The Wild Finch

In 2017, The Wild Robot by Peter Brown was chosen for the Global Read Aloud. Classrooms around the world enjoyed this engaging story about a robot named Roz who is stranded on an island and learns from the animals how to survive in the wilderness. Fourth graders at Goodnoe Elementary School added a new dimension to the Global Read Aloud by completing a Finch challenge related to the book. For more great books that you can use to make ELA connections, see our Suggested Reading List!

Each group of students chose one of two projects connected to The Wild Robot. The first project was to retell a favorite part of the book using Finch; this project was based on Finch Tales. Students worked together to make props, program the Finch, narrate the story, and videotape the project. The goal of this first project was to have students work together to discuss a story and to make a plan to retell part of the story in an interesting way – by using the Finch.

The second project was to use the setting of The Wild Robot to explain a variety of geographic features that Roz would have to maneuver on the island; this project was linked to the fourth grade social studies curriculum. Students programmed the Finch to make its way through different geographic features while they narrated its path. Students had to come up with a list of geographic features that were part of the story, make the props to show the features, program the Finch, and record a video.

“It was fun to be able to bring the idea of a robot in a book into the classroom by using real robots. The work was challenging but fun! The children persevered because they were invested in their projects.” – Maryann Molishus


Robot Theater: Where Poetry Comes to Life

This activity is a good culminating activity to a middle school poetry unit. It would also work as a multi-disciplinary activity between technology education and language arts.

Lesson Procedures:

Class session #1
  1. Explain to students that they will be placed in a group of 3 or 4 students to make a robotic diorama complete with audio of an assigned poem.
    You can use the following videos to demonstrate the concept. (A Noiseless Patient Spider by Walt Whitman) (Bright Star by John Keats)
  2. Using the user manual connecting electronics pages and a hummingbird with one of each component connected, quickly show the parts working.
  3. By the end of the class period, the students should know their group members and the poem that they are assigned.
Class session #2
  1. Give students the Poetry Analysis Planning Document. You can either give them enough to complete their entire poem or have a set number of lines required for analysis/planning for each group. Explain that they need to do the following four steps:
    • Write the lines of the poem (can be a single line or a small group of lines)
    • Explain what these lines mean literally and figuratively
    • Brainstorm symbolism
    • Brainstorm a way that robotic components could be used for the symbolism
      Example of this—

      • “Some say the world will end in fire,
        Some say in ice.”
      • This reminds us of the age old question of whether it would be worst to die by burning or to die by freezing.
      • To represent the fire – a picture of flames with things colored red, orange, yellow
      • To represent the ice – plastic icicles from Christmas decorations, foil balls to represent snow, shredded white paper and things that are white or blue
      • To use robotics to represent the fire—red LEDs, a picture of flames moving on a motor or a servo
      • To use robotics to represent ice—blue LEDs, an open cup attached to a servo in which white shredded paper drops from
Class session #3
  1. Use the resources in the CREATE Lab Visual Programmer lessons to help students start to explore the Hummingbird parts and how to write programs to control them.
  2. Begin checking the Poetry Analysis Planning Documents for each group. Per teacher opinion, groups who have made adequate progress in their planning may start building today. The amount of time spent using the Poetry Analysis Planning Document will depend on the following factors: length of the poem, difficulty level of the poem, student reading ability, and the group’s level of collaborative communication.
Class session #4

This class period should be devoted entirely to building. To help students manage their time encourage students to create their artwork at home for homework points.

Class session #5
  1. Give each student a copy of the Audacity Instructions handout. The handout included in this lesson gives instructions for completing this step of the project on our district’s laptops. It can serve as an example for you.
  2. Watch the following screen casts on how to create the audio for the poem and how to make it into an expression. This will take approximately 5 minutes (Making audio files of your poem using Audacity) (Importing your WAV file into the Visual Programmer software)
  3. The remainder of the session will be for building and creating audio files.
Class session #6 and #7

Whether you need one or two more days will depend on the poems assigned (length/difficulty level) and the overall abilities of the students as well as the teacher’s familiarity with all aspects of the project.
Note: For the last two school years, we have invited groups of students who have been identified as either gifted or high achieving into our school for a quick build session. The students are able to complete this work in three hours with shorter poems.

Class session #8
  1. This is “the show” day and we ask each group to make a short introduction before running their program for the class. The key points for the introduction are—
    1. Your name, the title of the poem and the author
    2. Point out an electronic component and state why you are including it and what it represents
    3. Each group member should do one electronic component
    4. Each group member should tell about something they learned through the project
  2. We video the “show” and students are given digital copies of their presentation as a keepsake.
  3. Robots will need to be taken apart on this day. All robotic components need to be placed back in the kit.
  4. Reflection on the experience paragraphs are assigned for homework.

