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Bella the robot teaches kids about bees
[January 16, 2013]

Bella the robot teaches kids about bees

Jan 17, 2013 (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Most people have never seen a bee dance.

Meet Bella, the larger-than-life honey bee robot that will teach about 400 Milwaukee-area first-graders all about bees, including the figure-eight waggle dance that honey bee scouts use to communicate the location of flowers and water to others in the colony.

The dance consists of two loops with a straight run in the middle. The direction of the straight run indicates the direction of the food source; the rate of looping and duration of buzzing tells the distance to the food supply.

Wednesday, several kids got to meet Bella and push her buttons during her official unveiling at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, where she was designed and built by engineering student Tim DeLeo. The kids giggled as the bee robot wiggled her abdomen in a waggle dance, and they sat wide-eyed as she told them all about bees.

Actually, a Milwaukee teacher's recorded voice explained the answers to questions recorded by real Milwaukee students -- all programmed into the robot.

The 3-foot-long, fully interactive robot has a 10.5-inch LCD display screen with an 11-button-capacity touch pad. Kids push the buttons to direct activities and identify bee parts in either English or Spanish.

The robot's antennae and wings move, and its abdomen shakes when it does the waggle dance. It has LEDs on its mandibles, a pollen basket and a stinger.

SHARP Literacy Inc. and MSOE teamed up to develop the robot as a learning tool to go with a book for first-graders at 21 Milwaukee-area schools that use a first-grade literacy curriculum developed by SHARP, a Milwaukee nonprofit.

Five hundred students from participating area schools researched bees, and their writing and drawing samples were used to develop the book "A Busy Bee: The Story of Bella the Honey Bee." The book, which will be part of the SHARP first-grade curriculum, is the 10th book in SHARP's We Love to Learn book series.

The last book, "Pat the Great Cat," was about a jaguar from Belize that lives at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Students visited Pat at the zoo after reading the book.

Bella the bee was unveiled at the MSOE Grohmann Museum, 1000 N. Broadway, on Wednesday. But the robot will be housed at the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University.

First-graders who attend schools that use SHARP curriculum will meet Bella during class field trips to the museum, said Lynda Kohler, executive director of SHARP.

DeLeo, the MSOE engineering student who designed the robot, collaborated with local sculptor Tom Queoff, who donated his time to develop a urethane mold of the bee for a shell. The project had a $3,000 budget from a grant by the Brady Corporation Foundation.

DeLeo volunteered to build the robot when MSOE professor David Howell, chairman of Servant-Leadership, sent an email about the project. MSOE encourages volunteer work to build leadership skills.

DeLeo said he has worked at a nuclear power plant and a chocolate factory. Now he knows a lot about honey bees, too. He hopes to finish his engineering classes in two years.

Next year, SHARP will explore weather in the Great Lakes, and will work with MSOE and local experts on water to build another interactive tool to help kids learn, said Kohler.

SHARP Literacy's program is tailored to help first- through fifth-grade students build reading, writing and research skills by using the visual arts and art history as primary tools for learning. Seven SHARP staff members serve 30 schools throughout the metropolitan Milwaukee area -- including Milwaukee's most at-risk schools -- reaching more than 5,500 students.

___ (c)2013 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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