Hour of Code, Part 2

For the second part of Hour of Code in Physics, students used the native Sphero language to program their SPRK+ through an “obstacle course” of their own design.  


3’ x 3’ square of white paper

Sphero SPRK+


Sphero Edu App

Blue painters tape

Terrain Park

Jump Ramps

Sphero Maze Tape


Sphero Block Language

The Sphero coding language is very much like Scratch.  Note: You can log into and edit your programs on your phone as well.  You cannot do it on your desktop.

Of importance to you for this activity are the following categories:

  • Movement (roll, stop, speed, heading, spin, raw motor, stabilization)
  • Light and Sound (Main LED, Sound, Speak, Fade, Strobe, Back LED)
  • Controls (Delay, Loop, Loop Forever, Loop Until, If Then, If Then Else, Exit Program)
  • Events (On Collision, On Land, On Freefall, On GyroMax, On Charging/Not Charging)

The Sphero language is tap, drag and drop.  From the block language, you can also get the JavaScript Code.

Steps to Success

While it is tempting to just start coding, planning your course and determining your code ahead of time will be very helpful.


  1. There is no right or wrong with this activity.  You are “right” if your code what you want it to do.  You are “wrong” if your code does not.
  2. You can have a “theme” if you so chose (i.e., “You’re watching Disney Channel”)
  3. If you need to work on this outside of class, please let me know in advance.
  4. Make sure you charge your SPRK+ and iPad at the end of every class.


By the end of class on Tuesday

  1. On a small piece of paper, sketch out the route for your SPRK+.  It should be to scale and it should include all obstacles and other events.
  2. Construct your obstacle course on the white paper.  
  3. Use Post Its to plot out what you need to code.  Using Post Its is helpful because you can move them around.  These two steps should be done before you start coding.

By the end of class on Thursday

  1. “Write” your code in your app.
  2. Begin testing your code.  Does your SPRK+ follow the route you want?

By the end of class on Monday

  1. Troubleshoot and finalize your code.

By the end of class on Wednesday

  1. Collect your data.

What To Turn In

  1. Screen capture of your program.  (Upload to Dropbox folder and Instagram)
  2. Overhead shot of your obstacle course.  (Upload to Dropbox folder and Instagram)
  3. Overhead video of your SPRK+ completing your course.  (Upload to Dropbox folder and Instagram)
  4. Your data (as a CSV file)  (Upload to Dropbox folder)
  5. Your JavaCode (copy and paste into a Google Doc and share it with me)

Make sure all of your documents are named:  17HPhysGroup#DocumentName.


Of Interest

I found it interesting to see how each section approached this activity.  One section focused on their obstacle course first, sketching it out and then figured out how to code it.  The other section started playing with functionality first and then developed an obstacle course based on their understanding of the functionality.


Sample Student Obstacle Course

One group based their course on the Disney Channel show, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody (which I renamed Zack and Coded).

Video of SPRK+


Sample Code

Where Do We Go From Here?

For many of the students in the class, they had no experience with coding.  So this set of activities gave them a solid introduction to coding.  And because these activities were done at the end of the semester and with no formal assessment, there was no stress for the students – they could simply just explore and “play.”

In two weeks, we’ll be heading down to the Apple Store for a workshop on coding with Swift.  This will set the stage for the final project for the course.  Stay tuned!




The Challenge of the Class Participation Grade/Course Evaluation

One  of the challenges I have as a teacher is assessing “class participation” for students.  I’ve tried a number of methodologies, including:

  1. A subjective assessment of up to 30 points, based on student’s participation in collaborative learning exercises (like whiteboarding) and labs.
  2. Scoring engagement with up to five points a day that included homework submitted/work submitted on time, actively engaged in class by raising your hand, etc.

Both of these approaches are subjective.  And the second one, I didnt find manageable at all.  I think I made it through about a month and that was the end of that.

In terms of the course evaluation, some teachers use a series of questions with a 1 to 5 scale.  I’ve tried a short survey with “what did you like about the class?”, “what were your challenges?”, and “what can I do to help you?”  These didn’t particularly work either.

This semester I decided to merge the two.

Approximately one month before the end of the semester, students receive the evaluation form as a Google Doc.  Separately, I made some notes about their strengths and weaknesses, along with other observations, and I gave them a generic “participation grade.”  That grade, totally subjective.