Possible Poems:

  • Fire and Ice by Robert Frost
  • Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost
  • The Pasture by Robert Frost
  • Daddy Fell into the Pond by Alfred Noyes
  • My Pretty Rose Tree by William Blake
  • A Poison Tree by William Blake
  • I held a jewel by Emily Dickinson
  • “Hope” is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson
  • A Noiseless Patient Spider by Walt Whitman
  • The Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks
  • Theme in Yellow by Carl Sandburg
  • Grass by Carl Sandburg
  • The Sun Has Long Been Set by William Wordsworth
  • Bright Star by John Keats
  • The Human Seasons by John Keats
  • Eldorado by Edgar Allan Poe
  • A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky by Lewis Carroll
  • The Crocodile by Lewis Carroll
  • As I Grew Older by Langston Hughes
  • Dreams by Langston Hughes
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • The Watcher by Rudyard Kipling
  • Calm At Sea by Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Mythological Monster Mashup

Second graders at Kentucky Avenue School in Pittsburgh, PA, use the Hummingbird robotics kit to create their own versions of monsters from Greek and Roman myths. Aimee Defoe, their teacher, incorporates this project into a larger cross-curricular unit that also focuses on myths in language arts and the history of ancient Greece and Rome. Students work in pairs to design and build their robots using mainly repurposed materials that would otherwise be discarded, such as cardboard and scraps of cloth.

Lesson Procedures: 

  1. Before the robotics portion of the project begins, have students explore mythological monsters in language arts. Read excerpts from the following books:
    • Greece! Rome! Monsters! by John Harris
    • Greek Myths by Marcia Williams
    • D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaires
  2. After reading Greek and Roman myths about monsters, have students work as a group to make a list of the features of different monsters. These features might include multiple heads, special powers, etc. Have the class work together to sketch the features of a monster.
  3. Lead students in a discussion of images from myth in the world around them. This can include making a list of gods, goddesses, and monsters referenced in books, TV shows, and advertisements; it can also include a field trip to the art museum to search for representations of myths.
    • This project can also be combined with a unit on the history of ancient Greece.
    • This project can also be carried into other subjects. For example, new vocabulary words like “sensors” can be incorporated into spelling lists.
  4. Before being introduced to the Hummingbird robotics kits, have students work in pairs to create a mashup monster that combines features from different mythological creatures.
  5. Introduce students to the components of the Hummingbird robotics kit. This can include a demonstration of a sample robot.
  6. Have students revisit their sketches to consider how they can use robotic components to animate their mashup monster. This project can be simplified for lower elementary students by limiting the number of components that they can use in their monster.
  7. Introduce students to the idea of computational thinking. This discussion should emphasizes that a program for the robot is a series of step-by-step instructions. Have students give you step-by-step instructions to complete a task within the classroom.
  8. Before each group begins to build, discuss their sketch and plan with them to ensure that their project is feasible. Remind students to bring in repurposed materials to use for their robot. Parents can also be asked ahead of time to save materials for the project.
  9. Have students begin to build their mashup monsters.
    • For younger students, it may be helpful to have stations for knives and hot glue so that students only use these tools with adult assistance.
    • To manage student questions, you may want to use the board or a large sheet of paper to have students sign up for help. This may help to prevent interruptions as you work with other groups.
  10. As students build, work with each group to show them how to use the CREATE Lab Visual Programmer. Use your sample robot to  demonstrate how to use lights, motors, and sensors. With a larger class, whole group instruction may be more appropriate for this step.
    • Encourage students to test each component with the Visual Programmer as they add it to their robot.
  11. When students complete their projects, provide an opportunity (such as an open house) for them to share their work with the school community.



Robot Shakespeare

Students encountering Shakespeare for the first time need to read critical play passages many times to really understand them, but students may be reluctant to spend a significant period of time concentrating on a single passage. Making a robotic diorama can motivate students to analyze a passage more completely. At Springdale Junior/Senior High, English teachers Heather Harapko and Dayna Hrin worked with Gifted Support Coordinator Sue Mellon to enable all 80 eighth grade students to create robotic dioramas representing excerpts from Romeo and Juliet. Each group used art and robotic elements to show symbolically the important points of the passage; students also recorded audio files of their assigned passages. Many of these students had previous experience using the Hummingbird kit, which enabled them to build and program more complex dioramas within the eight 45-minute class sessions devoted to this project. 

