Students Mike Plagenz, Kenton Jones and Ryan McGrath worked with Sphero, a spherical remote-controlled robot that looks something like BB-8, the Star Wars character, without its head. Sphero was mainly sold as a toy. Rezk Bouras, an NBCC graduate, also worked on this project.

The students wrote custom programs to control Sphero, developed an interpreter coding language to translate commands which Sphero understands, investigated the usefulness of Sphero as an educational aid to teach programming, and developed a one-day workshop aimed at teaching the fundamentals of programming to a young audience.

Working on this project helped students like Plagenz improve time management skills and to accomplish the highly challenging task of interpreting one coding language to the next. Plagenz was most excited about the possibility of using Sphero in schools to teach young students the basics of coding: “We’ve… been in touch with schools in the district and… they are really excited about bringing this… into the curriculum and they want to work with us which is nice.” Being part of something which can be used and improved upon for years to come is a good feeling. “[Working with the school district]… is largely past the scope of what our group is going to accomplish this year, this is something that’s going to be used for years and years.

Instructor Joe Marriott agreed: “It’s a toy, but… we turned it into an educational tool… with good old-fashioned computer programming. We’re looking at kids in elementary school being able to write a simple computer program that will control the ball, draw a square with the ball, things like that. By turning a toy into an educational tool we’re hoping to inspire kids to find coding fun, [opening up]… many career paths in the future.