AI & Robots Activities
When beginning to research this month’s topics (AI & Robots) I needed to look no further than my own writers’ group. Longtime member George Anthony Kulz is our resident technical guru with books out about both topics. And he is a prime example for the success strategies of STEAM. While he uses his technical skills and knowledge for his work, he has also been honing his creative writing skills. Combining the two has resulted in a complementary career as a children’s book author, showing how important it is to balance the sciences with the arts.
I asked George several questions about his writing and how he got there. At the end of this article, there are some resources for kid activities that combine visual art, writing, and science.
You have been asked to write a number of books about technology. How did you come by your interest and knowledge?
I have always been interested in technology since I was a kid. My dad worked as an electronics technician and loved learning about new technology. He passed that interest on to me. I mostly do my own research on new technology. I also hold a B.S. and a M.S. in Computer Engineering and have worked as a software engineer since 1993. I am currently enrolled in a computer science program at Johnson and Wales University to learn about the latest developments in computer science today and to refresh my existing knowledge.
You are not only an experienced computer scientist, you are also an accomplished and imaginative writer. You write middle grade ghost stories. Do you think technology and creative writing can be partners?
There are a lot of similarities between developing technology and developing a story, and certainly knowing one can definitely help with the other.
For both, you are trying to solve a problem. When developing technology, the problem is a real-world problem, like: how do I land a rocket on the moon? When developing a story, the problem is an imaginary one and most likely your main character’s problem, like: how is Myles going to catch that ghost that’s been hanging around the graveyard down the street?
To solve a problem, you need a set of steps to get there. Related to technology, that set of steps is called an algorithm. In a story, it’s called a plot. In both the development of technology and a story, there may be a series of smaller problems that need to be overcome in order to move step-by-step to the solution. Keep in mind that, in order to stay focused, every step in building technology and building a story should take you (or your character) closer and closer to the goal of solving the problem.
Setbacks are inevitable when trying to accomplish anything. Maybe in the real world, they’re not fun and can be frustrating. In the story’s imaginary world, setbacks may not be fun for the main character. But in both cases, setbacks can build character and can make the one solving the problem more determined to succeed. Keep track of these setbacks. When building technology, it’s good to write these down so you can learn from them. In your story, it’s good to write setbacks down because it helps to build suspense and keep the reader interested in your character’s journey to get to their goal.
Most important of all, though, is that in developing both technology and a story, you need to use your imagination. Some of the best technological advances came from someone’s creativity. Just like some of the best stories.
What kinds of activities did you do as a kid that channeled you into a technology career as well as having interest in writing for kids?
One thing that most affected my decision to go into a technology field was a Christmas gift my dad gave me when I was very young. It was a kit of electronic parts that, when put together, made a real working radio. Another was playing home video games and wondering how they worked and how I could create some of my own.
My love of stories came from my mom, who read to me almost from the day I was born. My love of writing definitely came from one of my elementary school teachers. I developed a love of language because he constantly challenged me to learn new words and encouraged me to read well beyond my grade level. It was in his class that I wrote my first short story, and I fell in love with the idea of writing from that point on.
Do you have advice for kids who would like to do the same?
First, understand that you can do more than one thing. A person is not just a software engineer. They’re also not just a writer. In fact, there are no limits to what a person can do. Just remember to do what makes you happy. If you want to be a dancer and also fix cars, do both. If you want to be a teacher and also fly airplanes, do both. In my case, I like to create software and also like to write. When someone asked me if I could write a book about some software topics, I thought: Wow, what a great idea. I never thought of that before. I had found a way to do both of my favorite things at the same time!
Once you find those things that make you happy, learn everything you can about them, however you can, from whomever you can. Find others who share the same excitement about those things that excite you. It’s always better when you do things with others. Plus, you can always learn something from anyone you meet.
Then, once you think you know enough, go out and do those things. Don’t be afraid to fail. It builds character. You can learn from your mistakes. You can always (and probably will) do better next time. And who knows? Doing those things that you love may take you to some interesting places that you never imagined.
Thank you, George, for insightful advice! Here are the links for the two books above.
https://www.amazon.com/Artificial-Intelligence-Real-World-Set-ebook and Hobby-Competition-Robots-Robot-Innovations.
For more activities, I went to Teachers Pay Teachers, a website of sharing teaching activities. It offers both free and paid materials developed by teachers. I found a number of art, writing, and robot projects for different age groups. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/
And think about George’s advice – do what makes you happy. The arts are a path to enjoyment of sciences, as well as increased learning and invention. Remember STEAM!
Margo Lemieux and George Kulz are members of The Magic Storymakers, a children’s writing group that was started in 1998. They both have stories in Kaleidoscope for Kids, an anthology with contributions from members of the group (and Margo has art too).
The Knitted Apple (Energy Robot)
(Descriptive Writing Robots)