Lesson Procedures:

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. Prior to beginning this project, choose a number of selections from Romeo and Juliet (or another play by Shakespeare). Choose passages that you want students to analyze thoroughly.
  2. Explain the project to students. Each group will analyze a passage from Romeo and Juliet and construct a robotic diorama to depict this passage. Provide a copy of the grading rubric to students.
    • The robotic diorama should include a recording of the assigned passage.
    • The diorama should use symbolism and art to represent important aspects of the assigned passage.
    • Each diorama should contain at least four lights and at least 3 servos and/or motors.
    • Each group must demonstrate their model to the class and defend their artistic decisions based on the text.
  3. Divide students into groups of 3 or 4. Assign each group a selection from Romeo and Juliet.
  4. Each group should complete the planning document (RobotShakespearePlanningDocument.pdf). This document requires students to analyze each portion of the text and describe how they will represent it in the robotic diorama.
  5. Based on their analysis of the text, students should plan their robotic diorama. The planning document includes space for students to think about their goals, identify their constraints, and develop their design.
  6. 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.
  7. Give students several class periods to build and program their dioramas. To complete the project within the time constraints, students must divide the work. For example, in a group of three, one student might work on building, one on programming, and one on recording the audio file for the assigned passage. The planning document provides space for students to decide who is responsible for each part of the project.
  8. On the last day or two of the project, have each group present their work to the class.


This project is assessed using the attached rubric (RobotTheaterRubric.pdf). This rubric incorporates items focusing on the robotic aspects of the project, as well as items assessing the group’s understanding of their selection from the play.

Check out some students talking about their work!


Interactive Explorers

Students in grade five at Regency Park Elementary School in Plum, Pennsylvania, engaged in their first experience with Hummingbird Robotics kits while learning all about early European explorers in the Americas. Students used engineering, design, and programming to complete this task. Each group of students chose an explorer randomly, researched the explorer for key facts, wrote an autobiographical speech for the explorer to recite, and then created and coded their explorer to give the autobiographical information when an observer got close to it. Students were able to form teams and work together based on strengths. Students also learned problem-solving skills to correctly code the sequences and expressions for their explorer. This project was created by Lindsey Lamm and Donald Weisz (5th grade classroom teachers) with the inspiration coming from ASSET Incorporated training ( It was a collaboration between social studies and science. Time from both of these subjects was devoted to the project, and it contributed to students’ grades in both subjects.

Lesson Procedures:

This was designed as a beginner’s lesson for students with NO experience with the Hummingbird kit. This lesson was completed in six 40-minute class periods.
  1. We began this unit by showing the students an example of a completed robot. It was not an explorer, but the robot did everything the students were expected to do. We described the goals of the project to students. Each group had to create an Explorer to light up, wave, and speak about key facts in the explorer’s history when an observer got close to it.
  2. We then had the students research their given Explorer and make the body of the robot. This took approximately 1.5 class periods.
  3. Students then researched what their robots were going to say. We had two levels of this task. One level was a simple list of items that needed to be included in the explorer speech. The other level was a speech set up with blanks in the sentences for a more guided approach, as we wanted this to be as independent as possible for the students (see ExplorerSpeech.pdf). This approach worked well, and we would use it again.
  4. Next, we had a day where students simply got to know the Hummingbird kits themselves. We began by having students light up the LED lights. We continued with connecting a servo and making it move like a hand motion.
  5. Once students were familiar with the components they would be using, they were free to attach the components to their Explorer.
  6. After the Explorer was complete, students learned about the motion sensor and chose a distance threshold to activate their Explorer. Students also typed their speech into the CreateLab software to make the Explorer talk.
  7. Next, students created expressions to program their Explorer to light up, wave, and speak when an observer got near it.
  8. Finally, students used a gallery walk model to listen to their classmates’ Explorers as a review for their Social Studies test.

Additional Information:

We also prefaced this entire unit with the “Coding with Cups” activity from ThinkerSmith.


Honestly, the most trouble we had with this lesson was the timing. We never seemed to have enough time because the kids were so detail-oriented with their final projects. The students were overly excited to participate and cannot wait to do the activity again with another subject. We are hoping the timing will be a bit smoother now that the students have experience with the Hummingbird kits. I’ve never seen kids as excited about a Social Studies topic, so I would say this lesson is most definitely a success.



Writing and Robotics

Writing and Robotics is a week-long summer camp at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) run by the SELF Design Studio.  Writing and Robotics is an elective add-on experience for participants of the UNCG Young Writers’ Camp, which is a morning camp that spans a two week period in July.  In Young Writers’ Camp, students write and publish their own fiction or nonfiction work on the UNCG Young Writers’ Camp webpage. Participants in Writing and Robotics meet at the SELF Design Studio in the afternoons of the second week of Young Writers’ Camp.  The campers use their writing samples from Young Writers’ Camp to design and build a robot based on their writing.  In 2016, the camp will was facilitated by Lillian Carden and Matthew Fisher of the SELF Design Studio, and they were assisted by Anna Jordan, and Laura Salcedo. Student projects for 2016 are available on the Writing and Robotics webpage.

