CSDF Success: NRW’s Tammi Murtha uses Sphero bots to teach students about coding

At North Rose-Wolcott Middle School, the library isn’t always the most quiet place.

On some afternoons, students in an afterschool program called LIFT are excitedly gathered around each other as they work on their computers to code and drive Sphero robots around the carpeted room.

Their voices grow loud with excitement as they race the circular bots around the library, sometimes having to leap up from their seats to remove an obstacle or reposition their device.

“We have been experimenting and using Spheros, and giving students a chance to work with the fun tool and at the same time implement the New York State Computer science standards that are coming into place,” said Mrs. Tammi Murtha, NRW’s Library Media Specialist.

Mrs. Murtha is a member of the 2022-23 cohort of the Smart Start Grant Program. The Program is run jointly by EduTech at Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES and The University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education.

Each year, it provides a select number of K-8 teachers with a Professional Development opportunity (with a focus on either computer science or engineering) where they can be part of a network that discusses the New York State Computer Science and Digital Fluency Standards, shares ideas for classroom implementation and capitalizes on the mentorship and guidance of educators at the University of Rochester.

Through the Smart Start Grant, Mrs. Murtha was able to acquire a Sphero BOLT Power Pack for her district’s students. The students use the Sphero robots to learn about Block code and Java programming, and Mrs. Murtha said it has been a great way to get kids interested in coding at a basic level.

Mrs. Murtha said she heard about the Smart Start Grant Program from an email that was sent out to the District. Even though her role as a Library Media Specialist doesn’t necessarily mean her job centers around technology, she knew there would be great learning opportunities in a program like that — both for her and her students.

“As a new teacher and someone who is interested in Makerspace and STEAM opportunities for students as a way of learning,” she said, “I thought that would be a good way to learn something new and have a way of building in activities for things that I wanted to do with the library program.”

Mrs. Murtha has enjoyed seeing students ask to use the Sphero robots and get acquainted with the devices. And, to her delight, her students have been teaching her a few things about the technology along the way.

“As someone who is not as tech-savvy as you could be, I’m interested in giving students the opportunity so I’m willing to learn with them,” Mrs. Murtha said. “I’m a big believer in students teaching all of us and everyone learning together.”