Art in Motion

By Tamara Pearson and Katie Henry. Posted

A student engaging with American Civil Rights photography during the Art in Motion project. Image credit: Tamara Pearson and Katie Henry

Tamara Pearson and Katie Henry integrated physical computing in art lessons to engage students who might not see themselves as computer scientists

In 2018, students from Sandtown Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia toured an American Civil Rights photography exhibit at the High Museum of Art, but this wasn’t a typical museum gallery walk. The visit to the museum was the start of a semester-long project known as Art in Motion – a project-based curriculum designed to authentically integrate computer science into art classes. This program helps students who don’t normally see themselves as part of the computer science pipeline to broaden their view of themselves as potential coders. The program begins with students selecting a meaningful work of art (online, in a museum, or anywhere) and creating a new work of art in response using a robotics kit and art supplies.

Art in Motion is inspired by a project known as Moving Masterpieces developed by art teacher Jayne Sweet in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Moving Masterpieces asks students to recreate a favourite work of art using robotics. Whether asking students to recreate an existing work of art or create something new altogether, here’s a pathway you can follow to integrate robotics and computer science into your art classroom.

Check your resources

What robotics tools are already being used in your school? For Art in Motion, we used Hummingbird Robotics Kits, but micro:bits or similar would also work. The important thing here is to find out what hardware or software students are already using to create with robotics. If nothing is being used in your school, you could start with Scratch, a free, web-based application that you can use to integrate creativity and computer science into any classroom.

Does one year group seem to be using more physical computing tools than another? If this is your first time integrating computer science into your art classroom, you may want to start working with a class with the most computing experience first. However, for a project like Art in Motion, no prior experience is actually necessary.

Using tools already available in your school, and prior computing knowledge students bring to the project, will help to ensure success. But remember, this project is about helping students broaden their view of themselves and computer science. If you continually rely on a small group of students who have attended an expensive summer camp or after-school robotics club to ‘help you teach’, you may be unintentionally putting up walls between yourself, the content, and the rest of the students.

Disrupting negative bias and stereotype with and for historically under-represented groups such as students of colour, girls, students with special needs, resource-poor and rural students, requires intentional effort on your part to be sure that these students see themselves represented in the process. Just because some of your students may have greater computing knowledge than you doesn’t mean you can throw good pedagogy out the window and let these students run the show with bad classroom practices. You don’t want to say to your students, “Computer Science can be for anyone,” then accidentally teach it’s only for people who can afford summer camps or have care-givers who can provide transportation to after-school clubs.

Find out where the resources of hardware, software, and computing skill are in your school and use them to launch your project successfully – but remember, you know your students best, and are responsible for being sure they each have their voice heard in the process.

Get started

How will you invite students into the project? Students at Sandtown Middle School began with a trip to an art museum, but you can start anywhere. Try to see your local community through fresh eyes. What public art is within walking distance of your school, or even in your own school? For example, check your local park or library for murals or sculptures or connect with another part of your school’s campus that displays art. The goal of Art in Motion is for students to create a work of art, using robotics, in response to something they experience.

How will you teach students to work in their new medium of robotics? A single mini-lesson on programming an LED to blink can go a long way for your learners. If you commit to ensuring that every student learns a few basic skills, they will likely teach themselves a lot more. Just like working with any other medium in your classroom, you’ll need to allow time for students to practice with robotics. Set your students up for success by teaching a few basic skills, but let your students have time to experiment with their new skills. Integrating LEDs and motors is a good start – to make projects more interactive, ask students to integrate sensors.

How will your students share their final projects? Think about where student projects originated, and try to reach that same audience with your students’ new projects. Did your project begin in an art museum? Display student projects there. Did your project begin with a mural at a public library? Display student projects there. Students need an authentic audience with whom to share their work. Invite your students into the planning process of sharing their work.

An 8th grade student creating original Art in Motion piece. Image credit: Tamara Pearson and Katie Henry

Be surprised

If this is your first time integrating the arts and computer science, you may not know what to expect. That’s great! True creativity involves a surprise along the way; if you already know exactly what is going to happen, you might not be creating something new. Allow yourself to be surprised by giving up a little bit of control over the final product.


Tamara Pearson

Tamara Pearson is Associate Director of School and Community Engagement at the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing (CEISMC) at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia.

Katie Henry

Katie Henry is the Head of Partner Engagement in North America for the Micro:bit Educational Foundation.



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