The evaluation questions were:

  1. What successes did you have in this class first semester?  Use three sentences or less.
  2. What strategies did you use to ensure success?  Use three sentences or less.
  3. In what areas were you challenged in this class?  Use three sentences or less.
  4. What strategies did you use to deal with those challenges?  Use three sentences or less.
  5. How can I assist you in either ensuring success or overcoming challenges second semester?  Use three sentences or less.
  6. What one project or class assignment from this semester are you most proud of or that resonated with you the most?  Use three sentences or less.
  7. Describe your work ethic outside the class.  Use three sentences or less.
  8. Describe your work ethic in class.  Use three sentences or less.
  9. Describe your ability to collaborate with your peers (both in class and out).  Use three sentences or less.
  10. Describe how your success in this class reflects your mastery of the material.  Use three sentences or less.
  11. What grade would you give yourself for student engagement this semester?   (Note: choices – 95, 90, 85, 80, etc).
  12. Justify your grade in less than three sentences.

Some interesting themes emerged.

  1. Almost without exception, the student’s view on their strengths and weaknesses matched my observations.
  2. Almost without exception, the student’s engagement grade matched my engagement grade for them.
  3. Students liked being given a voice in their “participation grade.”
  4. I gleaned a lot of information about what worked and what didn’t work in class.
  5. Students were evaluating my performance without realizing that was what they were doing.

Their evaluation score counted for 75% of their student engagement grade (5% of their semester grade) while my evaluation score counted for 25%.

The survey also gave me a lot of information in writing their end of the semester comments!

Hour of Code: Part 1

As part of Hour of Code this year, students in my Honors Physics class used the Sphero SPRK+ to tie together their study of motion from first semester.  They started with using the Sphero Edu App to simply draw tracks for the SPRK+ to follow and then look at both the data collected by the sensors and the JacaScript code produced.  (Note: In part 2, they will move onto using the native Sphero block language and then, during 2nd semester, will master Swift).

The students were given this information and this challenge.


The Sphero SPRK+ is a small, spherical robot that you can program through drawing, through the native Sphero programming language and through Swift, the Apple programming language.


The Sphero also collects the following data:


  • Location (cm)
  • Orientation (degrees)
  • Gyroscope (degrees/second)
  • Accelerometer (g)
  • Velocity (cm/sec)
  • Distance (cm)


In the first part of this activity, you will learn how to set up your Sphero as well as how to create a simple maze (and record data at the same time!).


Procedure: Connecting Your Sphero SPRK+

  1. The SPRK+ uses bluetooth to connect to the iPad.  You can also connect the SPRK+ to your phone as well.
  2. Open the Sphero Edu app on the iPad.
  3. Sign into your group’s Sphero EDU account.
  4. Connect your SPRK+ to your iPad by tapping Connect Robot
  5. Select the SPRK+.
  6. Bring your SPRK+ near the iPad.
  7. Tap on Programs and then tap + to create a new program.
  8. Tap on Draw and name your program appropriately.
  9. Sketch any generic shape, like a circle or square.  Tap Start and see what happens.  
  10. Clear this shape.
  11. Create any simple or advanced pattern you wish.  Remember, the greater the diameter, the wider the path.  So think carefully about the footprint of the SPRK+ you wish to create.
  12. Settle on a final design.  Run your SPRK+.
  13. Take an overhead video of the motion of the SPRK+.  Instagram it and send me the video separately.
  14. Screen capture your Sphero desktop and Air Drop it to me.


Your Sensor Data and the Code

  1. Tap on the 3 dots in the upper right corner.  Select Sensor Data.
  2. Look at your data.  What do you notice about the motion of the SPRK+ in the xy-plane?
  3. Tap Download  CSV data and air Drop it to me.
  4. Now tap JavaScript Code.
  5. Tap Copy Code and paste it into a Note.  Use // to add a comment with your group number at the top.  Air Drop the Note to me.

A short video



One of the Sketches

And some of the code


Honors Physics Final Project: ThunderGolf!

For my Honors Physics class this year, their final project was quite different.  Working in groups of three, students were required to design and construct a fully-functional miniature golf hole for our class miniature golf course, ThunderGolf!  The course was based on the TV show The Thundermans.  No surprise there!

Background Information Provided

Geometrically-shaped minigolf courses made of artificial materials (carpet) began to emerge during the early 20th century.  The earliest documented mention of such a course is in the June 8, 1912 edition of the Illustrated London News, which introduces a minigolf course called Gofstacle.

