Forces and Motion: Sphero Tractor Pull Investigation Part One

Students use Sphero programmable robots to explore Newton's Three Laws in an engaging tractor pull setting.

Forces and Motion: Sphero Tractor Pull Investigation Part One
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Forces and Motion: Sphero Tractor Pull Investigation Part One

If you haven’t worked with Spheros yet you’ve been missing out. Spheros are little orb-shaped robots that can be programmed or operated by remote control. This year I thought I would document the Tractor Pull activity as we study Forces and Motion in 8th grade. This is an engaging and sometimes chaotic investigation - I highly recommend it 😋. Most of the resources for the project are from the Sphero EDU site. You'll find the downloadable activity packet at the bottom of this post.

Here's a video I use as part of the investigation introduction.

A few clips I used to show students how the tractor pull part might work.

Part One

It’s best to create Sphero Tractor Pull groups ahead of time. I use Team Shake. Balanced groups seem to work better.

Each group member takes on a role. It’s what they are responsible for throughout their group work. Here are the roles I use below. Since I use groups of 2-3 students some students have more than one role.

  • The Voice - This is the spokesperson for the group. They get to ask all of the questions and relay the information back to their group.
  • Materials Manager - Is responsible for obtaining and returning all lab materials.
  • Core Value Commander - Encourages positive groups behaviors and makes sure everyone’s voice is heard.
  • Captain Craftsmanship - Consistently checks in to make sure all groups are completing the work and that it’s done to the best of their ability.

Next comes a little background knowledge building. We preview this video which connects Newton’s three laws to riding a bike. It’s an easy to complete task to get them working together and thinking about Newton’s Three Laws.

Finally, students complete Part I of the Tractor Pull packet (download below) where they gather baseline data. To complete this they need to learn how to connect their Sphero*, code a simple roll block, gather data and respond to a concluding prompt. You can see each part of this investigation by looking at the Sphero Tractor Pull download below.

Lessons I've Learned

  • Keeping the robots organized and assigning Spheros to specific groups will save you time. Each Sphero has a unique code that identifies it.
  • When you are not using them for an extended period of time completely shut them down. It will save you some battery life.
  • If you have the students turn the lights on the robots down low, or completely off, the battery charge will last longer. This helps when you have multiple classes in one day.
  • Test the connections to the controller devices well in advance of your activity just to make sure everything works. You can operate the Spheros with a variety of devices, but sometimes with school filtering, something may be blocked, and you want to give yourself some time to work through the glitches. We use a combination of these ChromeBooks, iPad minis*, and student personal devices.

Here's the link for the Sphero Tractor Pull Activity: Day Two.

Tractor Pull Download

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