Dynamic Poetry

Computational Thinking, Education, Electronics, MSU MAET

Since the program I will be presenting through work for the next few months will be on using the Arduino in art and science, I decided to explore if there would be a post-lesson activity that could show use of the Arduino in other subject areas. I settled on Language Arts, since I enjoy poetry and wanted to see if the form could be rethought in an interactive way that will have students create a machine-aided haiku using core computational thinking concepts such as problem decomposition, data collection and automation (Barr & Stephenson, 2011). I’d come across computer poetry in Mindstorms (Papert, 1993) and a quick Google search of “Arduino Poetry” showed that several people have had similar ideas. This approach would be unique in that the program will use readings from temperature, light, and sound sensors to choose appropriate descriptive words.

Materials needed:

  • Arduino
  • USB cable
  • Computer with Arduino IDE installed
  • Temperature sensor
  • Light sensor
  • Sound sensor
  • LCD display or thermal printer

Prerequisite Knowledge:

Students will already be familiar with creating a basic Arduino program and how to read sensor data.

Lesson Plan:

  • Students should familiarize themselves with the haiku form by analyzing several examples and identifying what they have in common. Not all haikus share the 5-7-5 syllable structure, but traditionally they use images from nature. Ask students to break up the problem of writing a haiku into smaller tasks using problem decomposition.
  • One task they identify may be choosing words that fit the haiku criteria. Students will work in groups to collect data. Using other works of poetry, students will collect adjectives used to describe temperature, intensity of light and intensity of sound to create lists of descriptive words for each sense. Explain they are acting as slow computers in scanning each text, but are acting much more intelligently than any program could in deciding the meaning of the poems and the choice of adjectives that fit the criteria. If students choose to be strict about syllable count, they may also wish to sort/mark the number of syllables each word has as well.
  • Students will then write a haiku that utilizes one of each type of descriptive word, e.g.:

Dazzling stars above
Embrace the frozen darkness
A timid bird sings

  • Have students consider how the haiku could be written so that different descriptive words could be used interchangeably, similar to Mad Libs. The words that can be changed can be considered variables, while the rest of the text would be constant. Students can write pseudocode to show how the descriptive words can be placed within the haiku.
highLightAdjective = “Dazzling”
lowLightAdjective = “Dim”

get lightSensorReading

if lightSensorReading > threshold
     lightAdjective = highLightAdjective
     lightAdjective = lowLightAdjective

repeat with sound and temperature

print lightAdjective + “ stars above”
print “Embrace the “ + temperatureAdjective + “darkness”
print “A “ + soundAdjective + “bird sings”
  • Students will write a program that will automate the poetry writing process to be used on the Arduino that will make temperature, light, and sound readings. The program should use conditional statements to choose appropriate descriptive words, e.g. if light readings are below a certain threshold, a descriptive word will be used that describes low light. Students will then use those descriptive words in their haiku that will be displayed on an LCD screen, printed on a thermal printer, or presented in some other way.
  • Students will then present their work through a poetry gallery, where their classmates can tour others’ works and use a flashlight, their shadow, ice cube in a baggie, their body heat and the volume of their voice to cause the poem to be displayed differently depending on sensor readings. Which version did they like best? Why? What effect is there in using adjectives interchangeably in poetry?

Proof of concept:

poetry_light poetry_nolight


Barr, V., & Stephenson, C. (2011). Bringing computational thinking to K-12: what is Involved and what is the role of the computer science education community?. ACM Inroads, 2(1), 48-54.

Papert, S. (1993). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. Basic Books, Inc..

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