Sphero Heads to the White House

Astronomy Night supports STEM Education

It’s not every day you get a call from the White House… so when we were invited to attend Astronomy Night, we were both thrilled and honored. Astronomy Night is an event celebrating science and technology while inspiring kids with the wonders of space. On October 19th, 2015 students, educators, astronomers, and engineers gathered on the South Lawn for an evening of stargazing and hands-on learning.

President Obama speaks at Astronomy Night at the White House 2015

The crowd cheered on President Barack Obama as he opened with his commitments to further the “Educate to Innovate” campaign with programs to encourage young students to pursue STEM education and inspire careers in Astronomy. The rest of the night was filled with exploring moon rocks, talking to astronauts, and walking on Mars with Oculus Rift technology. All the activities and exhibits featured at Astronomy Night can be found here.

In case you haven’t been following our recent Snapchat event stories, here’s a glimpse of what Astronomy Night was like.

The Sphero Solar System

When asked how Sphero could contribute, we immediately thought about the Sphero Solar System the third graders from Suamico Elementary shared with us on Twitter earlier this year. Remember building planetary mobiles back in the day? Oh, the days of Styrofoam and papier-mâché. This small town school in Green Bay, Wisconsin brought that old school lesson into the 21st century by challenging their students to program each planet’s orbit with their newly purchased Spheros.

Watch the video here.

Colter Hermsen, a 3rd grader in this class said, “It took time to figure out how fast they needed to go, where every planet needed to start and the distance between each planet.”

“I was Mercury, closest to the sun, it was hard because when I would program it, it would either get too close to the sun and hit it or it would go too far from it,” recalls student Sydney Klumb.

Students not only learned about the planets, but they were also challenged to design, test, and iterate on programs for their planet’s orbit using a block-based programming app. They also learned how to collaborate and self-organize among 8 groups for the full solar system. This is cross-curricular engaged learning at its finest.

For Astronomy Night, the Sphero team had to learn a few things too. We programmed nine Spheros (eight planets and the sun) to orbit autonomously using block-based programming in the SPRK mobile app. A loop-forever condition, set speed, and a spin function controlled the planet orbits to have relative speeds to the real planets and illuminated the White House lawn.

“These kids are going to walk into a workforce where they get out of high school with jobs that haven’t been invented yet, and so we need to help them learns skills that will allow them to be successful in a world that’s unknown,” Suamico’s Principal shared on local news coverage. Every idea can be tested and can lead to something incredible… they could end up taking you to the White House, or even to space.

Obama spoke about the planned manned mission to Mars in 2030, proposing that these students could be the astronauts traveling on those missions and engineering new technology to enhance our knowledge about space.

Many noteworthy leaders in science made appearances at White House Astronomy Night, including Bill Nye the Science Guy, Discovery’s MythBusters, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, and Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year old Texas boy who was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school that authorities said resembled a bomb.

Ahmed Mohamed exploring SPRK Edition and BB-8

Inspiring More Students to Study STEM and Astronomy

Real-world, hands-on experiences are the stepping stones to STEM success. Cross-curricular learning is powerful for knowledge retention, sparking imagination and gaining a deeper understanding of the material. All it takes is an activity like the Sphero Solar System to inspire young minds to become computer programmers, aerospace engineers, or astronauts.

What if Sphero went to space?

Press + Other Related Articles

Suamico science project gets White House’s attention
White House Astronomy Night: A Celebration of Science Technology, and Space
Looking to the Stars for Inspiration at White House Astronomy Night
FACT SHEET: At White House Astronomy Night, President Obama Announces New Private-Sector Commitments to Get Students Excited about Science and Space
Obama Greets Young Stargazers for White House Astronomy Night

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