Robots All Around Us

By Lisa Verrilli, November 5, 2006

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Other

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Four fifty-minute class sessions


Students love to think like designers and be the decision makers in their own creations. During this unit, students work in design teams to research and discuss robots that exist; create a rendering of a robot they want to make; build a three-dimensional prototype of their robot; participate in presentations and peer criticism; and write a descriptive paragraph about their creation.

National Standards

Language Arts
Visual Arts
Standard 2. Knows how to use structures (e.g., sensory qualities, organizational principles, expressive features) and functions of art 3. Uses visual structures and functions of art to communicate ideas Standard 3. Knows a range of subject matter, symbols, and potential ideas in the visual arts 2. Knows how subject matter, symbols, and ideas are used to communicate meaning Standard 4. Understands the visual arts in relation to cultures and history 1. Knows that the visual arts have both a history and specific relationships to various cultures 2. Identifies specific works of art as belonging to particular cultures, times, and places 3. Knows how history, culture, and the visual arts can influence each other Standard 5. Understands the characteristics and merits of one's own artwork and the artwork of others 1. Knows various purposes for creating works of visual art 2. Knows how people’s experiences (e.g., cultural background, human needs) can influence the development of specific artworksStudents describe how people's experiences influence the development of specific artworks


During the course of this unit students will:
  • describe what their idea of design is and how it is used
  • participate in group and class discussions
  • work with a team while brainstorming, sketching, building, and re-designing
  • present their works-in-progress and final products
  • evaluate their own work and the work of their peers


Transparencies of the following images: (search for on the internet or on the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design website)
  • Convair Autoplane – Flying Car Project
  • Child’s Chair
  • Side chair for the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo
  • “Wassily”
  • FedEx logo from the exhibition Mixing Messages
  • Cheer box design
  • Design for a bathroom; Frederick W. Paterson Apartment NYC
  • Design for living room for Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Gash
  • Luggage Labels
  • Design for “The Ten-Deck House”
  • Cottage No. 13


sketchbooks , pencils, overhead projector, colored pencils, foam core board (or cardboard), popsicle sticks, masking tape, paper towel rolls, aluminum foil, pipe cleaners, buttons, glue, washable paint, brushes, water, construction paper, scissors


design, industrial design, line, color, aesthetics, structure, sculpture, engineering


Session One Procedures
Divide class into “teams” of three or four students. The students will work together in one sketchbook on their concept throughout the unit.Give each team 5 minutes to talk with each other about what they think design is. What does the word mean to them? What do designers do?
Whole Group Discussion: Each group should share their ideas about what they think design is. List them on the board. Next, look at the transparencies listed under resources together and encourage the students to lead the discussion and add to the ideas about design already listed. During the discussion, help students make connections to design shows like “Trading Spaces,” architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, and logos like the Nike swoosh or Tommy Hilfiger. (15-20 minutes) Tell the teams that they will be designing a robot during this unit.
Group Work: Students break into their design teams again to work on a sketch of something they would like to design concerning their robot. This will serve as their “vote” on what their class unit will be.
Session Two Procedures
Whole Group Discussion: Lead a talk with the students about robots they have seen in movies or on TV. What do they like about them, what would they change? (5-10 min.) Group Work: Students talk with their design team for a few minutes about their design concept. They must work together and compromise so that each team member’s ideas are represented in the concept. After making initial decisions about what their robot will do and look like, design teams are given ten minutes to begin sketching their design. While they work, students are asked to think about color and aesthetics. Colored pencils are available to those who are ready to experiment with color options. (20-25 min.)
Reflection: Each group presents their design idea to the class. Class members are invited to ask questions about or comment on the design concepts they see. (10-15 min.)
Session Three Procedures
Whole Group Discussion: Teacher demonstrates how to use masking tape and connect materials in order to build a stabilized robot. Students are challenged to make their design into a three-dimensional sculpture that remains standing. As students encounter problems in their design, they must work together to find a solution and re-design their structure. (5-10 min.) Group Work: Students work together to finalize their ideas and formulate a plan for building their structure. They must work together so that all members of their team take part in building the robot. All difficulties and problems are solved by the team, not the teacher, and not a single student. The entire structure does not need to be completed by the end of work time, but the team should be off to a good start. (20-25 min.)
Reflection: Each group presents their structure to the class and discusses any problems they encountered, how they solved them, and how their design changed from their initial idea. Class members are invited to offer positive feedback or ask questions. (10-15 min.)
Session Four Procedures
Whole Group Discussion: Teacher reminds team members that their structure must stand and answers any questions from the class. (5-10 min.)
Group Work: Students work together to complete their structure. Once the robots are built, students should paint or decorate them. Any changes from the original color design should be noted in their sketch books. Why did they decide on the change? (20-25 min.)
Reflection: Each team presents their finished robot. They are encouraged to speak about positive and negative experiences while designing and building their pieces. What would they change if they could start over? What would stay the same? Classmates are invited to offer positive feedback or ask questions. (10-15 min.)


Since the first lesson in the unit is merely a discussion to spring-board into the activities, there is not a rubric for that lesson. A rubric for session 2 is attached (called appendix one), as well as a rubric for sessions 3 and 4 (called appendix two).

Enrichment Extension Activities

One idea for enrichment is to pair teams up. Instead of having each team build their own design, have each team bring their design idea to another team so that one team is building another team's design. Teams working together in this way will be able to discuss new ideas with each other as their design evolves. Once the robots are completed, each team will bring their robot to another team, and ask them to design a print advertisement and/or logo for their robot. This gives students exposure to the concepts of graphic design and allows them to better understand how designers work with clients, and how clients work with designers.

Teacher Reflection

On the whole, I felt this unit was successful. Students enjoyed the work tremendously, and even volunteered to do more work at home. There were only one or two students in the class who insisted on their own way, and found it difficult to work with their group. This was resolved when I explained that changing teams, or not cooperating with current team members would lower their grade. Slowly but surely, reluctant students found a way to cooperate with each other.

One skill I feel students need to revisit is planning well before building. Many teams were so enthusiastic about beginning their build that they didn't think everything through completely. For example, one requirement of the teams is to build a robot no wider and no higher than twelve inches. While measuring, they only measured the body of the robot, not taking feet, arms or head into consideration. Teams that failed to plan sufficiently had to rebuild more than they would have liked. This, of course was a lesson in itself for the students. The next time I use this unit, I will allow for more time. Unfortunately, I only have each class for 50 minutes once a week. Students were so eager to build their robots that they pushed the project ahead when my instincts told me to have more discussions with them about their re-designs, successes, and trouble spots. Instead of doing each lesson in the unit in succession, next time I will present lessons one and two, then allow a session for discussion and continued planning before going on to lesson three. After lesson three I will allow a session for discussion of trouble spots, revisions, successes, and suggestions before completing lesson four. I think this will give students a better understanding and a more in-depth look at what they are learning.

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