3 Ways to get the most out of your Sphero robots in the classroom!



Last week I was helping the Macgear team demonstrate the Sphero SPRK (Schools, Parent, Robots and Kids) robots to educators at the NZ Ulearn Conference in Rotorua. Here’s a short vid I made that shows some of the snippets of what we were up to for the 2 days.

We use these robots in our STEM workshops with teachers and they’re one of my favourite STEM tools to use; I’ll explain why in a later post. Here’s a link to our upcoming events page where you can see the dates and venues of some STEM workshop days coming up. (Let me know if your schools would be interested in hosting!)

Here are 3 ways to make sure you’re getting ‘learning bang’ for your buck with your Sphero.

1.The teacher is ALWAYS key!

Just like every learning situation, the role of the teacher is paramount. And not in a central, dominant way…

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iTunes U and Bloxels



At the beginning of August I opened a small but special computer science class for my daughter and one of my English students. My goal for this class is to provide the two girls with a variety of technology experiences. I am not following a pre-made curriculum. I am building the curriculum as I go.

For the past few weeks the girls have worked on game design using Bloxels. o help with game design we used a design course made by Coby Reynolds, a fellow Bloxels Ambassador. It was also a chance for us to use iTunes U for the first time in class.

Bloxels iTunes U course designed by Coby Reynolds

Bloxels iTunes U course designed by Coby Reynolds

The course is broken into 5 sections, with each section having 2-3 assignments. Students assume the role of a game designer working for a pretend game developer. In the first lesson we dicussed different games and why kids liked to play them. We also, dicussed what makes games fun. Also, in this first section we setup our portfolios in Book Creator. Students would use Book Creator to document their assignments throughout the course.



There were five activities in the design and planning section: 1. What makes a good game? 2. Design Brief 3. Back Story and 4.Sketching. In the first assignment the girls were asked to create a mind-map of the games they liked. Since we covered this topic in our first dicussions I had the girls jump to the third activity and use the mind map to plan their background stories. Digital storytelling is something a great way to engage young writers so I jumped at the chance to get the girls to write a backstory for their games.

The next activity (Design brief) offered another chance for writing. Since we’ve covered persuasive letter writing in my English classes the girls were able to breeze through this activity.

We decided to skip the final activity (Sketching the levels) only because the girls were quite familiar with Bloxels. However, the girls wanted to sketch their characters before creating them in the app.


With our characters created it was time to build our games. We have five boards so the girls had two boards each to work with. The boards are still my favorite part of Bloxels. The hands on experience adds so much to the game. I showed the girls how easy it was to combine levels by sliding boards together. I also reminded them that the story blocks (My favorite) were a critical part of their ability to tell a story within the game.

After designing the basic layout, the girls tested their games. This is a really exciting part of the game design process. Asia and Katy’s faces lit up when they saw their characters come to life in the world that they created! However, my students are perfectionists so they quickly found flaws in their games and returned to the layout to tweak and modify their games.

Asia and Katy use the Bloxels boards to build their games. 

Asia and Katy use the Bloxels boards to build their games.


We were just about finished our games when Bloxels released a new and exciting update! Besides the cool cartoonish design update the addition of the Brainboard really excited the girls. Being able to give special powers to the enemies was a huge game changer. Now the girls wanted to add Boss fights to the end of their levels. We had to add an additional class just for this activity!


Now that our games were completed it was time to share and evaluate each other’s games. With only two students in the class this was a quick and rewarding process. The course called for the girls to make a graph but like I said with only two students the graph would not be very telling. Instead the girls played each other’s games and gave specific feedback about, playability, difficulty, and appearance.


The final lesson in the course was to create a game trailer. We’ve created numerous book trailers and movie clips with iMovie so the girls decided to use iMovie to create their game trailers. We watched a few online trailers just to get an idea of what game trailers looked like. The girls were pretty happy with the final results.

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The setup of iTunes courses is a little challenging for young students. I would have liked the interface to have been a little more user friendly. However, with some assistance my students were able to figure out how to navigate through iTunes U.

The girls loved working with Bloxels. They enjoyed every aspect of game creation. They spent most of their time on character design but other students in the past have spent more time on other areas. As a teacher it was very enjoyable to work with a tool that engages students so well. Even though, we spent about 4 hours in total over the course of a month creating our games the girls were enthusiastic about the game design from the beginning to end of every class.


In the near future I hope to adapt this lesson with Minecraft PE. I believe that students could create mini games or adventure stories by following a similar lesson. Also, this lesson would work well with different coding apps like Hopscotch.

Bloxels Camp Day



This summer I decided to hold a coding camp for my elementary students. The camp was filled with a variety of hands on and computer based activities. On the second day of the camp students made stories with Bloxels.

The goal of the Bloxels lesson was to integrate storytelling and game design. Students arrived early to camp so they had time to read through the Bloxels guide book. They concentrated on the purpose of each block and they read a little about how to create a game.


