Art Bots

This resource pack uses the Hummingbird robotics kit, recycled materials, and craft materials to introduce students ages 8-10 to basic robotics and programming. Art, engineering, and electricity concepts are also explored. Students will learn how to creatively use servos, sensors, and LEDs along with programming basics as they make their robot creations come to life.

Simple drawing bots and circuit blocks may be used to further enhance the lesson.

For students with little to no prior programming skills

Though presented here as 1.5 hour sessions these lessons can be used in a wide variety of formats. This course was originally developed to fill three 6 hour long sessions, but it has also been taught as a 2 hour course over five sessions and a 1.5 hour course over seven sessions. It is infinitely adaptable to the needs of your classroom.



Hummingbird Creatures

In this project, students work in pairs to design and build a robotic creature. This project emphasizes planning. Students create detailed sketches that depict where the creature will incorporate robotic components. They also make lists of the items they will need and collect recycled materials to build their creature. As they build, students outline how they will program the creature in Snap!. To complete their projects, they focus on the process of testing and revision. This project is a collaboration between Cheryl Capezzuti and Timothy Wagner, the art and technology teachers of the Fanny Edel Falk Laboratory School.

Lesson Procedures:

This project is a collaboration between the art and technology teachers. Each of these classes meets once a week, and students spend 8-10 weeks on this project.

Students complete this project in pairs. They have previous programming experience in Scratch.

  1. First, students learn in technology class about the components of the Hummingbird kit. They are also given the requirements for the project. Each project must include 4 lights, 3 motors (servo/gear), and 1 sensor. Students are also encouraged to include an example of a simple machine.
  2. In art, students consider how they must design both the inside and the outside of the robot. As they begin thinking about their design, students are encouraged to consider constraints, such as the fact that the motors cannot move heavy items.
  3. Students create a drawing that shows both the inside and the outside of their design. This design shows where they will place the Hummingbird board and wires. Students also label the Hummingbird components in their design, as well as other important materials. Students make lists of the items that they will need for their project and bring in boxes and plastic containers to build their design.
  4. Students build a base for their robot. This base must include a space for the Hummingbird board, and it must be sturdy enough to support the Hummingbird components. At this point, students connect the materials for the base with masking tape. They also create any holes or slots that they will need for wires, motors, or the Hummingbird board.
  5. Students learn to program the lights, motors, and sensors of the Hummingbird in Snap!. They attach different components to the board to test them.
  6. Students place a layer of paper maché over the robot base, paying particular attention to where pieces of the base are joined with masking tape. Using paper maché increases the strength of the robot base and also ensures that motors, lights, and sensors can be easily attached anywhere on the base with hot glue. Students cover any holes or slots in the base.
  7. Students attach the Hummingbird components to their robot base. At this point, they also attach items such as wings, ears, etc.
  8. Students program the robot. This may involve modifications to physical structure of the robot, as well as the code. Testing and revision are essential! During this time, students also add the aesthetic details to their project.
  9. After the project, students reflect on their experience by writing letters to the next class.                        

Opera Bots

Opera can seem an inscrutable topic to middle school students. In order to help students better understand and appreciate this art form, music teacher Beth Minda partnered with Gifted Support Coordinator Sue Mellon to devise an interdisciplinary project using the Hummingbird. Eighth grade students from Springdale Junior/Senior High worked in pairs to design and build robotic dioramas for selections from La bohème. Students first learned about the opera and its historical context using materials created by the Pittsburgh Opera Education Department with Marilyn Egan, Director of Education. Then they picked 30 seconds of the opera and decided how to convey the themes of their selection through set design and robotic elements. After building and programming their diorama, students made videos of their creations that included music and a translation of the opera libretto. This project enabled students to use technology to demonstrate their understanding of the opera and how artists use symbolism and set design to convey their message.

Lesson Procedures:

This project took place over a two-month period. Roughly 8-10 class periods were devoted to the study of La bohème, and students demonstrated their understanding of the opera by constructing a robotic diorama over another 8-10 class periods.

