VALPARAISO — Washington Township School fourth- and fifth-graders rolled balls Monday morning, but they had to use their brainpower, not their brawn.

Working as a team, the students had to code the Sphero robotic balls and make the clear plastic spheres go through whatever obstacles they came up with.

The students used iPads to connect wirelessly to the ball, which can follow orders, as long as the student correctly codes the instructions. The fifth-graders have worked with the Sphero balls before, so they assisted the fourth-graders in their efforts.

Fourth-graders Andrew Dykstra and Sam Stokes both agreed that programming the ball to do what they want is the fun part. The students worked in groups, with the fourth-graders coming up with the obstacles and the programming while the fifth-graders offered their expertise on how to get the ball through the obstacles.

One group built a "car wash" for the ball to go through.

"This is hand-on learning for the students," fourth-grade teacher Lena Glover said. "The more senses they can use, the more they will remember. The students are also learning design process and the scientific method."

Fifth-grade teacher Janine Krieger added that the students learn to re-evaluate situations.

"They have to figure out what they can do when something doesn't work," Krieger said. '"It's all trial and error. Is it the coding? Is it the obstacle?"

Fifth-graders Laura Kick and Rachel Churchill enjoyed helping the fourth-graders with their challenges.

"Most challenging is that we used a bridge, and it's difficult to make the ball come back," Kick said.

"But seeing the project go perfectly is the most fun" Churchill added.

The teachers said cooperation is a huge part of this process, and that they feel it is important to get girls interested in science and make everyone feel successful.

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Annette is Porter County Community Coordinator for The Times. She has been with the paper for 20 years. A resident of Hobart, she graduated from Purdue University with degrees in English and German.