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Theatrical Robots

Theatrical Robots

The Theatrical Robots camp was a great success!  What an absolute joy to work with these very creative, hilarious kids.

The boys helped complete and test the Theatrical Robots curriculum for the Grow a Generation Lab that will be offered next year for homeschool and afterschool labs in the home and in the Media Lab again with the 3rd grade.  Its mission:  to create a script and program a Groma Robot to be an actor in a two minute film while becoming digital storytellers, STEM athletes, and world changers.

The first day opened with examining some famous robot scenes from the movies; Maria from Metropolis, C-3PO from Star Wars (the boys were surprised to learn they were actors in robot costumes), K-9 from Doctor Who (discussing the difference between remote control and autonomous robots),  Sonny from I, Robot (with the three rules of robotics) and Wall-E from Pixar. We went on to examine the current state of some humanoid robots; Honda’s Asimo and Geminoid F appearing onstage in Japan.  The boys met their Groma robots and started to brainstorm ideas for their own film.  They decided to work together on a film about Minecraft characters, a video game they both enjoyed and could spend hours talking about.

The Gromas are a great tool to begin introducing computing concepts.  The first day touched on how robots use sensors to discover their surroundings and make maps. Side tangents into the need for a compass rose and a legend as they learned to set up a home base for dead reckoning and let their robot map the paths it needed to travel.

Day two focused on script writing and character development (including designing costumes for the robots). A brief introduction to camera angles and storyboarding techniques allowed the boys to take their script and develop a storyboard for the filming shots.  I cannot emphasize enough how this step makes the rest of the week go smoothly.

As we reviewed the first draft of the script in light of the rubrics, the kids were challenged to develop a plot, give characters some emotional content, and make it meaningful. The original script was about the character Herobrine entering another character’s house and setting it on fire. (Herobrine appears to be a user made modification in Minecraft that seems to act as a computer virus destroying what you have built). The boys were asked to try to empathize with people who had suffered a real fire and we went on an internet search for how robots are working today in firefighting. The search brought us to some footage of a firefighter robot created by scientists at Purdue.  The boys send a quick email to the head of the Homeland Security Institute at Purdue and got permission to add real footage into their video and let it serve as a type of Public Service Announcement to give kids the heads up about robotic fire fighters (Thank you to Dr. Eric Deitz and Professor Eric Matson!)

Day three was spent on set design and learning to program their robots. Cartesian plane coordinates and degrees of rotation in a polar coordinate system were side tangents as they tried (again and again) to have the robots hit their marks. Groma MapExperiments were also done with camera angles and each of the boys tried their hand at directing and filming. Parents got involved with fantastic creative ideas to add to each component of the process.

Our fourth day of camp was spent filming.  Two breaks were taken. The first was to review the basic steps in programming the drag and drop commands of the Groma and think in terms of sequence and algorithms. The other was to reinforce the skills of working as a team; try for win-win in problem solving,  provide and integrate useful feedback, and understand and accept multiple perspectives.

We finished up the last shots on the final day and had time to focus on some video editing skills as well as recording an audio track. We used Windows Movie Maker for the video editing and the laptop microphone for recording.

The boys were proud of their final product, excited to see it loaded onto YouTube and went home with the trophies of character costumes and pieces of the set.

Computation shares features with art and music by translating human intention into an artifact.  Theatrical Robots is a little like a sampler plate at a restaurant.  It gives each student a chance to try their hand at programming, robotics, story creation, script writing, costume and set design, filming and editing, problem solving and collaboration, within an atmosphere that calls them to imagineer a more beautiful world and quest after a worthy legacy.

Look for opportunities to hold a Theatrical Robots Grow a Gen Lab in your home in this fall!



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  1. […] ran a camp last summer, Theatrical Robots,  where kids created a script and programmed a Groma Robot to be an actor in a two minute film. […]

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