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Arts & Bots Program Engages HMS Students by Combining Crafts and Robotic Components

Autumn Godot took a new approach to teaching an 1843 Charles Dickens classic this year.  “I’d talked to the students about how Dickens used to do dramatic readings of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ ” said Godot, an English teacher at Huston Middle School. “We decided to do a 21st century dramatic reading.”

The result?

A unique classroom project called Robot Readers Theater.

Utilizing robotics kits the school bought as part of Carnegie Mellon University’s Arts & Bots program, Godot divided her seventh-grade challenge class into five groups, then had them design and build themed robots that were incorporated into dramatic readings.

“The students really surpassed my expectations with it,” Godot said, describing how cardboard, foam and other materials were used to create Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come and Tiny Tim robots.  

The Arts & Bots program engages students by combining crafts and robotic components, said Assistant Principal Ken Pruitt, who was part of a contingent that attended a day of training in spring 2013 at CMU. Adaptable to virtually any subject, Pruitt said the school has 20 of the Hummingbird Robotics Kits.  “Hands-on activities can help students access material,” he said. ” ‘A Christmas Carol’ is OK. But as a 37-year-old father of two, I can tell you ‘A Christmas Carol’ with robots is a lot cooler.”

Pruitt added that Godot’s efforts extended beyond the classroom, as she procured a $500 grant through the Burrell Education Foundation. The money was used for materials such as glue and heat guns that were required to construct the robots.  After the presentations, Godot had the students write a how-to essay and a personal reflection about the experience.

“Their reflections were very meaningful, as far as working in groups, learning to compromise, learning to solve problems,” she said. “It allowed them to combine a lot of skills in one project.”

Pruitt is excited about other projects that Arts & Bots can inspire in the classrooms at Huston Middle School.  “It’s teamwork. It’s hands-on. It’s decision-making. It’s all the skills we want the students to have to be college-ready and career-ready,” Pruitt said. “Student engagement is an issue, so we need to find new ways to engage them, and that’s not a bad thing.”

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