Lansdowne and SCAPA to give new LEGO materials a trial run
Nine-year-old Jerome Taylor already knows the value of LEGO lessons in the STEAM lab at Lansdowne Elementary, pointing out how he and classmates can be really creative in their class time. “You work as a team and also have fun,” he said one day as the children built incline planes and levers to demonstrate a catapult.
Jerome’s teacher, Jennifer Rodabaugh, has found myriad ways to incorporate the tiny plastic blocks and connect with all types of learners. A former first-grade teacher focused on reading, she had no background with LEGO until five or six years ago when the school’s PTA bought some supplies for Lansdowne. “It’s been easy to work into my curriculum. They’re really great tools, and students can put something together and see right away how it works,” Rodabaugh said. “I can count on my LEGO lessons to have really easy set-up and high engagement. It also levels our playing field since most of the kids have seen or played with LEGOs.”
Julie Moore, the science lab teacher from SCAPA at Bluegrass, also makes the most of LEGOs. “The type of playful learning involved give kids opportunities to develop creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication – all the 21st-century skills they need to be preparing for jobs of the future,” she said. “In addition, in a time when the mental health of our adolescent students is on the decline, working with LEGO just doesn’t seem as stressful for my middle-school students as traditional labs.”
Rodabaugh and Moore are in the LEGO Education Master Educator Program, in which they share best practices and provide feedback to the company. Membership also puts them on the front line for testing LEGO products in the development stage.
After a Chicago trip last year, LEGO Education reached out to Rodabaugh and Moore for a trial run with first- and third-graders at Lansdowne and sixth-graders at SCAPA, respectively. In mid-April, researchers from London-based Shift Learning and lesson writers from Denmark will visit the two schools to observe a particular new product in action. A conference call and an hour-long webinar prepped the Lexington teachers, but they haven’t actually seen the materials yet. They will be interviewed before the classroom observations and will share reflections afterward. The exercise will help LEGO Education to evaluate the new product and make adjustments before its release. Rodabaugh and Moore, who both signed a non-disclosure agreement, are eager to welcome the visitors. “What an amazing opportunity for our students to see a field that combines aesthetics with scientific functionality,” Moore said.
In a recent class before the trial run, Rodabaugh’s third-graders followed the colorful instruction booklet and assembled simple machines with well-used LEGO sets. They also witnessed how design changes affected the force required to move an object, and they embraced new science words like “fulcrum.”
“When the kids are doing it and seeing it, they begin to understand how to apply new principles,” said Rodabaugh, who likes that LEGOs are versatile, reusable, and easy to clean. “These LEGO lessons help not only hit the science and engineering targets, but every once in a while I can hit some math standards as well, such as rotating shapes with simple geometry.”
Rodabaugh believes the concrete examples improve students’ comprehension. “It gives me direct application of some of the new knowledge and new skills,” she said. “Instead of just presenting objectives, I can give them real-world applications where they can see that principle in play – happening before their eyes.”