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Legos, teaching, and you

Building a city made of Legos could help teach engineering and planning skills while engaging the students. (Image: Public domain, Wikipedia commons)

It happens to everyone, eventually, even the most enthusiastic science teacher. You're going along well, getting most of the class engaged, but suddenly an outspoken "cool" kid announces, "But science is boring!" After that, your enthusiasm is not enough to sway the audience of kids vying to be thought of as cool in the eyes of their peers, if not outright socially accepted.

This is probably one of the most frustrating and feared scenarios that a science educator can encounter, and it's being heard more and more often. Educators in general struggle to teach in an interesting and engaging way so that the job isn't so frustrating. I found that science classrooms have the added bane of teaching math alongside their topic, in some schools, which makes it all that much harder for the teacher to engage students

It doesn't have to be this way, though. A recent article in the Smithsonian on Legos, reminded me of more carefree days of building competitions with cousins, only to try to repeatedly out do each other and our parents bank accounts. With the basic sets of Lego bricks, you can teach the basics of structural engineering. Lessons in bracing, tension, compression, are just the start of the lesson plan. More advanced parts from Mindstorms add sensors, servo motors, and tiny processors, and suddenly you can take your lessons beyond the basic pulley and into computer programming.

It is true that Legos are addictive, but they also create a world in which a mind, young or old, can create. With the more advanced sets like Mindstorms really unleashing the full potential of Legos, and putting "cool" back in science, programming and engineering. With these, a person can design, engineer, and program their own robot. If you want to take it one step further as an educator, you could even challenge them do have their robot do a particular task, similar to a Rube Goldberg competition. Oh, but don't stop there. The kids can control their robots with their smartphone or tablet, which brings a whole new level of coolness to your teaching.

As an educator, you wouldn't have to go it alone. Whether you are teaching preschool or university classes, Lego has a program that is set up, complete with curriculum and support. There are a lot of ideas on there on how to motivate, engage, and inspire students to take their creativity to the next level.

As a volunteer at Imagination Station in Lafayette, I found that my audience was a range of kids. However, I could still use the Legos to challenge them all at the same time. I charged the little ones to create an obstacle course for the big kid's robot to navigate through. The challenge of the big kids was to design, build, and use a robot to go pick up an item on the other side of the little kid's maze. Now, with the newest extensions to Mindstorms and new lessons, I'm excited once again to integrate these into my community classes on teaching science. At least there they already know the value of science with the "maker movement", but with Legos, they'll think it is cool again.

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Building a city made of Legos could help teach engineering and planning skills while engaging the students. (Image: Public domain, Wikipedia commons)
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