Students worked individually on storyboards. I asked them to create an adventure story, but I did not give them any more prompting. I wanted them to create a story that was their own. After completing the storyboards I introduced the Bloxels App and boards. I showed students some examples of games and I modeled how to create a simple game. On the back of their storyboards, students planned out their levels.


One of the biggest attractions of Bloxels was the physical boards. Technically, you don’t need the boards, everything can be done in the app. However, in my experience, students really enjoy this part of the building process, and if done correctly it can encourage a lot of communication between students. I will admit that I made the mistake of having students work individually on this task. I was worried that my students would have difficulty sharing the iPads. Also, I wanted everyone to have a lot of time with the boards and apps. Next time I would want to have more boards and blocks available (We had 5 boards and 6 students). With more boards and blocks, students could work in teams building levels and characters but use their own iPads. Another problem we faced was space. With the Bloxels boards you need a lot of room for kids to combine boards and build games. We didn’t have enough blocks so I was forced to squeeze six students around a table built for 4.


I am happy to say that it only took a little bit of modeling before students were on their own creating their games. I stayed close by to offer tips on building and animating but students caught on pretty quick and they helped each other figure out the different aspects of game development.


We spent 2 hours storyboarding, planning, and building. However, the next time I will schedule 2-3 days (2 hour blocks) instead of one 2 hour block. My students had a blast building and playing their very own video games. It was the highlight of the coding camp. Whenever, we would take a quick break everyone wanted to work on their Bloxels games. After discussing their games with them I realized that they didn’t make the connection between their storyboards and their Bloxels game. The characters they created were based on the characters from their stories but the setting and game play were random and unrelated. I believe this happened because we didn’t spend enough time discussing how they would transition from a story to a game. I don’t think that Bloxels was a good fit for coding camp. However, I do believe that Bloxels would fit in a digital storytelling camp! In a storytelling environment, students would have more time to develop their story elements.  Also, we could commit more time understanding game development. In the end students would have the required knowledge and skills to bring their stories to life through a video game.

Volcanos & Convergent Boundary Project with Minecraft PE (Updated)


What a fantastic idea for MCPE and Volcanoes!

David Lee EdTech

How It Started

Mrs. Y asked me if we could incorporate Minecraft PE into her plate tectonics & volcano unit. I thought it would be great to have students  create a diagram of a volcano and a plate tectonic boundary.

Here is a short description of what we did for the project:

1.  Research Specific Boundary and Volcano

photo photo_1

I created a graphic organizer with Google Slides that contained the objectives of the project, links and videos of grade-appropriate resources, and student work examples.

2. Find an Appropriate Minecraft Seed

According to MinecraftSeeds.co,  a seed is a specific number that generates a particular world. Seeds allow players to share unique worlds that they find with one another. If all your students type in a specific seed number when creating their local game, they would all generate the same world. Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 9.29.17 PMI googled “extreme hills seeds” for a world that would…

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Coding Summer


Summer Coding Projects


Before explaining our summer coding projects I should explain a little about education in South Korea. First of all students attend school from March 2- February 28. They have a summer break from the end of July until the end of August. Their winter break starts at the end of December until the beginning of February. Unlike North America, Korean students spend their vacations attending different private academies. For example, my daughter attends piano, violin, math, English, science, and badminton classes during the week and on the weekends. My wife and I own and run our own private English Academy. We see students 1-3 hours a week in small classes of 4-6 students per class. I should also mention that we use a class set of iPads. Summer is a great time to do special projects with my students. This summer we decided to explore coding!


Because I teach grade 1-9 I had to introduce coding with many different apps. For my primary students I started with Kodable.

Kodable was a simple but fun way to introduce coding concepts to young students. I didn’t explain to the students how to play. I wanted them to enjoy the experience without knowing they were actually learning computer science. 

Scratch Jr. 

The next step was to formally introduce coding to my students and Scratch Jr. was the perfect app to start with. The Scratch Jr. website offers some great curriculum resources to get you started. http://www.scratchjr.org/teach.html I began by walking students through the basics of the app. I showed them how to add and edit characters and backgrounds. Next, I introduced the coding blocks. Each class I introduced more and more blocks. In the end the students created a story based on the storybook we were reading at that time. Scratch Jr. was a great introduction to coding. It didn’t take long for my students to master it and push the app to its limits. 


The next logical step was to introduce Hopscotch. Hopscotch uses a similar blocky coding format as Scratch Jr. however is it more advanced. Hopscotch offers numerous in app tutorials for students to follow to create games, 3D puzzles, shapes and many other exciting projects with coding. 

We started by creating different shapes. My students were quick to figure out the different shapes because of their strong math skills. As you can see from the above photo, they combined the different shapes to create a house. Once they were comfortable with shapes I challenged them to add a background and other objects to complete a picture. 

After a few classes, students moved on to the game tutorials. I was surprised how quickly and easily they completed the games, even though my students do not speak English as their first language. I only needed to assist them with finding emojis on the iPad keyboards. With their games completed I challenged them once again to upgrade their games by adding more advanced features from games that their classmates created. This was also a great way for students to teach each other. For example, students who completed the geometry dash game taught other students how to add a running score to their games. Once their games were completed students published their games so their classmates could could play them.

