SkillsBuild STEM Labs Part 2

littleBits & Sphero: Gatekeeper



In this activity, Bits from the littleBits STEAM+ Coding kit are used to create and test an automatic boom gate that is triggered to open when the Sphero robot approaches. 



Course/SkillsBuild for Student ModuleSkillsBuild Lab littleBits and Sphero Learning Plan


Topics: Coding


Length of class: Activities vary in time allotment, but most can easily accommodate a 40 minute class period.


Outcomes: What learners will be able to know, do, or value by the end of the lesson.

  • Students will understand how a boom gate operates.
  • Students will be able to construct a boom gate (using littleBits kit components) that lifts when an object approaches.
  • Students will be able to program the Sphero robot to move towards the boom gate, pause while the gate is raised, then proceed through the gate opening.
  • Students will analyze and evaluate strengths and weaknesses of a basic instruction set.


Workplace learning skills:


  • Collaboration
  • Analytical thinking

Required Learning Materials/ Resources:

  • Sphero Bolt robot
  • littleBits STEAM+ Coding kit
  • Full water bottle or another stabilizer for the boom gate
  • Laptop or mobile device

Learning Environment Needs:

Table space for the computer, workspace for the kit components, and space to set up the gate and robot path to move through it.

Prework for Educators

  • Prior lessons on using both the Sphero robot and littleBits components should be completed so students are familiar with their use before moving into an activity combining them.
  • Get to know the SERVO Bit (video): (53 sec)

Part 1: Activity

Start by having students read the following introductory read:


  • You’ve probably seen those long beams that move up and down to let people in and out of parking facilities or restricted areas. But do you know the history of the apparatus?   In the Middle Ages, tree logs were chained together and used as a floating barrier across European seaports to protect a harbor from attack or to force passing ships to stop and pay a toll. The Dutch word for tree is boom, so the log contraption became known as a boom gate. Today, boom gates are used for a variety of different safety and security measures. They can be either automatic or manually operated.


Next put students into pairs. Student pairs should be provided a STEAM+ Coding kit and retrieve the codeBit.


Student pairs will now build the boom gate:


  • Gather and assemble the required pieces from the littleBits STEAM+ Coding kit.
    • Create the first circuit following the short video (Get to know the SERVO Bit ) (p4 Power+ i8 proximity sensor+ o11 servo (set to turn mode).
    • Press the circuit onto the mounting board and connect the p4 power bit to the battery.
    • Attach the mechanical arm to the servo perpendicular to the mounting board.
    • Test out the circuit to make sure it works and to explore the circuit functionality. Turn the power Bit on and move a hand in front of the proximity sensor. Does the mechanical arm move up when the hand is in front of it?
    • Use the twist ties to attach the mounting board to a stable object, like a water bottle (Figure 1). Or use the Bit shoes to attach to a book or block. Hint: Remember that the proximity sensor must be at Sphero robot’s height. Students may also need to adjust the mechanical arm’s length to ensure that it does not hit the ground when moving down.


  Figure 1


  • Programming Sphero:
    • In the Sphero EDU app, create a new block program and program Sphero to navigate to the gate, stop and wait while the gate is raised, then move through the gate.
      • Run the program. When Sphero approaches the proximity sensor, the boom gate should open to let Sphero through. 
    • Analyze the outcome. Did the robot move as programmed? Students might need to refactor the program to speed up right before the robot goes through the gate or to get closer to the proximity sensor.   Did the boom gate operate as planned?
      • What changes to the gate configuration would need to be made to have the gate lower after the Sphero robot passes through?




Career Focus

Check for prior knowledge. Ask students questions like “What kinds of careers could involve electronics?” Have students read Mechanical Engineers: Salary, career path, job outlook, education and more.


(Optional) Students could also individually or in groups pick a career related to this area to further research. Ask them to complete this Career Research Graphic Organizer. If time allows, students can present their findings to the class. (optional)

Additional Resources/ Deeper Learning

Assessment/ Evaluation

Based on application, how I will I know learners have met intended outcome?

— KWHLAQ worksheet

— Teacher may wish to create a rubric for the activity

— Career Research Graphic Organizer

Summary/ conclusion

How will I bring lesson to an effective closing?


  • Check for understanding and answer any subsequent questions
  • Emphasize key information
  • Ask the question “What information did you learn that you think you will find important 3 years from now?”
  • Remind students that there are more relevant courses on SkillsBuild for Students to continue their learning


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SkillsBuild STEM Labs Use