Opera and La bohème

  1. Introduce the project. Explain to students that they will be learning about the opera La bohème and then constructing a robotic diorama for one portion of this opera.
  2. Have students read Styles of Opera Through History. This short history of opera was developed by the Portland Opera. The Introduction to Opera document may also be helpful.
  3. Use these two articles to lead students in a discussion of how opera is used in other media.
  4. Introduce students to La bohème, Puccini, and Bohemian Paris using the slides for this project and the study guide. These materials were developed by the Pittsburgh Opera.
  5. Have students act out scenes from La bohème to become more familiar with the story. These scenes were edited by Amy Mercalde.
  6. Use the slides for this project to demonstrate how the garret that is the central location of this opera has been staged differently by different opera companies. Lead students in a discussion of the symbolism of the various interpretations.
  7. Use “What to Listen for in La bohème” (first nine pages of Background and Reference Materials) to introduce students to the music of the opera. There is material for 80+ minutes, but you can choose appropriate pieces for your class.
  8. Watch a video of the opera. One option is the San Francisco Opera’s La bohèmeperformance starting Mirella Freni & Luciano Pavarotti (1989, co-produced by RM Arts & Pioneer LDC, Inc. in association with RTSI). An even better option would be to see the opera in person, if you have that opportunity!

Creating Opera Bots

This project was designed for students who already had experience using the Hummingbird robotics kit and the CREATE Lab Visual Programmer. If this is not the case for your students, you will need to add some basic instruction about how to use the Hummingbird components.

  1. Explain to students the project requirements, which are listed below. To complete their project, students will need the music and the libretto (in translation) for their scene. This project used the libretto and CDs from the Black Dog Opera Library.
    • The project must animate 30 seconds of La bohème.
    • The opera music must play in the background.
    • The action of the sung words must be portrayed with robotic components.
    • Students must make a video of their creation using iMovie. This video must include key words to explain the lyrics of the opera.
  2. Have students use the Opera Bots Planning Notebook to design their robotic diorama. First, students must choose the opera scene that they will depic. Then, they should consider the time period in which they will stage their scene and how they will depict the poverty of the main characters. The planning notebook was developed in collaboration with Jenn Cross of the Carnegie Mellon University CREATE Lab.
  3. Next, students must design their set. Have them read the Set Designer Reference and plan in their notebook the aesthetic elements of their set and how they will use design elements such as flats, cutouts, or turntables.
  4. Based on their design choices, students should plan their robotic diorama. The planning document includes space for students to think about their goals, identify their constraints, and decide what they will need to build. There is also space to consider how they will program their creation.
  5. As students begin to build and program their diorama, they will need to record an audio file for the assigned passage. Instructions for this task are available in the planning document or in Recording Sound for the CREATE Lab Visual Programmer.
  6. Give students several class periods to build and program their dioramas, as well as to make their videos.
  7. On the last day or two of the project, have each group present their work to the class. You may also want to give students the opportunity to present their work more publicly. The videos for these projects were shown at the school’s winter concert.


This project is assessed using the attached rubric (OperaRubric.pdf). This rubric includes items related to class participation during the study of opera, as well as items focusing on the technical and aesthetic aspects of the robotic diorama.

Moving Masterpieces

Jayne Sweet of South Allegheny Middle School knows that not all of her students will become artists, but they will all need creativity, the ability to think critically, and problem-solving skills. For this reason, she decided to use robotics to introduce her eighth-grade students to art history. In this nine-week class, students worked in teams of 1-3 to choose a painting and recreate it as a three-dimensional art form. They then incorporated light and movement into the artwork in a way that was congruent with what they inferred about the goals of the artist. Students defended these decisions in an artist statement and a presentation to their peers, as well as a gallery open to the rest of the school. This gallery was also attended by local reporters, who wrote this article.

Lesson Procedures:

This project took place over a nine-week quarter with a class 30 eighth-grade students. Students chose to work by themselves or in groups of 2-3.

