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(May 2017 Newsletter) Lego Robotics

By Nhan Pham

Legos are not only fun to play with - they’re educational as well. At Grant Elementary School and many other schools throughout Eastmont, students can take part in a Lego League club that teaches robotics and more. This club is part of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) for the district.

“The US First Robotics Programs are a great way for students of all levels to learn and become excited about robotics, programming and STEM careers in general,” said Patricia Betzing, a math teacher at Eastmont High School. “Eastmont School District is running teams at most elementary schools - primarily third and fourth graders, both middle schools and the high school, which includes students from the junior high and high school.”

Cassie Manring, a fourth-grade teacher who runs the program for Grant, said this is a great opportunity for students to acquire valuable skills. “Kids learn to work together,” she said. For each session at Grant, up to 24 students take part in a course that lasts three months. Both boys and girls from 2nd-4th grades meet a few times a week after school - for up to an hour and a half. The program is free for students and they get a T-shirt for joining.

However, this is a big commitment, and not every student can just join. Due to the limited spots, teachers recommend names from their classrooms as candidates to take part in the program. Also, students must have transportation, and there is a signed contract because of the team-oriented aspect of the program, Manring said. Still, this is all meant to be fun for the students. They get to choose team names like “Space Piranhas” and “Donut Warriors” while also coming up with a fitting team logo. All of which promotes the teamwork aspect of the Lego League. “(The program) teaches how you are not an individual when you are part of a team and how everyone counts on you,” she said.

A focus of the club has the students working on an ongoing project about habitats. For instance, a group could choose to do a bear habitat. Thus, they would learn about what a bear’s natural habitat is (natural versus manmade), what a bear would eat, potential predators/prey and so forth. And this is where the Legos come into play. Student teams divide themselves into separate roles with the goal of constructing their habitat using the Lego pieces.

“My favorite part is to build,” said Nathan Pierce, a second grader who took part in the club’s first session earlier in the year. “I like the jobs.” Pierce said he enjoyed working with other students in expressing their ideas, especially when it came to choosing which Legos to put onto their habitat project.

Not to mention, there is the robotics portion of the club. Using the WeDo 2.0 robotics kit computer software, students learn to “program” special Lego creations. They can make these creations perform actions, such as having them move across the table or do sound effects.  “The kids have a good time,” Manring said. “It’s also guided imagination.” Eventually, the students have to present their projects to judges as part of a “competition.” There are no real winners per se, but the students do receive awards and recognition for their hard work, Manring said.    

Overall, the Lego League has been a successful program for Grant. Though next year, there might be some changes to the requirements and structure of the club, Manring said. Nonetheless, the Lego League provides students with an excellent environment to learn about teamwork while also being creative and imaginative. “Parents are really thankful,” she said. “We have received nothing but good feedback.”

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