Triangle Offense with Sphero

Nina Sclafani
Senior Event Coordinator
News on May 27 2020


Although I love being active, I am not what one would call a sports fan. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good sports documentary, and if you’re up on pop culture, you may have heard about ESPN’s The Last Dance.

The Last Dance chronicles the final season of the historic Chicago Bulls team which consisted of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin, Dennis Rodman, and head coach Phil Jackson.

Although there is a lot to admire throughout the documentary, there was one thing that struck me as particularly interesting—the triangle offense.

It’s like a ballet.

As the ball is passed from one player to the next, the team forms triangles around the court, which provides numerous passing options to help the players get the ball to a point where they can take a clean shot.

Although the Internet provides an infinite number of clips of it in action, what I yearned for was a way to see this offense play out in person. But how could a person replicate this offense without having anyone to play with? (Talk about quarantine problems.)

The Idea: Bring the Triangle Strategy to Life with Robots

With a combination of math and coding, we can execute the triangle offense using Sphero robots (and teach our students a thing or two about triangles, coding language, and sports strategy while we’re at it).

And it’s important to know, you can do this activity with your students even while you are teaching remotely. The lesson plan below will include alternative suggestions if you plan on running this activity remotely with your students.

Below is a skeletal lesson plan. Adjust the plan as you’d like to fit with your teaching style (and feel free to share your ideas with us on the Teq Facebook page or Twitter account. We’d love to see how you modify this activity).

The Lesson Behind the Strategy

Activity: Students will review a clip of the Chicago Bulls executing the Triangle Offense. They will pause the footage, determine what type of triangles the team is forming in that play, and program the Sphero robot (using either Scratch or Java script) to execute the triangles used in the play.

If you are teaching this remotely, students will send their code to the teacher, and the teacher will run the program using the Sphero robots at home.

Additional idea: With students present: Students can dip the Spheros into washable paint and then run the code on top of large sheets of white paper. Once the paint is dry, students can measure the angles/lines of the triangles the Sphero formed in order to see if the code formed the intended type of triangle.

Lesson Objective: After completing this activity, students will be able to identify different types of triangles and use either block-based coding or java script to replicate the famous triangle offense using Sphero robots.

Essential Questions:

  • What properties do lines and angles demonstrate in Geometry?
  • What types of angles exist in Geometry?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the different types of triangles?
  • How does block-based language differ from JavaScript? (if you’re having students work in both languages)

Vocabulary (suggestion):

Types of triangles:

By Side

  • Equilateral Triangle: Has three equal sides
  • Isosceles Triangle: Has two equal sides
  • Scalene Triangle: Has no equal sides

By Angle

  • Acute Triangle: Has three angles that are all less than 90 degrees
  • Right Triangle: Has one angle equal to 90 degrees
  • Obtuse triangle: Has one angle greater than 90 degrees
  • Equiangular triangle: All three angles are the same (60 degrees)

Coding Vocabulary:

  • Block-based coding is very popular in schools as it offers an introduction to coding in a less intimidating way. Instead of traditional text-based programming, block-based coding involves dragging “blocks” of instructions. The most popular example of this is Scratch, a block-based language created by MIT where users drag blocks of code together (as illustrated in the activity example).
  • Java script is an object-oriented computer programming language commonly used to create interactive effects within web browsers.


Activity Steps and Resources to Share with Students

Step 1: Introduce the topic

Start the lesson by discussing what has made some of the world’s greatest basketball teams so successful. Did they find success because of a single talented player? Was it that they had the best players in the league? Was it because the team worked well together?

From there, provide students with a brief history of the Chicago Bulls of the 90’s. Discuss how, although they had one of the best players in the world (Michael Jordan), it was the triangle offense that helped them achieve such great success.

To help, share with students the following videos:

Tex Winter is known as the innovator of the triangle offense. He was the coach of the Kansas State basketball team from 1952 to 1967. During this time, he perfected his triangle offense strategy which led the team to eight league titles. In 1985, he became the assistant coach of the Chicago Bulls and used this strategy to help the Bulls win the NBA championships in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, and 1998.

In this 4-minute clip, legendary power forward Dennis Rodman provides commentary on how the team executed the triangle offense showing a few plays from the 1997-1998 season.

A 3-minute video (brought to us by The New York Times) discussing the triangle offense, with clips of players in action and lines drawn to show the triangle formations.

Step 2: Review with students the different types of triangles

For Beginners New to Triangles:

Types of Triangles Review (Khan Academy) – This includes instructional videos, assessments, and ways for students to practice constructing triangles with the information they just learned. The best part—it even tells you what common core standards each step addresses.

For a Quick Review:

What are the Different Types of Triangles (YouTube) – A quick video that uses illustrations to show the types of triangles (and breaks it down by sides and angles).

Step 3: Identify the triangles in the triangle offense

  • Students will then identify the triangles they see in the screenshot (this can be done a number of ways)
    • Using an online platform — If you are a Microsoft 365 school, students can accomplish this using Powerpoint. If you are a Google for Education school, Google Drawing or Sheets can be a solution. Allow students to use whichever platform they are most comfortable with. To create my drawing, I used Microsoft Powerpoint.
    • Hand drawn — If students have a printer at home and prefer to draw directly on their screen shots, they can print out the image and draw the triangles using markers.
  • Students will then measure the angles and sides of the triangles
    • They can do this by either placing a protractor against their device (or paper if printed out), or by using an online protractor. For this, I downloaded the Protractor Extension on Google Chrome.
    • Students will label the length and angles of the triangles on their doc/paper and have them label what type of triangle they have identified.
    • Within each shot, they should identify a minimum of three triangles.


Example work could look like this:

Step 4: Have students create code within Sphero Edu’s online platform to create the shape of the triangles

  • Have students log into the Sphero Edu web platform
  • Using either block-based coding or JavaScript (both languages available in the Sphero Edu web platform) have students create the code to execute the play.
  • Encourage students to get creative with their code by adding different actions at each stop of the triangle. For example:
    • Using Sphero Bolt, students can have the LED Matrix display the jersey number of the player holding the ball at each corner of the triangle, as seen in the example code below.
    • Students can have a noise sound once the Sphero has reached each individual corner of the triangle (code also shown below).

And if you’d like to provide additional challenges for your more advanced coders:

  • Have students code 3 Spheros to run the play simultaneously
  • Include a 4th Sphero to act as the ball being passed from one Sphero to the next
  • Have students code multiple Spheros to “pass the ball” down the “court.”

Step 5: See it in action!

If students are with you in class, have them run the code until they have their intended results. Allow for enough time for students to trouble shoot their work and finish the activity by having students present their final work to their peers.

If you are doing this project remotely with your students, have them send you their labeled images and code. Then, run the code on their behalf to see if it worked. Schedule Google Meet or Skype calls with your students so you can run the code with them live and discuss the results.

For More Information

To learn more about Sphero, check out our courses on OTIS for educators, Teq’s online professional development platform. Available Sphero courses include:

Interested in bringing Spheros into your classroom? Call 877.455.9369 to learn how, or visit

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic impacting our schools and learning, Teq is making all of our PD courses on OTIS for educators FREE to help schools and districts implement distance learning and online professional development.