Ten Dollar Tuesdays: Engineering Challenge: Marble Runs

Guest post, Programs, Ten Dollar Tuesdays

We are happy to feature a guest post from Ann Carpenter!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ann Carpenter is the Youth Services Librarian at the Brooks Free Library in Harwch, MA. Among many other programs, she runs a monthly Engineering Challenge for school aged children.

  • Program:

Engineering Challenge: Marble Runs

  • Age range:

Around 15-20 school aged kids can participate. More can be accommodated if you have them work in groups. Each group should have at least two pieces of foam.

  • Cost:

10 6 foot pipe foam pieces at $1 a piece. You will also need marbles and masking tape, but those are things I had around the library anyway.

  • Activity:

We talked about momentum demonstrating that a marble rolled along a mostly flat track will stop, but a marble rolled down an inclined track will keep going, and that marble rolled down a very steep track can build up enough momentum to keep going even uphill. Once they had the general idea, I gave them the first challenge: to build a roller coaster that allowed the marble to go up and over a hill. I purposefully make my first level of challenge relatively simple so that every child participating will have at least one success by the end of the program.

To accomplish their challenge the children were given pipe foam that I had cut in half lengthwise, forming a channeled track. The pipe foam was perfect for our purposes: very flexible for young hands to manipulate and very cheap at about $1 for a 6 ft tube, which provided 2 channels. I also OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAgave them access to lots of tape. Our second level of challenge was to create a loop-the-loop. I told the children who completed the second challenge that they could either do a free design, or they could try for two loop-the-loops. Most chose to try for two loops.

  • Difficulties and challenges:

One thing I noticed during this program was that it was not enough for the children to accomplish the task: they needed me to be a witness to their success. This meant running around the room quite a bit so that I could personally watch marbles rolling around the tracks. The looks of delight were definitely worth it. Emphasize that engineering is a process, and they may need to try out their design, then go back and make adjustments based on results.

Circuit Scribes (Guest Post)

Guest post, Reviews
I put my husband, David Hrycewicz, in charge of Circuit Scribes during last weeks Students Involved with Technology conference. I had purchased these kits from a Kickstarter campaign.  When the kit came, I sort of freaked out and didn’t know what to do with them.  I was able once or twice to complete the circuit, but would I be able to do with kids?  I doubted myself.  I put off opening the kit and sharing it with kids and then the conference opportunity fell in our laps.  Dave was great with the kids.  He doesn’t normally work with kids, although he’s done a lot of training.  Listed below is his review.  

Sphero in the School Library: A guest review from Mindy Perry


About Mindy

Hello! Mindy Perry here, guest posting about Sphero 2.0. This is my 2nd year as a school librarian at Greenbrook School. We are a K-5 building and serve approximately 500 students. I’m very new into the world of robotics, although I love technology. My motto is books + tech. Sphero 2.0 is my first robotic type purchase for the library. I participated in ILEADUSA 2014 alongside Robot Test Kitchen. I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE what they are doing and I’m honored to be a guest blogger for this very cool site.

Robot Basics

  • What is it?

A robotic ball with internal leds that can be driven by any mobile device. Sphero can do tricks, is sensitive enough to dance to music being played, is waterproof and pet-proof.

  • What’s in the Box?

It came with the Sphero 2.0 ball, charger, and necessary cords.

  • How much?

Price is $129.99 off of Sphero’s website. Mine was ordered through Amazon. Watch for deals on both sites. Amazon was running a sale around Christmas. Sphero had their accessories on sale through there website.

  • Age Range?

I’d say Kindergarten and up. Most people of all ages will enjoy Sphero 2.0.

  • How we acquired it

I asked for Sphero 2.0 and Ollie as my Christmas present. I left the decision on which one I was going to get in the hands of my mom. I like surprises and would have been happy with either model. The kids were blown away that I would ask for a robot for Christmas just so they could get to play with it during library.

Ideas for usespheromp1

My first concern and thoughts when I opened the box was about how I was going to set up my Nexus 7 tablet so that it would be easy for students to manage on their own while playing and how I was going to manage the Sphero 2.0.

But first he needed a name. My mom told me a story about a TV show from when she was young about a robot named Tobor (Robot spelled backwards). I couldn’t resist the name so my Sphero 2.0 is now known as Tobor.

Then my brain was flooded with a million questions…..

When will the students play? Who gets to drive? What will the other students do? Where will I house the device? How will it charge during the day? How will I set up the apps on the phone? How will I teach it? My brain has a way of running away without me.

spheromp2On the Nexus 7, I created a second profile so that I controlled which apps they had access to and at what times. On the homescreen, I downloaded 6 Sphero apps. I took all other apps off the homescreen because the Nexus 7’s only use at this point is to drive the Sphero ball. This minimized confusion of apps. So far so good but I’d be open to any suggestions on better management of Sphero 2.0.

So what does this look like in use at an elementary school of approximately 500 students? I chose to introduce Sphero 2.0 to grades 3-5, much to the dismay of 2nd grade. They were not pleased! Once I get a handle on all of this and the kinks are worked out, I will most likely reconsider for them. I like to jump into things, but I don’t want push myself over the deep end either. Teaching is hard enough. I spend 30 minutes with each class each week. The first 15 minutes, I teach. The last half of the class is for check out. It doesn’t take some students that long to check out so I have different activities and stations that they can do on their own until the end of class. The kids learns on their own and I’m free to help students find worthy reads. Sphero 2.0 has become an option to play with after checking out books. This not enough time! I hear groans and “we’re leaving already?!?” at the end of library. I made it very clear that they need to share the tablet amongst themselves and to problem solve who drives. I wasn’t going to create a spreadsheet on who wants to drive and who drove last. I want them to take ownership of working together without my involvement. The non-drivers for the week can build obstacle courses with the terrain park, 3 chariots, 2 covers, and 3 lbs of Lego’s I purchased.spheromp3

In a few weeks I will be introducing a project that will take us to the end of the school year. I am modifying Sphero Education’s Chariot Challenge. I will be incorporating lessons on searching, notetaking, and citation into the research portion about chariots. You know, all the librarian stuff we teach. I am thrilled to introduce this project!

Good stuff

Best conversation ever:

Student #1: The library has a robot? No way.

Student #2: You haven’t heard? Everyone’s talking about it. It’s over there……

Enough said. The library is pretty much the coolest place right now. Word spread pretty quickly, as did the amount of questions I answered in the hallway by students who had library later in the week. Tobor’s popularity even reached the middle school. My 5th graders last year found out through the library’s Instagram account.


I’m still trying to figure out if it’s my WiFi connection or the Bluetooth pairing that is causing the connection to say: “Sphero not found” occasionally. The WiFi is not the greatest in the library. It doesn’t happen every time I try to play, but enough that it is causing a little frustration. The students want to drive it, not wait around for it to connect.

Only having one Sphero 2.0 to play with between 20+ students at a time can get a little tricky. So far they’ve been good at sharing and dividing tasks, but it’s only been a week so this may change.

Not enough time to play. This has nothing to do with the robot itself, it has to do with my scheduled amount of time I have to see students each week. They get a few minutes each week and it’s just not enough. I have really excited students who just want to keep building, playing, and learning.

Ending Thoughts and Observations

All I knew was that I wanted to bring a robot into the library. I had no idea what I was going to do with it or if it would be worthwhile. If you’re on the fence, take the jump. It’s warm in the water. It’s very easy to use with little setup. Just search the many apps Sphero has, download and play. Don’t worry if you think you won’t be able to figure it out. You will be able to understand a few key components of the Sphero and then hand it over to the kids. They’ll teach you.