Teaching Kids to Program with the Sphero SPRK+ Robot

There are a lot of robots available today that target grade school children with the intent of getting them excited about programming. Having worked in the past with low-level hardware (motors, switches, LCD Displays, and even thermal printers to name a few) it is really cool to see these kits simplify the pain I had to endure trying to wire up and troubleshoot components. These kits let you focus on the fun stuff right away. It is very gratifying once you get your program figured out and see it all working.

As part of a sponsored partnership with Best Buy, we tested out Sphero SPRK+ robot. The robot is a waterproof ball with no exposed components to damage. We started out by downloading their app onto an Android tablet. While it was downloading we set the robot on its charging cradle. The cradle is cool as it charges without physically plugging anything in (remember it is waterproof). The robot feels pretty solid and tough/durable. It has a clear body so you can see the motors and circuit board.

With the app installed we attempted to connect to the robot. We stumbled here as there are multiple robots that the app supports. Two of the robots listed visually look the same, but do have different names. After trying to connect for a whole day unsuccessfully we finally figured out that we were choosing the wrong robot! 

With that figured out the app and the robot were connected. Our first time in the app was also a bit confusing. After a while we finally kind of figured out how to walk through the program tutorials. Before we figured the tutorials out we tried driving the robot around manually using a joystick like user interface on the app. This was mildly satisfying, but proved hard to control. Because the robot is a ball it is easy to get disoriented. For example when you want to go straight ahead you might not be pushing up on the control as the ball/bot was facing a different direction causing it to go to your right. The kids however loved adjusting its LED light color hue. It has a color picker control that lets you set just about any color you want.

The robot really shines with its programming abilities. We walked through the first tutorial which had us program a path the robot should follow. When creating the program it gave us three ways to write the program: Draw with our finger, drag and drop function blocks, or write with a traditional programming language (Typescript). The drawing method was great for our kindergartner. The drag and drop method was well suited to our second grader. 

Finally, the programming via “text” method was advanced enough for me, but I found the drawing method the most fun and instantly gratifying. We simply used our finger to trace out a route the robot should follow and then hit start. A moment later the robot was following the path of a heart, a spiral, and a triangle from several different program runs.

To facilitate writing programs that would have the robot navigate a maze or around obstacles the robot kit came with a roll of tape (similar to a tape measure) that you can use to calculate distance. You would use this, for example, to tell the robot to roll forward 10 centimeters. A protractor was also included to aim the robot and assist in calculating turns. These tools would come in handy while in the classroom setting where we would ask the kids to think about the procedure or steps the robot should execute to navigate through and obstacle course. This kind of thinking will have them on their way to programming.

The Sphero SPRK+ strikes a good balance of fun and education. We had some fun with paint as the robot rolled through a puddle of green poster paint and proceeded to leave tracks all over the paper. If we had a pool I am sure we would have built the robot some water wings and zipped around. Overall once we figured out the app we really enjoyed using Sphero SPRK+.

Are your kids interested in learning how to program? 

If you are looking for a robot that’s perfect for teaching robotics and programming, Sphero SKRK+ is for you. This is a great STEM-based learning tool that kids 6-12 would love to get their hands on!

You can purchase Sphero SPRK+ at your local Best Buy or online at BestBuy.com

Squirt’s Kelp Forest Smoothie Recipe + Finding Dory Now On BluRay/DVD

squirts-kelp-forest-smoothie

Finding Dory picks up shortly after the original Finding Dory. As you can recall Dory suffers from short term memory loss which prevents her from remembering how she become alone in the ocean. Dory suddenly remembers a place from her childhood and sets off to find it with her new adopted family Marlin and Nemo.

Finding Dory Hank

This movie followed the classic sequel formula. It revisited memorable places, interacted with favorite characters, introduced new memorable characters, and added a new environment for the characters to conquer. The movie does a good job of telling an entertaining story and is a solid new adventure. If you enjoyed Finding Nemo you will enjoy this too.

My kids enjoyed the new character Hank the octopus. There was scene in a kids touch pool involving Hank and an ink release that my Daughter thought was funny. She also liked the use of sea shells to that served to guide Dory back home (used as a memory aide for Dory).

