“Curiouser and curiouser!” ~ Alice In Wonderland

In what ways would you teach an LfU-based activity to explore a concept in math or science? Draw on LfU and My World scholarship to support your pedagogical directions. Given its social and cognitive affordances, extend discussion by describing how the activity and roles of the teacher and students are aligned with LfU principles.

I would teach an LfU-based activity using either Spheros (or Lego EV3 Mindstorms) in middle school classrooms to explore a variety of concepts in mathematics.

Learning For Understanding is a theoretical framework that is based on 4 principles: (a) knowledge construction is incremental in nature, (b) learning is goal directed, (c) knowledge is situated, and (d) procedural knowledge needs to support knowledge construction (Edelson, 2001).

It is very important that when we are teaching students, we link what students already know with new knowledge coming in. This is based on a constructivist theory of learning.

Robots are very exciting for students; most have a natural curiosity when they see them zooming down the halls. While not the exact motivation that Edelson (2011) was referring to, the design of these robots (colour/shape/size/sounds/versatility/etc.) provides an incentive with which to engage students. When I design a series of lessons with Sphero, I am working from an ADST lens and there is not one mathematical concept that I focus on. Due to the nature of Sphero and the challenges that can be designed (or that the students design), there are or can be so many concepts at play. Mathematical concepts such as distance, degrees, sequencing, math operators, variables, geometry, etc. are all part of its toolkit!

The initial experiences with Sphero allow for students to participate in goal-directed tasks to help them build up their skill toolkit. This addresses the incremental in nature aspect of LfU (Edelson, 2001). Figuring out how to first orientate Sphero and then use the block based coding Sphero Edu App (formerly Lightning Lab – though there are many others out there). Students are asked to solve some basic challenges – complete a square (and then a square with sharp corners as opposed to rounded corners) where they use background knowledge about angles, length, perimeter to complete this challenge (goal-directed). They are then asked to add visual appeal (code colour changes throughout) and an interesting element (some students add sound effects, others change the speed/duration on one side of the square for example). Sphero sees the world in 360 so students have to visualize the basics – 0 for forward roll, 90 for right turn, 180 move back, and 270 to go left to complete the square.

Adding onto their existing and newfound knowledge students are then ask to design solutions to a variety of “challenges” – ideally challenges that students have created.


I am interested in learning further about Learning For Use and exploring how it can be applied in math and science classes throughout my middle school.


Grade 6 ADST Big Ideas (BC Ministry of Education, 2015a):

– Design can be responsive to identified needs

– Complex tasks require the acquisition of additional skills

– complex tasks may require multiple tools and technologies


Grade 6 Math – Curricular Competencies (BC Ministry of Education, 2015b):

Reasoning and Applying

– Use logic and patterns to solve puzzles and play games

– Use reasoning and logic to explore, analyze, and apply mathematical ideas

– Estimate reasonably

– Demonstrate and apply mental math strategies

– Use tools or technology to explore and create patterns and relationships, and

test conjectures

– Model mathematics in contextualized experiences (i.e. programming)



BC Ministry of Education (2015a). Retrieved from https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/curriculum/adst/6

BC Ministry of Education (2015b). Retrieved from https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/curriculum/mathematics/6

Edelson, D.C. (2001). Learning-for-use: A framework for the design of technology-supported inquiry activities. Journal of Research in Science Teaching,38(3), 355-385. http://ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1002/1098-2736(200103)38:3<355::aid-tea1010>3.0.CO;2-M


  1. Hi Natalie. Love this idea. I have also found that Sphero’s elicit curiosity for passerby’s. When I am using Sphero’s with my students, many students and teachers who are walking the halls will stop to look and ask questions. Students want to be able to program the robot to move, and this definitely becomes a great way to show why math concepts and skills are important, and how they are used outside of the classroom. My grade 2 students have a strong understanding of angles, decimals, and estimation because of play-based learning. I am excited for them to learn these mathematical concepts in greater detail with Sphero’s as a building block in their learning.

    1. Don’t you love the reaction of students and teachers (and parents who come into the building)?? It makes everyone’s day. The other bonus is when you ask students to reflect on the mathematical components they were using, at first they are a bit hesitant, and then…this and this and this and ….

      Students who don’t typically do well on a math worksheet seem to exhibit conceptual understanding when they are asked to explain and apply the math using Sphero (or our Lego Mindstorms). That has been a real eye-opener with their teachers who are not necessarily comfortable with using the “robots” – seeing their students in a new light – and they want to learn too!

  2. Hi Natalie,

    I love how versatile Spheros can be in the classroom. In terms of the LfU framework, they are absolutely the tool to use to construct knowledge about spatial understanding and coding. I like that you add “students are then ask to design solutions to a variety of “challenges” – ideally challenges that students have created”. Building on their own understanding, they can take part in collaborative refinement of knowledge as they work their way through other students’ challenges. This becomes an opportunity for both parties to take a look at how the challenge can be shaped or changed based on new knowledge as it is applied.

  3. Wow. Have I been living under a rock. I had no idea what Spheros were until I google’d it. Very cool and I really like the applicability to constructivist learning theories. Is this something that students purchase on their own? Or does the school provide them? How many would you typically have for a class of 25-30 students?

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