I think you could go as low as Kindergarten or 1st grade.
  • How Did We Acquire it? My library purchased sets after I played with sets we acquired through the ILEADUSA grant funds.

What we did

I set up the Squishy Circuits as part of my library’s new “Library Makers” programs. We are focusing on different ways to incorporate the making movement and also STEAM initiatives. Additionally we are just hoping to try a lot of new programs. Our program was for grades 3 and up. We ended up with 3 kids, one in middle school and two third graders. All of our attendees were girls, which I thought was kind of great.

I set out the two squishy kits and the dough. I also printed out a bunch of the ideas for making circuits from the squishy circuits website: http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/apthomas/SquishyCircuits/

The kids just experimented with the kits. They had a very good time thinking creatively and it was an easy program to run.

Time Involved

It is pretty minimal. I just had to spend about a half hour making the dough and then another half hour playing with the circuits before the program.

One-time or Recurring Program

We set it up as a one-time program, but this could easily be repeated.

Skills Needed

Motor skills to work with the dough, the rest is easy.

Good Stuff

I really enjoyed running this program. I think there is a lot of value in programs with smaller numbers. You get to talk to the kids and see what they are thinking. Squishy circuits could be done with bigger groups, but some of the magic of this program was that it was a smaller group.


I had trouble with one of my doughs, it was overly sticky. But I think that was the bakers fault. Although the dough still worked for the circuit.

Ending Thoughts/Observations

Try Squishy Circuits, it really is very simple.

Overall Rating

Great, give it a go.