Armed with iPhones and spherical robots, students in Richard Perry’s 11th-grade AP English class at Calhoun sought to make an empathetic connection with their assigned reading lesson, The Grapes of Wrath.
“This project started last year when I found that students weren’t connecting with the book,” Perry said. “This lesson gets them starting to think like programmers while connecting them to the literature.”
The Sphero robots were made possible through a grant from the company who makes them. Perry, an Apple Educator as well, was challenged to come up with creative ways to incorporate them into his classroom. His challenge to students was to have them come up with ways to navigate the Sphero robot - using wireless controls on their iPhones – through a home-built model mountain. Perry noted that the process requires much trial and error and can lead to frustration.
“This allows the students to experience failure, as the Joads did while traveling through the mountains (in the novel, The Grapes of Wrath),” Perry said. “I want them to be able to empathize with the characters.”
At the end of the project, students had five minutes to get the robot from one side of the model to the other. They had to document their attempts and failures.
“This will be used to pass on to the next group,” Perry said.
After navigating the even tiled floor of their classroom, Joe Kennedy equipped his robot with three rubber bands he had on his wrist.
“I put them around the ball to give it more traction,” he said, adding that he thinks this will make the robot be successful when attempting the model.
The connection was made clear to Chad Ackerman when he was watching his fellow students’ robots collide as they all attempted to master a ramp.
“They’re like the Joads and Wilson families fighting,” Ackerman noted to his teacher. “See, I’m making connections, Mr. Perry,” he quipped.