  1. Begin the quarter by asking, “What is art?” Lead students to create a mindmap of their answers and introduce a variety of artwork to encourage them to reflect on this question.
  2. Explain to students the project requirements, which are listed below.
    • Students must choose an artwork. They will be responsible for knowledge of the artist and artwork they choose.
    • Students must recreate the artwork in three dimensions.
    • They must incorporate light and/or movement into the artwork in a way that is congruent with the goals of the artist.
    • Students must present their work to the class and justify how they chose to integrate robotics into the chosen artwork. Students must also prepare an artist statement for their work to justify their design decisions.
  3. Have students research different artists to choose an artist and artwork for this project. In this case, students chose from a list of 144 artists.
  4. Introduce students to the Hummingbird using the videos and resources available on the Hummingbird website. Give students time to explore how to use lights and motors with the Hummingbird.
  5. Have students create a sketch to plan their project. This sketch should show how the project will incorporate light and motion.
  6. Give students time to complete their projects and artist statements. Students can use foam, cardboard, and craft supplies to construct their projects, as well as repurposed materials such as empty food containers.
  7. On the last day or two of the project, have each group present their work to the class. You may also want to give students the opportunity to present their work more publicly. For instance, students can set up the projects in a gallery format and invite other teachers or classes to visit.

Play Music with the Finch

You have learned how to use the Finch’s sensors to control the robot’s motors and lights, as well as the movement of a sprite on the computer screen. In this project, you will make the Finch into a musical instrument!

You can use the play note and rest blocks  from the Sound menu to create music. The play note block requires two numbers. The number on the left determines the pitch of the note; it should be between 15 and 130. Instead of entering a number, you can also select a piano key on the pop-up menu. The number on the right determines the length of the note; it can be any positive number.

The rest block can be used to separate notes. During the rest, no sound is played. The number in the rest block is the length of the rest. It can be any positive number.

Use the play note and Finch buzz blocks, and replace the numbers in these blocks with the Finch sensor blocks. You will need to use math operator blocks to scale the sensor output to a number that is appropriate for sound block you are using. For example, the pitch of the note in the play note block must be between 30 and 130, but the value of an acceleration block is between -1.5 and 1.5. The value of the acceleration block is scaled by multiplying it by 10 and then adding 75 to obtain a number that will work for the play note block. A different scaling expression is used in the Finch buzz block.

Try out the sample code below and vary the scaling expressions to see what happens. Remember, you can see the value of an expression by clicking on it (you will need to remove it from the play note or Finch buzz block first). Then create your own program to make music with the Finch sensors!


Finch Pen

In this activity, you will use the Finch to draw on the computer screen!

Start by writing a program that uses the Finch accelerometer to move a sprite on the screen. The x and y positions of the sprite should be controlled by two different acceleration values. You may need to use math operator blocks to scale the acceleration values.

Once you can use the Finch to move the sprite around the screen, you want to record the path of the sprite. To do this, you will need to explore the commands under the Pen menu. Start with the pen down block; you can think about this block as placing a pen on the “paper” of the screen. How can you change the color of the sprite’s path?


Finch Dance Party

This project is a chance for you to exercise your creativity! First, choose a piece of music that is at least 20 seconds long (you can use part of a longer piece). Then, use your imagination as you make your Finch dance to the music! Use short moves and turns that match the rhythm of the music. Change the beak color on beat as well. You can even use the Finch’s buzzer to add to your musical selection!

Extension: Use other items from the Sound menu to enhance your project. You can even write your own song for the Finch dance party!

Extension: Work in a group to make multiple Finch robots dance together to the music of your choice.

For a fantastic example of this activity check out the work of Terri Gaussoin’s 4th and 5th grade students at the Janet Kahn School of Integrated Arts (formerly Eubank Academy of Fine Arts) in Albuquerque, NM. They combined the music and history of jazz with coding using the Finches. Working in collaboration with high school mentors from the Digital Arts & Technology Academy (DATA) and their math & science teacher Aaron Jawson, the culminating project of this exciting endeavor was a music video combining Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing” and the Finch robots.




You can use the indentation in the Finch’s tail to attach a marker with tape or velcro. Then you can make the Finch draw shapes!

Loops can be used to create a lot of interesting shapes. Start by trying out the program below, then modify it to create your own design!

Extension #1: Try adding additional markers to the Finch.

Extension #2: First, write a program to make Finch draw a shape. Your group can then challenge another to perform one of the three geometric transformations: translation, reflection, rotation, or dilation. This group will look at your shape and then write a program to draw it with the given transformation. Take turns challenging different groups to practice all four transformations. This extension is based on an activity by Lisa Ledford and Jo Ray Van Vliet of Towns County Elementary School (Hiawassee, GA).


Robots That Make Art

A 4-6th grade visual arts and science lesson. Students investigate the world of robotics as they use creativity and innovative thinking to design a robot that can make artistic marks.