Coding the Bard

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Wherefore dost thou pair Shakespeare and robotics?

At the end of each school year, my Composition 9 students write letters to next year’s incoming classes of students. It is a time for the students to reflect on the many writing adventures we embarked upon throughout the year. Epistolary (letter) writing provides the students with time and space to reflect upon their learning, detail moments of writing triumph, and to impart nuggets of wisdom to next year’s students.

What does this have to do with coding and Shakespeare?

The content of the student letters was overwhelmingly filled with two words: Sphero and Shakespeare. It was by far their absolute favorite learning experience of the entire year. Almost every letter I read mentioned how much the students enjoyed working with Sphero, and how the knowledge they learned about Shakespeare was a skill they would take with them throughout their lives.

What is Sphero?

Sphero is a robot created for classroom use.  Students can control the robot through an iPad app or on a Chromebook app.  It is recommended teachers either attend a training or spend some professional development time learning how to implement the robots in a classroom setting.  The robots can move manually through the drawing portion of the app.  They can also be coded through block coding, which includes creating a dragging “blocks” of instructions, which is comparable to creating a promptbook for blocking thespian movement on a stage (for those of you who are theatre folk.)

Sphero robots build the following skills when combined with ELA:

1.  Theatrical Parallels- Promptbook, Set design & Construction, Costume, Hair & Makeup, Stage Movement & Line delivery

Staging the robots as thespians draws many parallels with the experience of directing a stage production with human thespians. The production of live theatre itself is interdisciplinary in nature, requiring a myriad talent to collaborate from various disciplines to create the experience of a live stage performance. Designing and constructing the set is a feat of engineering and mathematics.

2. Plot & Narrative Structure

The capacity to merge storytelling aspects with robotics provides for new and inventive ways for students to not only understand the constituent elements of a plot but to reimagine and recreate new approaches to the foundational elements of narrative writing.

3. Subtext

Learners can dig into the subtext of a play through the use of robots because they infer and fill in the information to create a performance piece.  The robots are expressive (colors can be used to display particular emotional states) and can even be coded to say words/phrases.

4. Characterization

The characters come to life as the students engage in the process of recreating the features of characters from the play through the robots.  The thoughts, words, deeds, and appearances of the characters are exemplified through the robots as identified by the students.

5. Empathy

Students may develop empathy for the characters in a story by actualizing the characters through the use of the robots.  It is a conspicuous way to display the given circumstances of a story, and the students may be able to better relate to the themes and lessons inherent in the text.

Try it Out! An Instructional Plan:

Eager to try out this novel approach to literacy instruction?  My entire instructional unit “Coding the Bard” is featured as a resource at The Aleatory Imaginarium Shop!

Upon purchasing such wares at the shop, thou shalt be most prepared for creating an engaging, fun and rigorous interdisciplinary unit for any drama-based text!


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