The first standardized minigolf courses to enter commercial mass-production were the Thistle Thu (This’ll Do) course, opened in 1916 in Pinehurst, North Carolina.  The game was revolutionized by Thomas McCulloch Fairbairn in 1922 with his formulation of a suitable artificial green – a mixture of cottonseed hulls, sand, oil, and dye.  With this discovery, miniature golf became accessible everywhere.  By the late 1920s, there were over 150 rooftop courses in New York City alone, and tens of thousands across the United States alone.  This American minigolf boom of the early 20th century came to an end during the economic depression of the late 1930s.  National Miniature Golf Day is celebrated in the United States on the second Saturday in May.

Your Assignment

Your group will design and construct one hole for the Marymount miniature golf course.


Specifics and Logistics

1. The hole must demonstrate three of the following concepts:
  • Motion in One Dimension
  • Newton’s Second Law of Motion
  • Conservation of Energy
  • Impulse and Momentum
  • Conservation of Momentum
  • Rotation
2. Each group will receive the following materials:

  • 5 foot x 5 foot wooden square (border for your hole, constructed for you by the maintenance department)
  • Tee
  • Test golf ball and club
  • Flag for your hole
  • Brown craft paper
3. The hole should be split into two parts.  The first part should be where you put the ball and putt it; the ball should then interact with something.  The ball should then leave this area of interaction and head to the hole.

4. Your final design must be tested and operational by Tuesday, May 23.  Your documentation and data analysis will be due during the final exam period.


Steps to Success
1. Select two physics concepts that the hole must address, as per the following list


Select one physics concept from the two options below.
Impulse and Momentum
Select one physics concept from the two options below.
Conservation of Energy
Conservation of Momentum
Select one physics concept from the two options below.
Newton’s Laws of Motion
2. Select the theme for the hole:
  • Splatburger
  • Hiddenville High
  • Max’s Lair
  • Wong’s Pizza Palace
  • Thundermans Living Room/Kitchen/Porch/Driveway
  • Metroburg
3. Select the hole number.  Use the map to determine its location in the Alumnae Parlor.
4. You have a budget of $50 for supplies.
Virtual Planning
1. In TinkerCad or Google Sketchup, create a virtual representation of the hole.
2. Start with a 5’ x 5’ square.
3. Remember that a game player will putt the ball, the ball must do something or interact with something, and then approach the hole.
4. Where you place the tee and where you place the hole is up to you.
5. You need to consider what that interaction will be.  The interact must demonstrate one (or more) of the physics concepts you selected.
6. For suggestions, go to Amazon.com and search for My Mini Golf.  You may not just buy parts.
7. You may also wish to research existing holes at existing minigolf courses and see how you could use those holes as a model for your own minigolf hole.
Physical Planning
1. The sketch for the hole is due by Friday, April 21.  Submit your sketch to Mr. Walters for review.  Indicate how the hole demonstrates the physics concepts you selected.
2. Once your sketch has been reviewed, you will need to determine which materials you need as well as their dimensions.
3. You should opt for wood (cheap wood works best) as opposed to cardboard.
4. You will need a motor (and learn how to program it) if something needs to rotate.
5. Submit your order by Monday, May 1.
Physical Design, Setup and Testing
1. Lay out the large butcher paper to form a 6’ x 6’ square.
2. Lay your 5’ x 5’ frame over the square and trace it out.
3. In the Idea Lab (or at home), construct the interactive part of the hole.
4. Once this part has been constructed, set up the frame and the interactive part.
5. Test, test, test!  Play the hole over and over again to see how many strokes it takes to get the ball in the hole.  In reality, a player should be able to get a hole in one.
6. Make any tweaks or improvements to your hole to improve game play.
7. Determine par for the hole.
You will document your work and design process on the project weebly you used for your design project.
1. Revisit your Weebly page from your Physics and Social Justice project.
2. Create a new home page with your team members first names and images that represent both your design project and your minigolf project.
3. Create a new page for your design project and include a brief description of your project, including a photo.
4. Move all of your original project pages to be sub-pages of your design project main page.
5. Create a new page for your miniature golf project.  Then create subpages for Concept; Physical Design; In Action; Video Analysis.
6. On each page include the following:
  • Concept: hole number, hole theme, physics concepts, Google SketchUp/Tinkercad sketch, explanation of how hole design demonstrates physics.
  • Physical Design: description of how hole was tested and improved, documentation of construction process.
  • In Action: photo of final hole, video of hole in action
  • Video Analysis: description of video analysis, conclusions


Photos and 360 Photos

You can find photos of the course and course design on SmugMug.

