Sharp Literacy, MSOE unveil Bella the honey bee robot to first graders

Sharp Literacy, Inc., a Milwaukee-based nonprofit organization focused on education through visual arts, introduced Bella the interactive honey bee robot to more than 50 of its first grade students Wednesday.

The robot, designed by nationally acclaimed sculptor Tom Queoff and constructed by Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) student Tim DeLeo, coincides with Sharp Literacy’s recently released book A Busy Bee: The Story of Bella the Honey Bee [ITALICS]. The book is the latest in the nonprofit’s “We Love to Learn” book series, comprised of 10 books pieced together from drawing and writing projects by Milwaukee students.

The book will serve as an educational tool for first grade students and reflects Sharp Literacy’s mission to teach students through the application of visual arts, said Lynda Kohler, executive director of the nonprofit.

“This will just be an enhancement to what they’re already doing with the honeybee curriculum and the book that has been published,” Kohler said.

The robot stands three feet tall and has a 10.5-inch LCD display screen featuring a touch pad with 11 buttons. Students can ask the honey bee robot questions in both English and Spanish by pressing the buttons to learn more about honey bees, their anatomy and their pollination process.

“The book and the robot will go together so the questions being answered by Bella are also part of the book,” Kohler said.

The robot also features movable antennae and wings as well as a movable abdomen. The bee can perform the “waggle dance” in which it sways its body back and forth to music to reflect how a honey bee acts before pollinating.

“The kids get a kick out of that,” Kohler said.

At the unveiling Wednesday, which was held at MSOE’s Grohmann Museum, MSOE student DeLeo showed students how Bella the interactive honey bee robot works and answered their questions about honey bees. DeLeo received class credit for building the robot, which took about a year according to Kohler.

The robot, funded by the Brady Corporation, will be on display at Marquette University’s Haggerty Museum of Art where Sharp Literacy students will be able to interact with it under the guidance of museum docents.

The honey bee robot project was Sharp Literacy’s first collaboration with MSOE. The nonprofit hopes to continue partnering with the institution, Kohler said.

Sharp Literacy serves about 5,500 students in grades 1-5 in 30 Milwaukee-area schools each year through programming that builds on state-mandated core curriculum. Programming includes field trips to expose students to the visual arts in Milwaukee and the development of supplementary materials like student workbooks and teacher guides. For more information about the nonprofit organization, visit

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