Robot Personifications

posted on Aug 2, 2019

Have you ever wondered if we are learning more from the students we teach than they are learning from us? If we take the time to observe our students, we can see that they are filled with their own ideas, and their natural creativity is just waiting to be unleashed.

Robot PersonificationsThese expressive, collaged robots evoke
a feeling a happiness and joy.

I developed this lesson in collaboration with a fourth-grade teacher in my school district. This was to be a lesson based on geometry and required that students include numerous shapes to create a robot, including rectangles, squares, triangles, ovals, circles, pentagons, and hexagons.

I shared a slideshow presentation with students that showed a variety of robot designs, and we identified and discussed the variety of geometric shapes they could use to create a robot. We also discussed how the robots in the slideshow appeared to have feelings, just like we do. Some looked happy, while others appeared sad or lonely. There were also robots who looked very fashionable, and others that appeared to be scary and tough. Students drove the discussion, and the term “personification” came up, which we defined as “when something nonhuman takes on human characteristics.” What happened next was the moment when I realized that students were teaching me.

Robot Personifications

Emotional Portraits
While the primary objective was to create a robot using geometric shapes, students latched onto the idea that robots are “human-like” and could have feelings. They proceeded to create robots from geometric shapes that inexplicably became tender self-portraits, each resembling the child, and each conveying a different emotion or feeling. Whether drawn or collaged, the artworks were beautifully expressive, and truly revealing of myriad emotions including vulnerability, confidence, loneliness, joy, and fear. It is well-known that art is a vehicle for self-expression, and for some children, images can express what words cannot. I have found this to be especially true with our English-language learner population. Children’s artworks powerfully and freely communicate their intricate thought processes, breaking down the complex barriers of spoken language with which many struggle.

In reflecting on this lesson, I realized I started with my usual teaching strategy: “I do, You do, We do” model, where I present a slideshow and directions, conduct a demonstration, then allow students to begin their own work. Students took the lesson in an unexpected and surprising inquiry-based direction, posing questions about robots and personi-fication and working collaboratively with each other to explore ideas and solve problems, such as how to incor-porate geometric shapes and make the robot more human in appearance and expression. This lesson became an important reminder of how thoughtful chil-dren can be and the importance of teaching to the affective domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy, where the emotions play a key role in the learning experience.

Megan Giampietro is an art teacher in the School District of Philadelphia. mgiampietro@philasd.org

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