Let me make one thing clear – Spheros are cool. They have amazing potential to be used creatively by educators and can make STEM education more engaging for learners.
With that being said, is anyone else starting to feel Sphero fatigue? At the MakerBus we follow a lot of different educators through platforms like Twitter and Instagram, and we also do a fair amount of travelling across North America to engage with educators. These programmable, semi-autonomous spherical robots have quickly become a ubiquitous part of school and library makerspaces. A quick search for the hashtag #sphero on Instagram brings up tens of thousands of posts from school and library makerspaces showing students creating interesting (but awfully similar) projects using Spheros.
And there’s plenty to like about Spheros from the perspective of an educator. The Sphero website has dozens of lessons plans covering topics ranging from coding, to math, to social studies, to art. There are also numerous books about incorporating Sphero into your classroom or makerspace. And a quick Google search brings up numerous consultants who offer teachers individualized Sphero training.
For us one of the most exciting aspects of the maker movement is its uniqueness and its locality. A great makerspace is an entirely unique mix of people and place. The people involved in the makerspace bring their individual passions, perspectives, and knowledge together in one place to create a unique expression of that community. You can find amazing food-focused makerspaces, you can find makerspaces that focus on sewing, you can find outstanding makerspaces that focus on large scale building and construction. Each of these makerspaces is a unique mix of people and place and evolves as members come and go.
The ubiquity of certain tools (like Sphero, but also littleBits, MaKey MaKey, and Scratch) can lead to the McDonald’s-ization of the maker movement in schools and libraries, creating generic “maker” experiences that are more or less the same everywhere you go.
Good news, however, it can be very easy to avoid creating a McMakerspace – you just need to trust your community. Whether you’re building a school, library, or community makerspace, once you turn to your community you’ll find an unlimited wealth of creativity and knowledge.
Turn to the people who believe in your makerspace and ask them to share things that they are passionate about. If you have passionate gardeners, offer programming about gardening. If you have passionate model airplane builders, create programming around that. And, if you have someone who is truly passionate about Spheros, then by all means, create the very best Sphero programming you can.
We don’t want makerspaces to ban Spheros, we just want to encourage makers to embrace and share the tools and ideas they are truly passionate about. The world is a much richer place when people share their authentic passions.
McDonalds can be satisfying, but the food isn’t made with love. A love for learning, sharing, and community should be the cornerstone of every makerspace.