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DANCING WITH THE ROBOTS: Creativity and Computers Combine In Robotics Class

Posted: October 3, 2012

This past Saturday, September 29, the members of the Mr. Christopher Roche’s Robotics 1 class called in some creative assistance to consult on their efforts to program robots to dance. SM chemistry teacher Naomi Choodnovskiy, once a competitive ballroom dancer and an experienced participant in “social partner dance”, brought one of her dance partners, Andrew McKay into Mr. Roche’s classroom. First year robotics students then used their dancing to Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” as a model for choreographing the creative expression of three small robots.

These were iRobot Create machines, “teaching versions” of the Roomba robot vacuum cleaners. Students use open interface language to build and program applications, guided by the choreographic guidance provided by the two human dancers.

This innovative collaboration between creative insight and technology is an exemplar of the current STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-and-Math) initiative, part of the St. Mark’s 2020 Strategic Plan. Ms. Choodnovskiy also uses dance in her Chemistry classes to illustrate Lewis Dot Structures.

“This really brings the programming process to life for the students,” says Christopher Roche. “It’s great that we can incorporate an arts aspect into the program.”

Assistant Head of School and Dean of Faculty Michael Wirtz agrees. “I love the partnership between Mr. Roche and Ms. Choodnovskiy,” he says. “Both are passionate teachers, and this demonstration allowed Mr. Roche’s computer science students to think differently about the problem in front of them, while also allowing them to get to know a different side of Ms. C. This is the type of collaborative, spontaneous learning environment that we are constantly cultivating at St. Mark’s.”