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This Is the Droid You’re Looking For

by Tina Hurlburt
 | Dec 04, 2015

BB 8 300pI grew up in the '80s. The [original] Star Wars movies were staples of my brothers’ and my childhoods. The news that Disney and LucasFilm would be releasing a new episode in December of this year has us rewatching all of the movies in marathon fashion, arguing about the best order in which to watch them (Big Bang Theory calls it the Machete Order), bemoaning the change in the re-released Return of The Jedi, and debating whether or not Jar Jar Binks was an asset or liability to Episode I.

Ever so slowly, word has trickled out about the new installment via leaked photos of the first table read, actor interviews, and finally, the official trailer, in which we catch an ever-so-fleeting glimpse at the newest droid to join the Star Wars family, the BB-8.

In the classroom

The BB-8 available for sale is an app-enabled droid, powered by Sphero and designed by the creature shop and puppeteer team on the set of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I purchased one for my students—a new one starts around $150 online—to see what its capabilities were as far as robotics and programming integration. We have not been disappointed.

Until now, much of our coding in class has taken the form of drag-and-drop blocks of code in Scratch to create projects or games, and some of the more advanced students have worked independently in Khan Academy, learning how to use HTML for web design and JavaScript for animation. The droid can be controlled using the Sphero BB-8 app, which allows users to drive, patrol, and message using any app-enabled device. Taking it one step further is the Tickle app, which expands the users’ powers to create programs that will run at the touch of a button. Students find it very similar to Scratch in the user interface, where coding takes the form of dragging and dropping blocks of JavaScript code.

Curriculum alignment

The one droid and device serve my technology classes, which can have up to 25 students in them. Small-group work and time management are critical. Multi-day experiments foster creative problem-solving and collaboration, communication and critical-thinking skills, tenets of 21st century learning. The BB-8 is age versatile and can be integrated into just about any subject or curriculum: robotics, Next Generation Science Standards, and STEM skills are the most obvious.

In education, motivation and ”the hook” to engage students come in varying formats, shapes, and sizes. In my class these days, it’s in the form of an adorable round app-powered droid.

Tina Hurlburt is a grade 5 and 6 technology teacher in Regional School District 13 in Connecticut. Her work includes teaching students the digital and media literacy skills they need to navigate the ever-changing technologies they are faced with every day, providing them with opportunities to try a variety of technologies and software.


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