At the beginning, people thought she was nuts. Sue Mellon, gifted support coordinator for Springdale Junior and Senior High/Colfax School in the Allegheny Valley School District, thought 7th and 8thgraders could develop a deeper understanding of poetry by playing around with robotics.
“Originally, people looked at me like I was crazy,” Mellon said. Now, two years later, Robotics Poetry is a staple of language arts classes at Springdale and a new grant has students preparing to be peer mentors.
Poetry isn’t always easy for students. But with hands-on engagement, they gain new understanding. Take Robert Frost’s “Pasture.” Instead of just reading and discussing the work in a typical classroom setting, students made 21st-century dioramas with robotic tool kits containing sensors, motors, LEDs, and a controller. One student made a blue plastic wrap lake in an old cardboard photocopy-paper box that vibrated, thanks to the motor, and, lit up, thanks to the LED. When the student said the word “water”—students record themselves reading the poems aloud in the audio-editing program Audacity—the LED turned the plastic wrap a deeper shade of blue. When he got to the bit about the “tottering” calf, the motor made the toy calf vibrate.
“A lot of kids aren’t crazy about poetry,” Mellon said. “But we have to help them engage with it. After spending two weeks analyzing the poem and creating visual imagery and symbolism for their dioramas, they really understand the work and get quite passionate.” Continue reading