It’s not often you see teachers encouraging first-graders to touch and play with a honey bee. But when the bee is three feet long and does a waggle dance, it’s hard to resist. Bella the bee is actually a high-tech robot, built by MSOE electrical engineering student Tim DeLeo, to accompany a story.
Last year, more than 500 students from Milwaukee researched, wrote about and drew honey bees to create the book A Busy Bee: The Story of Bella the Honey Bee. SHARP Literacy, a non-profit that serves 5,500 vulnerable students in Milwaukee, brought all of this work together to create the book, but wanted to go further to make learning about bees even more interesting to kids, especially since the first-graders don’t have as many interactive opportunities as the older students, says Nandini Sinha, the vice president of fund development at SHARP.
And thus, Bella was born. She sits on a stand that also holds an LCD screen with several buttons that students can press to hear just over 20 questions and answers all about honey bees. She is bilingual, lights up and dances – an instant favorite of the kids who got to come see her.
DeLeo worked for about a year, trying different electronic systems and hoping to finish it all within the $3,000 budget, which was funded by Brady Corporation. He also tapped local sculptor Tom Queoff to create Bella’s body. “I’m still a kid myself,” DeLeo says, so he tried to think about what he would find fun when learning about bees.
To the students, she is Bella. But to DeLeo, the bee’s name is Brad, after a good friend who passed away a year and a half ago and advised DeLeo to get into animatronics. The work paid off, and Bella/Brad will be moving to its new home at the Haggerty Museum, where both the bee and the kids can waggle dance all day long.