ISTE Update: Loveable Sparky from Lakeland Schools

Posted by Matt Berringer on June 25, 2013

SparkyJudy Toledano—a sixth-grade science teacher at Lakeland Copper Beech Middle School, New York—and her team of sixth- through 12th-grade students presented at the 2013 ISTE Student Showcase. All of them are truly remarkable—actively engaging ISTE participants with their work, capably answering questions … and introducing everyone to their bug-like robot, Sparky.

Sparky is not your ordinary, straight-out-of-a-kit robot. He was actually built from scratch—with wires, memory chips, and sensors that allow him to roam, have spatial awareness, sense light, and use solar energy to recharge. The group’s first Sparky met ISTE participants in San Diego. Their goal for this year’s model was to design the robot to be “sleeker, smaller, cheaper to make, and more creative in terms of physical appearance.”

In describing their collaborative work, Toledano wrote, “We are interested in how robots and humans will interact in the future. We based our research on the concept of Conway's Game of Life simulation, which shows how civilizations interact (or don’t interact) with each other. By making several individual versions of Sparky 2.0, we will use randomness to demonstrate how real life situations unfold.

“Our goal is to work with middle and high school students to build many new Sparky robots. Each will be enhanced with the ability, through sensors, to detect others, move around, and actually communicate with each other. We are even hoping to give rudimentary facial features using LEDs. When allowed to roam free, the hope is that each Sparky will seek out its counterparts. At this point, the idea of interaction and sociology comes into play. Will the robots communicate? Will they join together? Will they remain alone, away from the group? Why does this happen, and what are the consequence of these connections or isolations?

“Using our observations, we hope to make hypotheses and conclusions about human behavior, such as group dynamics, peer pressure, social influences, probability events like voting, and crowd control. The hope is that students will see the interactions of the machines and identify real-life situations that will lead to meaningful discussions of the world around them.”

While SunGard K-12 is certainly enamored with Sparky, we are even more enamored with these remarkable students and their inspirational teacher. We can understand why some of these students have now been collaborating with Toledano for five years. And, we are grateful for programs like these, as we believe they will inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and quite possibly SunGard K-12 Education software developers.

For more information about Sparky, including lesson plans, equipment lists, and other resources—visit THIS LINK.

Topics: technology, education, 21st-Century Learner, K-12