Light Painting with Sphero’s BB-8

By ShaiCoggins | Lesson Ideas

May 17
BB-8 Star Wars SPRK lightning lab app

While looking for a Star Wars-related STEAM activity for Star Wars Day, I knew I wanted to work with our new BB-8 droid by Sphero that my daughter and I received from my husband for Christmas. I couldn’t find any ready-made lesson plans with this idea, though. So, I kept on brainstorming.

When I came across this light painting idea on Sphero’s website, I knew then that I wanted to try it. But, I wasn’t sure if our BB-8 droid worked with the app. When I found out that it did, it was a Eureka moment.  Now, I can’t wait to use BB-8 for many other STEAM activities. But, first – this light painting thing.

Materials:

  • BB-8 droid from Sphero
  • iPad or iPhone with SPRK Lightning Lab App
  • Digital Camera with Slow Shutter capabilities
  • Dark Room
  • Fused app or Photoshop (optional)
  • Tripod (optional, but useful)

Topic: Photography + Light + Colours + Robotics
Age Group: 8+
Australian Curriculum: Media Arts, Science, Digital Technologies

We started the session with discussing what we were going to do – create light paintings using BB-8. I explained light painting by explaining the following briefly:

  • The etymology of ‘photography’. That is, is from the Greek words ‘phōtos’ or phōs, meaning “light” and “graphé” meaning “representation by means of lines” or “drawing”. So, together, the word means “drawing with light”.
  • We were going to literally draw with light using BB-8 as our light source. To do this, we will need to ‘drive’ BB-8 using the app on the iPad. But, to get the best kind of light painting, we need to make the room dark.
  • To capture the light drawing or painting in a dark room, we need to adjust the camera’s shutter speed. We briefly talked about shutter speed and what it means. That is, it is the length of time the camera lens is open to let in light. The slower the shutter speed, the longer the lens is open to let in more light. I mentioned that we would need the slowest shutter speed my digital camera phone would allow on manual mode (4s).

We also discussed the capabilities of the app driving BB-8. That is, it can change colour and they can change direction by using the ‘joystick’ on the screen. We used a big dark blanket on the floor to serve as the ‘canvas’ (ie, whoever is driving the droid should limit their movements within the ‘canvas’).

Since we only had two students in this session, it was easy to manage with just one set of the materials needed. One was asked to drive BB-8 while the other one takes photos. Then, after a few minutes, they will reverse the roles.

The person taking the photographs was asked to choose a spot in the room to take photos. They were instructed not to move the camera when taking the photos to keep the subject in focus and to best show the direction of the light. Ideally, the camera would be mounted on a tripod. But, we didn’t have the right set-up for the session, so the students simply had to keep their hands and arms steady. They were instructed to prop their arm on something like a table or floor to help keep them steady.

After the students had the chance to take their light painting photos, we reviewed their shots on the screen. Ideally, I would have let them edit their final images. But, since we ran out of time, I edited these final shots using the Fused app. The app allows two images to be ‘fused’ together. You can also achieve similar effects on Photoshop.

Light Painting with BB-8 Star Wars

Six different light paintings by the students were fused together in three different images, then put into a collage here.

To make it a collaborative effort, I opted to choose one image from each student per final piece. So, each of these final light painting pieces contain photographs taken by two students.

If I’m going to do this activity with a bigger group, I would assign 4 to 6 students in a group to work with one BB-8 droid. One can drive while the others take photos. They can then take turns. If using just one camera, the teacher/facilitator might want to take notes about who took which shots.

If there are limited materials (only one set available per class) and it’s a full-sized classroom, I would set-up different stations in the class. The BB-8 light painting can be one station and I would create similar or related activities in other stations. Then, the class will be divided into groups and assigned to a station, with a timer (depending on the number of students and the session time, each group might be given about 15 to 20 minutes each station).

The final light paintings may then be printed out, signed by the artists, and displayed as part of the assessment.

Science - STEAMLooking at the science of photography. In particular, the law of reciprocity.  This describes how light intensity and duration trade off to make an exposure—it defines the relationship between shutter speed and aperture, for a given total exposure. (via Wikipedia)

Technology - STEAMRobotics, operating a smart phone and/or tablet, using photography apps, and possibly coding may be covered in this lesson.  

Art - STEAM

Light, colours, and composition are all topics that come as part of doing a light painting.

This Light Painting with BB-8 project was featured at SteamKidsChallenge‘s weekly challenge on Instagram.

STEAM Kids Challenge Winner

 

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About the Author

Shai Coggins is a Registered Teacher in South Australia, with a Masters' degree in Teaching and Applied Psychology. She is a practicing artist and a published author. She started Creative STEAM Studio to promote holistic and play-based learning in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) with a strong literacy focus for kids and families in Adelaide and around the world.

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