Austin 7th graders program robots to perform in school play

You probably don't think of science and engineering projects when it comes to the theater.

AUSTIN - You probably don't think of science and engineering projects when it comes to the theater, but when the curtain rises on a school play at one Austin school, the audience is sure to be surprised. 

At The Ann Richards school for Young Women Leaders, 7th graders are preparing for their school play. 

Tuesday, they painted props and put the finishing touches on costumes. 

But in this performance, the students aren't the only actors. 

The students wrote original songs and stories for the play, but also programmed robots to perform with them. It's part of a program called, "RoboArts."

"So this is the file that I've done so far, which is only one part of the play," said 7th grader Diana Moreno as she showed KVUE's Christy Millweard her work. 

Moreno showed KVUE how it all worked.

"These are for movement so they go straight, and some of them are for turning," Moreno said. 

It's a class that can be difficult. 

"It's a little bit hard because you have to try to figure out the right angles and how many rotations it has to go," Moreno said. 

But, for many of the students, it's worth it 

"It feels good because you get it right," Moreno said. "I'm so glad that I did it, I'm so glad that I did not fail this time."

The RoboArts program is part of a partnership with The Paramount Theater, Science in a Suitcase and Google Fiber. They aim to pair engineering and science with art and music. 

"I helped program the robot a little bit, and I also helped make some of the costumes," said 7th grader Sophia Duarte.

"It's like some of us can really draw and create things, and some of us can't but they can also do like robots," said 7th grader Da'resiah Thomas. 

Thomas told KVUE she likes the art and creative side a bit more.

"It's been really exciting to come to class and work on art and songs and stuff," said Thomas. 

She especially likes to act. 

"It's pretty cool, but once you get on the stage it's scary," said Thomas. 

Patience Blythe is the 7th grade Project Lead The Way teacher, and works to integrate arts into the STEM curriculum. 

"I was super excited to be able to bring robotics and the arts together. Typically robotics is only taught in a competitive way, and this is a really different way because it's creative and more collaborative," said Blythe. 

Jennifer Luck is the director of Paramount Theater Education. 

"In a lot of robots programs they're told you're robot needs to go from A to B, and there's not a real clear objective," Luck said. "That happens when you create stories and characters that have needs and wants, and now you need to program a robot to do that it just opens up that process for the girls."

It's a process that also opens up their opportunities for the future. 

"At the end of the day, we realize that's the real world," said Luck. 

She said it's something they've learned from working with partners at The Paramount. 

"They're constantly talking about the need for very creative, collaborative employees," Luck said. "You can't have art without science, and science without art."

In the future, Paramount Theater hopes to expand the program to other students in Austin. 

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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