You can find 360 photos of the course on Theta360.

Links to the student’s documentation will be added in a separate post.

You can download the project here: Rubric


Mrs. Wong seemed to be a popular presence in several of the holes, mainly because she owned Wong’s Pizza Palace and she currently owns Splatburger.  We tweeted a photo of the Wong’s Pizza Palace hole to her – and she tweeted back!

Atmospheric Science: Superstorm Sandy Project

For their final project, students in my senior elective, Atmospheric Science, were given the following challenge:

“Your group will locate, design, fund and sponsor a memorial for the victims of Superstorm Sandy.  The goal will be for your memorial to be in place by October 29, 2017, the five year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy.”

The following designs were proposed:

The Wave, to be located in Breezy Point.  The memorial is comprised of 24 individual granite blocks, representing each state affected by Sandy.


The Reflective Garden, also to be located in Breezy Point.  The garden, located in Tilden Park, allows visitors the opportunity to think, reflect and remember.

The First Responders.  Located in Battery Park, the memorial champions the work of the first responders and focuses on “things we can’t control.”

Download the  Project Rubric.



Recap is a teacher App that “let’s teachers see how students learn.”

At the beginning of the year, I wanted each of my students to recap the key concepts, ideas, and problem-solving strategies learned during the week.  It was an ambitious goal for sure, but I soon learned a couple of things:

  1. Students were often just transcribing their notes, even if they were given directed questions to answer.
  2. They didn’t see much value in doing a weekly summary.
  3. I had trouble keeping up with evaluating their summaries.

Then I was introduced to Recap.

This free, beta service works cross-platform.  But what’s different about Recap is that the students are required to provide a video response to a question – and I can give that question either as a video or as a written statement.  I tested it out on one of their tests – I was hooked.

This semester, a student is assigned a weekly recap.  I assigned a recap:

Recap 1

For example, I may ask: “Explain how Newton’s Second Law for Rotation is a rotational analogue for Newton’s Second Law.”

I can then assign the Recap question to either the entire class or to one student in particular.


I can also select the maximum recording time – this is a great feature in ensuring students get to the point.  I can set the due date for up to two weeks in advance, as well as ask students to assess themselves. Do they really understand the question?  One might think students would always select “Got It!” But they are pretty honest in their assessment of their own understanding.

After the due date, I receive an email stating the recap is complete.  I can go in and watch it – and then add some comments under the video.


If I chose, I can share the video with the class.  I’ve debated having students peer review the videos, but haven’t decided to do that yet.


As we studied forces and wind in my senior elective, Atmospheric Science, I pondered an appropriate project for them.  As I sat on the tarmac at LAX last summer, I had the idea for the students to locate and site a new airport for an existing city.  This would require students to understand the concept of prevailing winds and how runway locations are determined by analyzing prevailing winds.

Didn’t think there was a website that explained orienting runways?  Yep, there is. NASA’s Virtual Skies website has a whole page on airport design!  Who knew?

Next, we needed to find prevailing wind data.  I wanted this data to be in the form of wind roses as the data is easier to analyze visually.  Didn’t think there was a website with historical wind roses?  Yep, there is.  Windhistory.com allows to select cities on a map and generate a wind rose for data for the last ten years or so.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 11.25.12 AM

Then the big challenge.  How would students represent the topography of their proposed airport location?  Google Earth gives a reasonable representation of topography.  I wanted them to 3D print the topography around their location but I found no easy way to accomplish this.  Until I found this little website, terrainator.com.  Developed by a gentleman in England, terrainator allows students to zoom into a specific location, select that location and then, from their selection, produce a STL file suitable for 3D printing.  You can either print it yourself (thats a 5 pound fee on Paypal) or you can have it print through Shapeways (thats a bit more in the pound department).

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 11.14.40 AM

You can also change the size of your 3D print as well as the amplification.  The 3D print of the UCLA campus was rather high resolution.  You could see the 405, Sunset and Wilshire.  You don’t get any buildings – just topography.  But what an awesome little website!