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The Hummingbird Project

Some of the greatest minds in the robotics reside only about 25 miles away from Burrell at Carnegie Mellon University.  So when the opportunity arose for Huston Middle School to send a contingent of educators to CMU for a robotics technology conference, the school naturally summoned some of its best and brightest teachers.  But, surprisingly, they were all from the English and History departments!

“We were probably the most highly unlikely group to possibly attend a conference like this,” says 8th grade Literature teacher Jill Coury, who along with HMS colleagues Erica Lang, Michelle Denicola Poole, and Autumn Godot, volunteered to participate in the CMU Arts & Bots conference in April.

“This was probably one of the best conferences I have ever been to,” says Ms. Lang, a 7th grade language arts teacher.  “I felt so accomplished being able to step outside of my box and learn something new – like making a robot in three hours.  I want that for my students.”

Under the tutelage of CMU doctoral students, the main challenge of the Arts & Bots experience for the teachers was creating their own robot using the same Hummingbird kit that will debut in HMS classrooms next year.  The kit consists of a customized control board along with a variety of lights, sensors, and motors that serve as the nerve center of robotic creations driven by visual programming software.  Students and teachers program the robots, and can add effects and voice commands.  The actual form of the animated creation, however, is as limitless as the imagination.

“You learn the basics of building a robot,” says Ms. Coury, “then you customize and program the robot to perform a function that relates to some aspect of what the students are learning in class.”

Ms. Coury plans to use the technology to support a poetry unit in her 8th grade Literature class.  Students will use the robotics to create something that reflects an aspect of a poem.  “It is a lot of engineering, obviously, and I like the fact that you can tie it into the literature.  It gets the students excited about learning.”

“It was really exciting to be able to tie STEM to language arts, that was something that really intrigued me,” says Ms. Denicola Poole, a History teacher at HMS.  She plans to do a unit featuring “robotic biographies” in her class next year.  “I think most of our kids are going to be thrilled when they see this.”

The school is deciding on whether to use the Hummingbird kits as a choice project or as an afterschool club activity.  Each kit costs approximately $200.  The Hummingbird Project will probably be implemented during the second semester of the 2013-14 school year.

Burrell educators were invited to attend the free Arts & Bots conference at CMU by Dr. Michael Loughead, a former administrator in the district.  IT support professional Kevin Pasko and assistant principal Ken Pruitt rounded out the Burrell contingent.  “The teachers were the risk-takers and pioneers on this one,” says Mr. Pruitt.

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