The Arts & Bots program, originally known as Robot Diaries, was launched with the help of the Heinz Endowments to explore ways to foster interest in technology at the middle school level, particularly among girls. "Studies have shown that when they enter middle school, boys and girls are equally interested in robots," Nourbakhsh said. "But three years later, it's very different, with interest down dramatically among girls. So you have to ask: What's happening in middle school?"
Terry Richards, who teaches high school human anatomy and physiology at the Ellis School in Pittsburgh, had her students use the kit to build models of the human arm and its musculature. "A lot of the girls said it helped them see where muscles attached," Richards said in the release. "They really had to think about where the muscles could attach on their models." In the process, they learned how to install servos to move the elbow and wrist, wire them to the Hummingbird control board, and write programs to control the movement. "Even in high school, students aren't usually introduced to this technology unless they are on the robotics team."
Tom Lauwers, who earned his doctorate in robotics in Nourbakhsh's lab and now heads BirdBrain Technologies, a CMU spinoff, said the Hummingbird nicely ties into the increasingly popular "maker movement" approach to technology. As with other makers, students using the Hummingbird get hooked on the idea of using technology to make all sorts of things, he said.
The kit is now available for $199 through BirdBrain Technologies. Discounts are available for orders of four kits or more, and kit components can be ordered a la carte, according to the Hummingbird Website.
I have a meeting scheduled with the Huntsville Public Library to talk about STEM initiatives and how they can support it. Yes, girls definitely need to be part of the tech revolution that is going on and kits like the one discuss in your article will help to motivate them.
As a parent with kids in middle and soon to be high school (and public school, to boot) I'm seeing far more focus on STEM offerings and definitely some effort to slant the curriculum towards girls. All good stuff and this is just another example of some of the tools they can take advantage of.
I agree Nancy, that this kit will do a lot to encourage girls to explore areas of interest they likely would never have explored if left to traditional robotics and engineering training. I have both a son and daughter and while my son played with Legos and Lego Mindstorm, my daughter wouldn't have touched Mindstorm with a 10-foot pole. But this kit would definitely make her take a second look.
I agree Jennifer - I love the creativity that can be introduced into these projects. Lego Mindstorm from what I have seen attracts mostly boys - they do classes at our local rec center. I can just picture an eigth grade girl designing a butterfly flapping its wings to put in her room using paper towel tubes and cardboard with paint and glitter...and learning all about programming, sensors and servo motors in the process...
Beth: The "crafty little man" was intended to be Ringo Starr. :-)
Video is here: http://robotdiaries.posterous.com/beatlebot-ringo-video
Curriculum is here: http://robotdiaries.posterous.com/latest-postings-by-diane-lally
Charles: The Hummingbird can indeed be programmed using a (open source) visual programming environment. It's available here: http://artsandbots.com/visualprogrammer/ Support for Snap, another visual programming environment, is coming soon. More advanced users can program it in Java or Processing, with other languages coming soon. See here for more info: http://www.hummingbirdkit.com/?q=content/software
(full disclosure: I work for the CREATE Lab and wrote the majority of the Hummingbird's software)
Nice story, and cool video, Jenn. There's a lot going on in engineering toys these days -- after about two decades with almost nothing. These new versions are more complex than the Erector Sets and Heath Kits of my childhood. Snap Circuits is another engineering toy.
TJ, I'm not familiar with Lego Mindstorm. Am I correct in assuming, though, that several different things can be built, but that they must be built from the Lego kit? What I like about this is that the sky's the limit in terms of materials.
These are the toys that inspired budding engineers to try out sublime designs, create miniature structures, and experiment with bizarre contraptions using sets that could be torn down and reconstructed over and over.
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