Finding Dory Destiny

Squirt’s Kelp Forest Smoothie

  • 1 1/2 cups coconut water
  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach
  • 1 ripe frozen banana
  • 1 pear, cored and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4-6 ice cubes
  • 2 fresh strawberries for garnish

Combine coconut water, baby spinach, frozen banana, pear and cinnamon in blender and process until smooth. 

Add ice cubes, as needed, blend until desired consistency is reached. 

Pour into two glasses and garnish with a fresh strawberry to resemble squirt’s red spots. Kids can help with this. Enjoy immediately! 

Print PDF of recipe here

Finding Dory Hank and Dory

Overall a solid family movie and one that will find a spot in your kids movie rotation. Plus it makes a great stocking stuffer!

Purchase it on Amazon through my affiliate link here: http://amzn.to/2fRdCLs

If you’re considering getting a pet, make sure to do your research! You can get help from this great resource here. And remember, while clown fish who resemble Nemo may be good pets with the proper set up, blue tang fish like Dory should not be purchased as pets

FINDING DORY is now on store shelves everywhere!

Marvel’s Doctor Strange Hits Theaters: A Dad’s Review

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As I waited in the theater for Dr. Strange to begin I heard someone behind me mussing out loud about his Marvel Universe knowledge. He was amped-up enough to shout out to those of us waiting “What was Dr. Strange’s full name?” I inferred two things; this guy was excited and at least one person in the audience knew the story that was about to be presented to us and what we were in for.

Dr. Steven Strange is medical doctor gifted with photographic memory and really steady hands. His specialty is working on the brain and spine. He lives the kind of nice plush life that being a highly sought after Doctor in a specialized field commands. After a major career setback that stops him from practicing medicine he seeks out non traditional healing methods. From here his transformation to a super hero begins and he must defeat a bad guy that once again thinks he is doing right by trying destroy life as we know it.

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Creating A Super Hero

By now you realize that the number of super heroes we have been introduced to has grown considerably. Dr. Strange the movie follows the same pattern of the Ant Man movie, a one off stand alone super hero movie that will tie into the Marvel Movie Universe in some way later. I am very impressed with the way these movies have all dove-tailed together. For a small example, in the city views of New York you can see the Avengers/Stark tower.

So far the new characters have been interesting and intriguing. Dr. Strange is no exception. His character grows and changes from the medical Doctor we are introduced to into the super hero he becomes at the end. I think it is safe to say that he is rather self centered and all about what is best for him and his career. By the end he has opened his eyes and sees that he must act for the greater good. The story is simple enough to follow and some complexity is added with mystery surrounding Dr. Strange’s mentor. This movie contains humor as is now a standard trait in these Marvel movies. It also has all the special effects we are used to seeing. When the credits roll, make sure to watch them for two extra scenes that setup future events.

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Heros and Villians

In the last movie I saw Benedict Cumberbatch in he was the villian, Khan, in Star Trek: Into The Darkness. As an actor he has a very striking persona. A deep voice and he is tall and slender. I find him a bit different. In the part of Dr. Strange he played it well and the characteristics probably help. 

Rachel McAdams character, Dr. Christine Palmer, was there to help setup the Dr. Strange character in the beginning and help out a little bit later. Really any actress could have done the part, but she was fine. 

The villian played by Mads Mikkelsen kept making me think back to his role in James Bond’s Casino Royal for some reason. No complaints with his performance here. 

Finally Dr. Strange’s associate Mordo, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, did a very good job with his role. I think the librarian, “Wong”, steals the scenes he is in.

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Thinking back over the movie that is rated PG-13, I don’t recall many (or any) bad words or excess blood and guts. I think a 10 year old or older would probably be okay to see this movie with parental guidance.

As we approach the holidays and will be enjoying some time off, if you have not already made it a priority to see Dr. Strange, you should pencil it in on your movie list. By the way his full name was “Dr. Steven Vincent Strange.”

Like DOCTOR STRANGE on Facebook | Follow DOCTOR STRANGE on Twitter 

Follow Marvel on Instagram | Visit the official DOCTOR STRANGE website

DOCTOR STRANGE is now playing in theatres everywhere!

Who will you be heading to the movies with to watch Doctor Strange?

Christmas Came Early: Star Wars The Force Awakens

Star Wars The Force Awakens

A Christmas gift delivered early, is what Star Wars The Force Awakens is and what a special treat it is! When this film was announced I felt a nervous excitement. Would it feel like Star Wars? Would the story be any good? Would the original cast be back? Well, that would be yes, yes, and yes. 

