The Road 'Now' Taken: Where Robotics and Poetry Meet

The word "robotics" doesn't usually conjure up images of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson. But for Springdale Junior High students, pairing robotics and poetry is an annual educational adventure. Sue Mellon, gifted support coordinator for the Allegheny Valley School District, explains that all eighth graders take Robotics Poetry, where they create a "Robot Theater." Students take a classical poem filled with beautiful imagery, pair it with a robotics kit and produce a diorama that lights up, moves and sways to sensors. It's a marriage of language, arts and robotics.

Q. What's the origin of robotics poetry?
Sue was taking a class coordinated by CMU's Robotics Institute when she was tasked with finding a unique way to use robotics, especially the Arts and Bots kit from CMU's CREATE Lab. Challenged, she came up with this! Lights flash, water changes color, curtains move and the students' recorded voices are synched to match the action in the "theater."

Q. How does this aid their learning?
Sue wanted to find a way to make poetry more interesting and easier to grasp for the students. She realized that the skills in working with robotics — reading and following instructions and repetition — can also be applied to learning poetry. Students are often able to find new meanings every time they re-read their poem.

Q. What else do they learn?
In addition to using basic computer language like Visual Programmer as well as learning rudimentary robotics, the students work together as a group. And for the eighth grade girls, the melding of the technical and literary arts is also important, since at that age many "self-select" out of technical fields. This holds their interest.

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