Robots Make Physics Come Alive

Ninth-grade students are gaining an out-of-this-world experience in Steven Cavendar-Wood’s Physics class. Meet Sphero, a ball-like robot bringing to life concepts like motion, force and velocity that students will use to explore a faux extraterrestrial terrain.
 
The 14 Spheros — think Star Wars’ BB-8, but smaller — are the centerpiece of Cavendar-Wood’s mechanics unit. “We wanted to ramp up the physics curriculum and make it more engaging and accessible to all sorts of learners,” says Cavendar-Wood.  “The students are excited about the robots, and, by extension, they’re getting excited about physics—delving in at a whole new level.”

The mechanics unit revolves around a role-play: small groups of students act as NASA engineering teams and the mini robots are rovers—the automated vehicles that explore Mars’ surface. Students program the robots to go from point A to point B on a simulation of Mars’ surface —a bed sheet painted in Martian colors that’s littered with rocks. Each group uses calculations of distance and velocity to pre-program a route. They will then execute this program from a distance and watch Sphero navigate the terrain.
 
In addition to learning programming skills, students are grappling with the most important concepts in mechanics in a hands-on and highly immersive way. 
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