We start with the familiar Star Wars scroll to fill us in on with what has happened since Endor. Pieces of the Empire, now organized as the First Order, have carried on and continued to wage war with the Rebels, now called the Resistance. It is still good versus evil. And, of course, we have a Star Wars mystery on our hands. Luke has started a new Jedi Academy, but it has been disbanded when one of his students turns on him which drives Luke into hiding. We just don’t fully know the circumstances of this event yet and no one knows exactly where he is. The rest of movie revolves around both sides getting to Luke first. We meet two new young characters along the way who help with this quest. The first Rey, a scavenger on the planet Jakku and Finn a former stormtrooper. Rae has an interesting backstory that has yet to be revealed I think. Finn provides some heart and is a character that is battling the urge to run versus standing up for something more. Finally, we have our bad guys Kylo Ren and General Hux guided by a mysterious figure named supreme leader Snoke who give good chase throughout the movie.

Star Wars The Force Awakens - Storm Trooper

This movie really felt like the Star Wars universe of episodes 4­-6. It had a lot of creatures and droids that appeared to be very well done puppets and it had the signature “lived in feel” that Star Wars pioneered. The imagery on Jakku was amazing with the backdrop of the decaying war machine relics of a battle between the Empire and the Rebels. Throughout the movie, we are treated to mementos of the previous films. I was also pleasantly surprised by some of the humor mixed in.

I enjoyed seeing the original cast’s presence in the film. The roles they were given were a satisfying bridge between the old trilogy and this new one. The new characters were engaging enough and as a member of the audience felt vested them. The story is not overly complex and easy to understand as opposed to some of the prequels. For the most part, I was able to suspend my belief as the story unfolds. After a first viewing (I plan to see this one more time in the theater) I put this at 2nd or 3rd place in the series behind Empire Strikes Back, my personal favorite, and A New Hope.

Star Wars The Force Awakens - Dark Side

With the marketing machine going strong in the toy aisles across America your kids probably know about this movie. So should you take them to see it? The movie is rated PG­13 and it gets that from what I can tell is all the blaster fire and storm troopers dying. There was a scene or two with some blood. The language seemed to be okay with no swear words that I could recall. I would recommend 7 years and older.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS arrives in theaters everywhere on December 18th!

Planning to wait in line to watch the movie? Print out this Star Wars Activity Packet to make the wait more fun!

Are you heading to the theaters this weekend to see The Force Awakens?

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Date Night OR Family Night?

Avengers Age Of Ultron

It is time for the big summer movies and Avengers: Age of Ultron does not dissappoint, so grab your favorite date or huge Marvel comic fan and sit down for entertaining 2 and 1/2 hour adventure.

This movie is a good blend of fast paced action, humor, and special effects. The premise is that Ultron was created by Tony Stark (Iron Man) assisted by Bruce Banner (the Hulk) to protect the world from bad guys thus making the Avenger’s jobs easier or not needed. Like only a computer mind can do it figures out the best way to protect imperfect humans is for them to evolve.

Marvel's Avengers: Age Of Ultron..Conceptual Artwork..?Marvel 2015

Unfortunately Ultron’s plans to spur a new race of humans is a global cleansing of the existing gene pool. So our heros cross the globe hunting down the robotic villian Ultron who is assisted by two twins that have been inhanced with special powers and his many robotic copies.

Its enjoyable when a movie’s characters have a good repore on sceen. These scenes lend themselves to some good humorous moments, like when each hero takes a turn attempting to lift’s Thor’s hammer and his reaction when it budges. Further the movie avoids some of the cookie cutter patterns when the movie sets up one of heros as a family man we are not subjected to watching him sacrifice himself later. The character of Ultron is very interesting on screen and his vocal work was very well done.

Avengers Age Of Ultron Thor and Captain America

This movie is a fun one to share with a date. You will both laugh and enjoy the action. If bringing children the movie was rated PG-13, so it is most likely too intense, in my opinion, for anyone under 10 years old. It also has a little profanity that some parents may not care to have their children hear.

Also? Stay until after the credits… you’ll thank me later!

Check this clip for a great sneak peek:

Will you be seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron this weekend? Already saw it? What did you think?

This post written by my husband, Joseph Simmons.



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