Sphero ball rolling along street lined with lego house in the background & picket fence with text

Sphero City Activity

Design and construct your tactile city and then navigate the Sphero robotic ball to various destinations!

The original Sphero City activity by SpheroEDU, encourages students to either design an original Sphero City or to design a city from history. As an O&M, I expanded this activity to mirror my student’s hometown and to build O&M skills based on the local city/town.

Most of the common Sphero city-type classroom activities use either a purchased 2D illustrated large map or students draw their own city on large rolls of craft paper. Unfortunately, for students who are visually impaired, these flat images are not accessible. This unique SperoEDU City, uses real, 3D objects to create the city, making it accessible for everyone!

Objects for Tactile Sphero City 

When designing your Sphero City – especially if recreating your local city – make a list of businesses that you want to include in your city. Think of real 3-dimensional items that can be used to represent these businesses. These 3D items need to be at least 4-5 inches wide and have depth and height; pick items that will not fall over. Smaller items may be placed on top of a box or upside down plastic bin. If desired, take pictures of the acutal buildings or print off pictures from the Internet; add these pictures to the box or plastic bins. Be sure to add print and braille labels. Use your imagination! Encourage students to bring in objects to represent various businesses. Examples:

Note: You do not have to include every business. You can use small boxes (shoe boxes work well!) or plastic bins as anonymous buildings or place holders. You can also use “fences” made out of tongue depressers or simply a line of Solo cups. To leave open areas (parks, empty lots, parking lots, etc.) line the streets with pool noodles to differentiate between the street and the empty space. (Pool noodles can be cut in half and taped down if desired.)

Creating a Tactile Sphero City

Following the Engineering Design Process, have students design their city by drawing the city. For students with visual impairments, a quick tactile drawing can be created using a Sensational Blackboard. The Sensational Blackboard uses standard paper and ballpoint pen; other products such as the Sewell E-Z Write N Draw kit or APH’s Tactile Graphics Kit require tin foil or mylar/plastic sheets and a stylus. Tactile materials such as a variety of foam stickers shapes, wikki sticks, etc. can also be used to create simple tactile drawings of the Sphero City.

Typically, the Sphero City is designed by a group of students. When a low vision or blind student is involved, it is critical that the student has access to the diagram and if possible, to the course itself. Teammates should create an tactile drawing. If another team has designed a course, the student should advocate for accessibility by asking a peer to quickly create a tactile drawing of the course.

Note: I strongly recommend that academic blind students have their own personal Sensational Blackboard to carry in their backpack; any peer, educator or family member can quickly sketch out that math problem/diagram or create an on-the-fly map.

The Sphero City Design video below by SpheroEDU is visual only. In this video, the student quickly draws a simple long road with a left turn, short street, and quick right turn and short street. Rectangles representing buildings line the road. Three buildings are labeled: bank, toy store and library. Then the student makes a list of materials to gather: Duplo Legos, piggy bank, Cubebot, stapler, tape dispenser, and books.

O&M Modification

Determine the size of your Sphero City (3×3 blocks, a T-intersection or in the case of the example city, a zig-zag street) and then select a local small business area. Look for an area that has several of the specific businesses that you want to include in your Sphero City. If possible, travel and learn that area during O&M lessons or with family members. If necessary, create a simple tactile map of the area. Be sure to discuss street names! When creating your Sphero City, add street signs by taking a large paper clip (binder clip) upright holding a print/braille name of the street. Place the clip off the road at the edge of the city where the Sphero will not bump into it. Be sure to tape the clip down so students who are tactually exploring the city do not accidently knock it over.

Index card with

Create Game Play Scenarios

With the Engineering Design Process, typically the scenario is tied to solving a humanitarian or social problem, such as delivering medical supplies to an area hit by a hurricane (See Hurricane Dorian obstacle course post).  With the O&M version of a local Sphero City, the scenario might include converting your Sphero into a “drone” that can carry small items and developing Amazon delivery routes for the drone. Or, create a simple “drone” Pizza delivery robot and determine routes from the local Pizza place to various locations in the city.

Code the Sphero

Once the starting location and destination are determined (and any stops along the way), the next challenge is to determine the Sphero’s path and take measures of distances and turns/angles. Using this data, write step-by-step instructions and then use the QR code blocks from SAS CodeSnaps App to write the code. (See CodeSnaps Activity Part 2 post.) 

In this SpheroCity video (which is also only visual) the Sphero City is the tactile version representing the drawing created in the previous video. The road has been created by using upside down plastic bins and metal pencil holders, and other materials which line the street. The bank is a glass jar with pennies, the toy store/camera store is a camera placed on top of an upside down plastic bin (the size of shoe box) and the library is represented by a stack of books. In the video, the Sphero successfully travels the route by chunks, stopping as the Sphero completes each command.

Collage of building O & M skills with Sphero City

By Diane Brauner

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Inclusive Technologies switch toys: stuffed animals, race car, bubble machines, etc.

Switch adapted toys