CS for Art? Absolutely!

June 30th, 2017

Technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing. ~ Steve Jobs

Robotics + Computer Science + Art = A match made in heaven?

It might not seem the most likely triad, but as participants in Nextech’s Artbotics workshop discovered, the combination proved to be a winner. This week Nextech partnered with the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML) to present a project-based learning opportunity that provided positive, realistic experiences in teamwork, design, and programming.

The participants? 50% art teachers and 50% computer science teachers.

The goals? To broaden student understanding within the field of computing and to increase female and minority participation through the use of innovative and interactive technologies.

The tools? A Lego Mindstorms EV3 car… and a pen.

During the workshop, teachers were taught curriculum and given lesson plans specific to the Lego Mindstorms EV3. They learned how to use block coding to control the movements of the car. Once they’d mastered movement, the teachers programmed the car to draw shapes onto a piece of paper with a pen that was “held” by the car.

The result? Art produced by robots.

This innovative learning approach was revolutionary for a number of reasons. Although most of the teachers had the technology available to them, they had yet to integrate it into the student learning experience. Whether it was a fear of the unknown (robots?!) or a lack of confidence in their ability to create an engaging, high-tech lesson plan, the workshop was a valuable lesson in how to successfully integrate technology into the teaching process.

As one participant remarked, “I’m here because I need to meet my art teachers where they are. If they’re talking about robotics in art class, then I want to bring robotics into the classroom!”

And another: “I can’t wait to add this to my physics class!”

The moral? Whether the link is an obvious one or not, computer science can be integrated into every subject area. It’s a common denominator in a world that becomes more high-tech by the minute. Once those connections are made and understood, students recognize and appreciate how many ways cross-disciplinary computing can be employed. And that’s a win for both students… and for the field of computer science.

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