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IN SESSION: Suffolk students learn coding with robotics

Students in Suffolk are sharpening their STEM skills and learning coding with robotic devices known as Spheros.

SUFFOLK, Va. — It seems like computers are controlling more and more of our lives, so it would make sense for us to learn how to control computers.

That’s exactly what’s happening at Nansemond Parkway Elementary School in Suffolk.

The school last summer purchased several Sphero robots to help teach students how to code.

“These are spherical robots that they change direction, they have to change sounds, colors, they create games with them, and pretty much they have a pretty good time," said Librarian Tosha Penkrot. 

The students use mathematics to program the Sphero robot with a tablet. They can specify what action they want the robot to perform in real time.

“Spheros are based on angles, so if you want it to turn right, you have to tell it to turn 90 degrees," Penkrot said. "Today, they're writing a program to make the Sphero roll away, stop, change color, then roll back to the user, stop, change color and then make a sound."

Librarian Tosha Penkrot said the Spheros can help prepare students for the real world at a young age. 

"As teachers, we have to prepare them with 21st-century skills and not knowing 10 years from now what jobs will be available and what their careers will hold,” Penkrot said. 

In addition to sharpening their STEM skills, teachers say the program also teaches problem-solving as a team through cooperation, communication, and coding.

The fifth graders say it’s fun work.

"You know how coding is, you do the numbers and stuff like that everywhere, we're learning that,” said Thandiwe Phiri, a 5th-grade student. “What I like about it more is that you get to learn something new. You learn something."

All 16 middle and elementary schools in Suffolk recently purchased the Spheros. Teachers were trained over the summer.