Lesson Procedures: 

This project takes place over five afternoons at a camp. Students work individually to use the Hummingbird to illustrate a work of fiction or nonfiction that they produce at the UNCG Young Writers’ Camp.

Day 1: Introduction

Students are introduced to the goals of the project via an example robot and presentation. Students are also introduced to the components of the Hummingbird kit and to the CREATE Lab Visual Programmer. Students prepare for their projects by completing mini-challenges such as the following:

  • Change a tri-color LED based on the value of the distance sensor.
  • Make the servo move through a sequence of three angles (45°, 90°, 135°) when a sound is detected. The servo should remain at each angle for 3 seconds.
  • Make a gear motor turn clockwise very fast for 10 seconds, stop for 3 seconds, and then turn counterclockwise slowly for 10 seconds. These actions should be triggered by the light sensor.
  • Play a sound when the knob sensor (potentiometer) is turned.

Day 2: Planning

Students create storyboards and plans for their robots. They use the organizer below to consider what their project will look like, what it will do, and what supplies they will need. Each student must review their design with a staff member who asks questions to encourage them to elaborate their ideas. After their design is approved, a student can begin to create the robot.

Day 3: Creating

Students work on building and programming their robots. Staff members assist with time management. In particular, they urge students to begin programming early in the process.

Day 4: Finishing

Students finish building and programming their robots. In addition, they create a short presentation that addresses the following questions:

  • What does the robot do?
  • What was your design/programming process?
  • How does it relate to your story?
  • What worked well?
  • What was hard?
  • What did you learn?

Day 5: Presenting

Students present their robots at Young Writers’ Camp and to visitors. They preserve their work by creating videos of their robots. In 2016, students also presented their work to the public at a local bookstore.



Finch Tales

In this activity, the Finch will act out a story. Follow the steps below to put together a presentation of that story for your classmates!

  1. Choose the story that the Finch will act out! You can write your own story, or you can retell a story that you have read.
  2. Think of a few key details and events that you will need to include in your story. Try to create between 3 and 5 different scenes. (Hint: Making an outline may help with this step.)
  3. Write the script for your story. Remember to include who is saying what, and also what your Finch will be doing.
  4. Make a list of props that you will need to create. Does your Finch have a costume to wear? What does the background look like? Are there other characters?
  5. Program the Finch to act out your story! You can make the Finch move from place to place, change color, dance, sing, and speak. Try to make what the Finch is doing match your script and tell the story as best as you can.

Things to think about: Will you make the Finch act out the story autonomously (on its own), or will you create a remote control so that one person can control the Finch while another narrates? Either way will require lots of practicing and revising! Will you have the Finch perform live, or will you record a video to present?

Check out some more examples! Special thanks to Jane Martellino from Bethlehem Elementary School in Connecticut for the video featured above.

You can even create very elaborate costumes for the Finch, as shown in this video from Andy Plemmons at David C. Barrow Elementary in Georgia.

Teacher Note: This activity will require multiple class periods; however, students can do much of the preparation for the project without the Finch. Story writing and prop making can take place before the students begin working with the Finch. You may also want to allow one or two class periods after completion of the project for the students to present and share their work with each other. This will give them the opportunity to work on their oral communication skills by presenting their project, asking and answering questions, and providing feedback to their peers.


Animal Adaptations

In this activity, you will imagine the Finch as an animal and write a program to show how its adaptations affect how the animal acts in different habitats.

When you choose an animal for your Finch, think about that animal’s natural habitat. You can choose an animal from any of these habitats: desert, forest, grassland, and mountains. Think about how your animal would act in its natural habitat, and how it would act in other habitats.

When you begin programming, start by creating a set of scripts to move your Finch using the keyboard. This will allow Finch to move from one habitat to another. What keys should you press to move forward, move backward, and turn?

Next, use the Finch’s light and temperature sensors to create programs that will make it act differently in all four habitats. Think about the characteristics of each habitat. Is it hot? Cold? Sunny?

Once your programming is perfected, write a description of your animal. This description should match what your Finch does in each habitat.

When you have completed all other steps, your teacher will give you the animal descriptions written by other groups. It is your job to observe how their Finches act in different habitats to determine which description fits with which program!

Teacher Note: To enable students to program their Finches to respond to different habitats using sensors, you may want to create these habitats in your classroom. You can use lighting to simulate a sunny environment, create a cave out of boxes to block the light of the classroom, and use a space heater or fan to change the temperature.


Finch Song

You can use the Finch to play a song! Choose a song from this website and make the Finch play your song using its buzzer! If you need help converting the notes to letter names, use the picture below. This picture also tells you the frequency in Hertz of each note.

Extension: Write lyrics so you can sing along with your Finch! You can write lyrics for your own original Finch song, or you can write your own lyrics for one of the tunes on the website provided.