Coding Journals 

  My students write weekly journals and reading logs to build writing skills. To document our coding projects I wanted to create a coding journal. However, a paper notebook would not be suitable for this kind of project. A few colleagues Paul Hamilton and Richard Wells suggested I use Book Creator. My students were familiar with the Book Creator app and it would be very easy to add photos and videos of their creations. After adding photos of the code and creations I asked students to write about the process and challenges they faced when learning to code. My younger students needed more assitance with grammar and sentence, however, I was very happy with their journals. 


What’s Next

Our coding summer is not quite over yet. My plan is to finish with Sphero. My plan was to use the Tickle App because of its similarity to Hopscotch. However, Sphero Ed just released a simplified version of their MacroLab. In the fall I’m planning on introducing students to MinecraftEdu: Computercraft and Learntomod. 


    Movie Making with Minecraft PE in the Classroom


    Making Movies in the Classroom 


           Making movies is a great way for my EFL students to practice their writing and speaking. However, as the students reach the upper elementary and middle school grades they shy away from showing their faces on screen. To remedy this problem I started using Minecraft PE (MCPE) instead of live action movies. All of my students, no matter their age, love Minecraft. So when I asked them if they wanted to make a movie using MCPE they were pretty excited.

    Script Writing

    We started with the script. With my primary classes we wrote the script together using the iPad app Celtx. Celtx is a fantastic and simple app for writing, screen plays, podcasts, and even TV commercials. With my upper elementary students we used Google Docs to create the script.

         Once the scripts were completed we began practicing. It is a challenge to teach expression and emotion to Korean students. To help, I showed them a few videos of the making of Frozen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SET0DeKtHkc


        After practicing and revising the script we proceeded to create storyboards for the movie. In the beginning we used just simple paper and pencils. However, when Paper 53 for the iPad came out it was our go to app for storyboarding. To help my students understand about storyboarding we watched the kids from Animation Chefs explain storyboarding for stop motion. Even though we weren’t creating a stop motion movie the kids on the site did a fantastic job explaining how to create a storyboard for a movie.

    Set Building and Filming 



         The final step before filming was to create the setting. To save time I imported buildings from PC Minecraft into our MCPE world. This was very simple using a few programs on my Macbook. However, when Minecraft PE was updated to version 0.10.0, and IOS updated to version 8, it is not possible to import worlds or structures into MCPE on the iPad unless you use Pocket Mine. Because certain blocks and mobs are limited in pocketmine we often built scenes in both Pocketmine and regular MCPE. This allowed us to film monster fight scenes.

    With the scripts printed and practiced we began filming. I used Reflector and Screen-Cast-Omatic to record the screen cast of my iPad. I would act as the camera. One tip here would be to turn off the GUI on the iPad to hide the D-Pad and items. It’s a little tricky to move around but it gives you a nice clear picture.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9zv2Idm2r4 (trailer)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wi8cEwF88Ho (Full Movie)

    Experimenting and Having Fun

    We began experimenting with filming techniques such as green screen and camera angles. Also, we used a lot of different apps to add special effects to our movies. Here are a few apps that we’ve used and how we incorporated them into our movies.


    Toontastic is the best cartoon creating app on the App store. I use it a lot with my primary students for story telling activities. Toontastic has some fun and cool special effects, like rain, snow, bombs and much more. With the use of a green screen (More on this later for minecraft) we added these special effects to our Minecraft movies.

    Green Screen by DoInk

    There are a few green screen apps on the app store, however, Green Screen by DoInk is by far the best. We use it all the time for any live action videos we produce in class. Using green screen in Minecraft was a really easy. All we did was create a background with either green wool blocks or blue wool blocks. Once we’ve completed filming students could easily edit the videos in the Green Screen app and add any background or video they wanted.

    Super Power Fx by Kuju

    One of our Live Action/Minecraft movies was about superheroes. This app was perfect for giving each student super abilities. There maybe a way to incorporate the app into Minecraft but we haven’t experimented with that just yet.


    X-Mirage is a screen mirroring and recording app for the Mac. I was able to pick it up for free during a sale on Cult of Mac. What I like about the app is that it allows students to mirror their iPads to my Macbook and it allows me to record their screen. I have a 15 inch Macbook Pro, so I was able to mirror and record 3 iPads at once. This allowed us to use multiple camera angles.

    Green-screening in Minecraft PE




    Creating your own green screen in MCPE is very simple. All you need is some green wool or green emeralds as a background and you are all set. We even experimented with green windows in vehicles to simulate moving. In the photo above we used a blue screen to simulate a large forest.

    Overall the experience has been very positive for me and my students. Students learned a lot about how to create a movie and spent a lot of time practicing key English skills. This summer vacation we will be working on coding skills. I look forward to sharing our experiences!