Playing with Legos to Learn STEAM
Students can control the Sphero robots with their iPads.
It can look chaotic–students scrambling in all directions in the gym as if they are chasing MSE-6 droids around a star destroyer. Their smiles let you know they are having fun. And, they might not even know they are learning elements of STEAM.
These students are participating in the Lego Robotics Club at Falcon Elementary School of Technology under the guidance of Melanie Holts, gifted education teacher.
“My passion is science and math, and I want to develop kids that love it too,” she said.
The Lego Robotics Club for third to fifth graders has multiple options for students to learn and play. First there are mechanical Lego kits with specific instructions for science, technology, engineering and math-related builds. Three students used another kit to build a small working Lego guitar, which they later converted into a violin.
Legos also provide some music.
Other students are playing and learning with robots. Sphero looks like a ball, but it has gears and a motor inside. With a bluetooth connection to an iPad, students can control or program the ball's movement all the way across the gym floor or weaving through a line of red cones. For those with a delicate touch, they can use a waterproof version of Sphero to roll through paint to create art. This adds the art into science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM).
Dash robots look like a pile of bubbles, but they too can motor around the gym or through a maze on a colored mat.
“The Lego Robotics Club supports engagement in all STEM subjects,” Holt said. “They see applications for math. They see applications for technology. They are using science and engineering.”
“If they change something, they can experiment with it. Like adding or changing a Lego piece … they can ask, ‘how will it move now?’” said Ed Kulbacki, FESoT principal. “Extracurricular activities for students are important, because they can connect kids with hands-on activities, like math and science.”
The after-school Lego Robotic Club is free and is supported by annual grants from Northrop Grumman. The club has run for about eight years, giving many participating students a chance to explore STEAM in their free time without adding pressure to the family budget.
“Our students are getting introduced to things they might see in the real world if they go into fields of engineering or science,” Kulbacki said. “Students get excited about doing these things because they don’t have access to robots or lego devices they can build at home. These items can be expensive.”
Other after-school STEM programs Holt led this year included, a Lego Robotics club for first and second graders, a Windmill club to explore engineering, and Girls Who Code to introduce students to how computers work.
Besides learning, after-school clubs are important for students. “On a social aspect, they get to know different kids and have opportunities to make connections,” Kulbacki said.
“Socialization. Engagement. Building relationships. The kids in my clubs, I’ll see them in the hallway and they know I care. If something comes up, they know they can share that with me,” Holt said.
Melanie Holt helps a student before she begins painting with Sphero.
“The turnout of the clubs have been really good this year,” Kulbacki said. “We’ve been filling the clubs, even reading tutoring. Families are taking advantage of the different opportunities for their kids.”
These full clubs with engaged students are important to Kulbacki. “If kids connect to school in some way, they are going to do better in class and in learning in general.”
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