Robot Extravaganza

Shannon Schreur-Klein April 30, 2016

I work at a larger branch within a county library system in Florida.  My branch is located next to a high school and a middle school in a very diverse, low-income area of the county.  Area teens don’t have a lot of access to high-tech devices outside of their smart phones and the technology at their schools.  I designed this program to add to our STEM programs and to give teens the opportunity to use robots and experience how fun coding can be.

In this program, teens will get the chance to work with two types of robots:  Spheros and Ozobots.  They can also use the Lightbot app on several devices.  All of these robots and apps help teach teens and tweens about coding in a fun, easy to grasp manner.  The Ozobots and Spheros can be adjusted for different age groups and difficulty levels, from kids all the way through adults.

Ozobot robots are very small robots on wheels with sensors on the bottom and lights on the top.  The sensors allow them to follow black lines.  Additionally, they can follow blue, red, and green lines: arranging them in different ways tells the Ozobot to do things like dance, turn left, or change the color of its lights. Ozobots can be low-tech or high-tech: teens can use butcher paper and draw lines with markers or use a device with Ozoblockly.  Ozoblockly is a coding tool that allows users to control the Ozobot with icon-based blocks.  It’s a simple introduction to coding, though Ozoblockly has 5 different levels and the advanced one is fairly complicated. 

Spheros are spherical robots that are controlled by iOS or Android devices that are Bluetooth-enabled.  Teens can create physical mazes using boxes, chairs, and other items for the robot to pass through, then use their device to steer the Sphero.  It becomes even more educational if you use the Sphero Macrolab app to create sets of instructions for the robot, which is another fun way to introduce coding to a younger audience. 

The Lightbot app is a puzzle game where you have to guide a robot across a set of tiles in a certain order, step by step.  Each level gets more complicated and adds new icons to control the robots.  Beating each level requires planning and testing the route you’ve created for the robot.  This reinforces the concept of coding and how computers need very specific, step-by-step instructions because they cannot make inferences.  Trial-and-error, procedural thinking, and planning ahead are necessary to complete this game and will teach teens important skills.

Type: Self-directed
Age: Middle school
Optimal size: 11-20
Estimated cost: $100+
Planning time: 2-5 hours
Frequency: One-time

Learning outcomes

The Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets for Adolescents are always on my mind when developing programs.  Some outcomes for this program include forming positive relationships with caring adults (our volunteers and librarians staffing the program), raising self-esteem (they are capable of doing coding!), and interpersonal competence (they work in groups on the robots and also need to share).  This program should show teens the library has a lot to offer and can be a “third space” besides home and school for teens to spend time in.  It gives teens a constructive use of time during the summer and the learning taking place can help prevent the “summer slide”.  This program could spur interest in coding and robotics, whether it’s pursued in formal classes or on their own time.  Families in my branch’s area of service are mostly low-income, so this program may be the only chance they have to get hands-on experience with robots.

Teens should leave the program with a basic understanding of the robots we used and the foundations of coding.  Attendees will also have gained troubleshooting skills, which include patience and perseverance.  Planning skills are necessary for completing the Lightbot app, as well.


Sphero robots can be purchased for about $100 each.  Ozobots are available on Amazon for $60 apiece with free shipping.  Both of these robots work well with 2-3 teens per robot, so the size of your program would depend on the number of robots you have.  My branch’s Friends group invested in 2 Ozobots for our branch, and our library system purchased several Ozobots and Spheros for use across the system.  I also got access to more robots and iPads through our regional library network.  This way my branch only had to purchase those 2 Ozobots for $120 total.  Keep in mind these can be re-used for many, many programs! It’s a good investment.  Make sure you get the Ozobit 2.0 because it’s compatible with Ozoblockly.  If you get the starter kit, you have to pay for an upgrade to use Ozoblockly.

To prepare for this program, you will have to pair each Sphero with an iOS or Android device and download the free Macrolab app on each device.  The Sphero comes with instructions, and the company’s website has more information as well.  Make sure the Spheros are fully charged and test things out ahead of time.  There are other free apps for Sphero you can download, like the zombie-themed Rolling Dead.  Some work better on iOS, others on Androids.

For the Ozobots you will need devices or laptops open to the Ozoblockly page at and the screen brightness will need to be at 100%.  Also bring along butcher paper, scissors, markers (black, red, green, and blue) and maybe pencils and scratch paper.  It isn’t necessary to buy the official Ozobot markers; regular markers work fine.  Using address labels to draw the blue, green, and red lines is great because then you can cut them to size, peel them off and stick them on right over the black lines.

The Lightbot just requires downloading the free app and making sure it works.

The main thing is to test everything ahead of time and play around with them so you have some experience.  You may need to troubleshoot during the program, but restarting usually fixes things.  If you don’t know how to do certain things on Ozoblockly, etc., it’s a great opportunity for teens and librarians to work together and learn something new!

I give the kids a basic run-down of how the robots work and then let them experiment on their own until they need a bit of help.  They picked it up very quickly and needed minimal assistance!

In the past I did separate programs for the Spheros and Ozobots, and also did separate programs for teens vs tweens.  It's gone very well.  This summer will be my first experience combining age groups and robots!


Perhaps the most important evaluation of this program is if the teens had fun!  One of my goals was to establish the library as a fun place that is more than just books.  Teens need to know the library has programs and other resources that are interesting and relevant to their lives and futures.  The attendees can spread the word, which will hopefully raise attendance in the future!

Talking to the teens and occasionally guiding them ensures positive interactions, another goal.  The teens need good interactions with library staff so they know the library is welcoming and that we are caring, responsible adults they can turn to besides parents and teachers.  Forming these relationships is a sign of a successful program.

A more formal way to evaluate is to record how far teens got on the Lightbot apps as well as what levels they’ve reached on Ozoblockly (novice, advanced, etc.) and Macrolab.  Looking at the codes they’ve designed and the end result of their mazes is a good method of informal observation.  Throughout the program, monitoring if teens were able to figure things out on their own through trial-and-error or with minimal guidance shows they are gaining problem-solving skills and guiding their own learning. Chatting with them afterwards also tells me if this has piqued their interest in robotics and coding, or at least gotten them some exposure. 

Other resources

The Ozobot website has instructions, troubleshooting guides, and tutorial videos.  They have challenges and lesson plans listed on their educational page at  They even have competitions at

More information on Spheros can be found on their website, including tutorials and troubleshooting guides.  Their lesson plans and challenges are at

I ran across this tutorial on Lightbot that also indicates how it relates to coding and programming skills:

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