Sphero: The rolling robot that’s teaching autistic students coding, new social skills, and spelling

Connected toy manufacturer Sphero is getting ready to launch a new version of its titular connected toy and has a revamped companion app to go with it. Referred to as SPRK+, the upgraded robot ball is now scratch-proof, shock resistant, and watertight. More importantly, the improved version of the Lightning Lab companion app now includes over 150 new lessons and exercises to help teach kids coding fundamentals.  It also gives teachers and students the ability to share their Lightning Lab activities and programs with one another.

While Sphero may look and feel like a toy, under its cute plastic shell is a programmable mind designed to teach coding fundamentals. Through Lightning Lab, kids are able to learn coding skills (such as loops and if then else statements), which will then have an effect on Sphero's real world behaviour (changing colour, moving in different directions, or changing acceleration for example). 

One man who's pretty excited by the launch is Craig Smith, Deputy Principal of the Aspect Hunter School for Children with Autism in Newcastle. Smith has been kitting out students with the rolling robot since Sphero has been available in Australia to help develop their emotional and social intelligence.

"Our focus is very much on building up emotional and social intelligence of our kids," Smith told CyberShack. "They're a bunch of little engineers and hackers, but their emotional and social skills need a lot of work. We do the regular academic programs that all of the other schools do, but we have to think of innovative ways to keep kids engaged."

"Our kids are very visual a lot of what they process is based on what they see. We need hands on, concrete ways of helping them learning. When teachers are just talking at the class, or using auditory cues, our kids really struggle."

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