TPCK and Spheros

This is the first time I have encountered these acronyms, but have found them very useful when assessing my own teaching philosophy and practice. I see Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) as “the how”, “the why” and “the what” of teaching. How and why we go about teaching our students. The best practices to foster engagement and the strategies we use to work alongside our students. The “what” is the content (C) – the curriculum that students are to learn. The addition of T for technological knowledge (TPCK) are the additional tools that we use in conjunction with our pedagogy to facilitate the delivery of content. Mishra and Koehler (2006) point out that how this technological knowledge is used is important. Technology should not be there just for the sake of having technology, but should serve a meaningful purpose.

An example of TPCK in my teaching was the design and construction of the Sphero Olympics. This combined the basics of block coding in Lightning Lab for the Spheros in order to compete, and the engineering challenge of creating events (and equipment) for the Olympics. Students were given the opportunity to just explore Sphero, driving it around like a remote control car. It was interesting to see how quickly they became interested in the “coding” aspect. When they noticed the shared forums on the App they became interested in what they could “do” with Sphero. From there students brainstormed the type of events that Sphero might participate in. Swimming. Track (including relays). Wrestling. Long jump (complete with sand pit). Dance (they got creative). Archery. Students were grouped into events and created the competition space and any equipment needed. For example, the construction of the ramp for the long jump with scraps from the woodwork exploration. When this was complete, students were given the opportunity to move from one venue to another participating in dry runs of each of the activities. Some were timed, others a goal needed to be met. The students programed their Spheros for each event (except wrestling – they got to knock their wrestlers off the mat) and the competition was on!

It was a bit messier (!) and took longer than I anticipated  and some events ended earlier than others, but students were thrilled to have the opportunity to explore different features of the program and create other challenges while they waited. At the closing ceremonies students reflected on their learning – the successes and challenges – and suggested new events that the next rotation of students could participate in. I had many reasons “why” I chose to incorporate technology into this design challenge. One of the most important was that it brought together a very diverse group of students (many with written output challenges) and leveled the playing field for them. Students could shine in their own areas and took leadership roles with their peers who were struggling and didn’t understand how to do something (figure out some of the programming for example). It wasn’t perfect, but a great start.

References

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. The Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054

9 comments

  1. I love it. What a great integration of coding. I really like how it provided an opportunity for each child to shine. It certainly sounds like your students were captivated and very motivated by the task. Well done. I wonder if you feel the extra time was a problem or was the extra time balanced with extra learning? Would you do this activity again next year? I am interested in adding sphero’s into my room as a centre activity so I love hearing about your success with it. Sarah

    1. Hi Sarah,

      I really believe the extra time was worth it! I won’t be doing this activity next year myself (my new role is VP) but will be working alongside our teachers to implement activities such as this (and hopefully others). I highly recommend Spheros. They are very easy to use, pair well with tech and offer a lot of options.

  2. Thanks for sharing that, Natalie, I’d never heard of Sphero before. How totally cool! Watched a few videos about its use and I like the combination of play and programming, and the Olympics is a great idea for encouraging kids to engage in design. I love that in practice it was messy even though the idea was organized–do you think that it is a good sign that it was an authentic, real-world problem? Finishing with a meta-cognitive exercise is also great practice and a key component of effective project learning. I want my kids to be in your class!

    1. Thanks! Honestly it is a lot of work (and I have very patient neighbour classroom teachers) but a lot of fun. I highly recommend Spheros – very versatile for all ages – my two kids (grade 1 and 5) have them at home and love them.

  3. That is awesome! I love projects that require that much design and collaboration. My kids do Sphero bowling with those large plastic pins. I find the perseverance with experimentation required to code the movements is much better than in Scratch with certain kids which makes it a great entry into the concepts. When I first got one it seemed just like a Bluetooth remote-controlled car. However, the Lightning Lab app is great and provides many ways to explore time, speed, distance, angles, etc. I have found a lot of good activities on https://edu.sphero.com/.

    1. Hi Derek,

      I ALWAYS let the kids “play” with it first – to get it out of their system 🙂 They do grow tired of it and interested in what it can do. Showing students a variety of videos of Sphero’s capabilities (line dancing for instance) and kids are hooked!

  4. This is such a cool idea! I am definitely going to borrow this next year. What a great way to use design thinking, combined with coding and collaboration. I think this is great, ” One of the most important was that it brought together a very diverse group of students (many with written output challenges) and leveled the playing field for them. Students could shine in their own areas and took leadership roles with their peers who were struggling and didn’t understand how to do something (figure out some of the programming for example). It wasn’t perfect, but a great start.” I absolutely agree with you. Technology often provides an opportunity for students to share skills that aren’t always recognized in traditional curricula. My students with LD’s in Math, Writing, and Reading look forward to using technology because they share their creative and critical thinking skills in a way that empowers them. Thank you for sharing! Do you have any photos or videos to attach? I would love to see this in action.

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