Better Living Through Giving funds $2K in LEGO kits

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 7/2/18

Port Townsend students are being treated to hands-on lessons in engineering through LEGO and a generous grant from the local organization “Better Living Through Giving.”BLTG’s donation of $2000 …

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Better Living Through Giving funds $2K in LEGO kits

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Port Townsend students are being treated to hands-on lessons in engineering through LEGO and a generous grant from the local organization “Better Living Through Giving.”

BLTG’s donation of $2000 to the Port Townsend School District allowed the Blue Heron School to purchase five LEGO Mindstorm kits.

Through these kits, students have already been able to learn engineering and robotics concepts through play, under the direction of Blue Heron social studies teacher Leslie Shively, math and science teacher Jennifer Manning, and guest student instructor Ella Ashford.

“As students build and program, they develop skills like teamwork and

problem-solving,” Shively said.

The LEGO Mindstorm kits were already used for the robotics and rocketry camp that ran June 19-22, and they’re set to be used again for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classes, as well as the after-school tutoring and enrichment program at Blue Heron.

Shively explained that Blue Heron students use the kits to build robot bases, while experiencing structural engineering failures and successes firsthand.

“This encourages the application of prototyping processes, that compel students to be critical thinkers,” Shively said. “Once the robots are built, students can program their sensors to make the robots respond to specific stimuli, as well as prepare their mechanical champions to perform specific tasks and compete with one another. Each student develops skills that will help build the next generation of engineers and roboticists.”

The camp had 17 sixth- through eighth-grade students who used the kits, and was sponsored by the University of Washington in partnership with NASA, through the Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline partnership program.

Looking ahead, Shively expects the kits to serve the needs of up to 30 students in the STEM class, and up to 60 students in the after-school tutoring and enrichment program.

“Students are excited to learn how to assemble and program the robots,” Shively said. “The LEGO Mindstorm kits allow students to practice their programming skills, while working as a team. These are highly valuable skills, that are developed because of the kits.”

Shively admitted its been challenging to inventory and maintain all 500 LEGO pieces in each kit.

“We plan to manage the use of the kits closely, to keep cost down related to replacement parts,” Shively said. “The most rewarding aspect of having these kits is, of course, seeing the growth in the students, as they go from inexperienced programmers and builders, to roboticists exploring possibilities beyond the scope of the lesson.”

Shively reported that both boys and girls approach the kits with “excitement and confidence,” as the students realize they can grow gradually in their use of the materials.

“There is much room for applying more advanced skill knowledge, as the students move into expert mode,” Shively said. “The most surprising part of having these kits is, as educators, we’re not at all intimidated by students moving beyond our capabilities with the kits. With most of the other content we teach, we try to be experts in the content area. With these materials, we are perfectly happy learning right alongside the students. We especially enjoy the troubleshooting, problem-solving and exercising logic, as we tackle challenges together.”

Shively witnessed students taking pride in seeing the robots do what they were programmed to do, especially if those students had struggled to work through the details of their programs.

“Students learned they have to persevere, through the assembly and programming steps, as they think like engineers to solve their problems,” Shively said.

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