Posted: Friday, April 15, 2016 12:30 am |
Making a Lego alligator open and close its mouth may not seem like part of a classroom lesson, but for students at Marion C. Early Elementary School in Morrisville, using brightly colored bricks is just one way they are expanding their learning.
Using Lego Education WeDo construction sets, students in grades three through five have the opportunity to learn about programming and coding, all while learning reading, writing and arithmetic. Principal Dr. Kerri Criner said each third- through fifth-grade classroom has a set of Lego WeDo sets, and they are used in the classroom as stations students rotate through, working in pairs.
Students use online instructions to build figures including birds, monkeys and lions, and an alligator that opens and closes its mouth to reveal its sharp Lego teeth. If it has been constructed correctly, the animal or object will move and make noise. If not, students go back and recreate the figure. “Some of our kids have already learned that they can create whatever they want (with the bricks),” Criner said. “We have a fourth-grader who built a car. They wanted to code it to hit the wall, so they did, and then the coded a crashing sound (to play) when it did.”
Criner called the Lego WeDo sets amazing, sharing that the concept of using these in the classroom is for students to learn critical thinking and problem solving. She said the district purchased the sets last year using some title funding. “It always has to link back to reading and writing, and I felt very strongly that it could,” she said. “They have to think about and answer questions.” Emma Bickle and Brinlee McKinney had just finished building a Lego alligator (with an overbite, Bickle said) when the BH-FP visited their classroom Monday morning. They called the WeDo sets really fun and sometimes frustrating, especially when they do not work. “I actually worked on (the alligator) a couple weeks back, and it didn't work,” Bickle said. “We redid it this morning and it's just starting to work.”
In addition to programming the alligator to open and close its mouth on a plastic frog, they also had it get some shuteye as it made a snoring sound. Bickle said the Lego sets help her learn better in the classroom and solve problems. While part of the students' time is spent putting together a set and programming it to move, another part is answering questions about the project they are working on. McKinney said they also research the animals they build, including the alligator. “One of the questions we have to answer is, 'How is the Lego alligator programmed different from a real alligator brain,” Bickle said.
Third-grade teacher Rhonda Agee said she likes using the Lego WeDo sets in her classroom because it gives students the opportunity to be completely “hands on.” “Some of the ones (who) might struggle with paper and pencil really excel when they're touching something and actually seeing how it works,” she said. “We also work with vocabulary and add essential questions to it. I try to get my higher-order thinking questions in, and I can take it up a level.” Agee said she has seen students' comprehension of classroom material increase since they started using the Lego sets. “The kinesthetic learner can actually apply the facts they learn in science, and it's not just facts they are learning, they can actually see how it works,” she said. “The computer just models it. They also have to do some coding, and they can change it if they want. They're being creative and making something they want. Sometimes in groups we'll have one student (who) will stand back and watch, but with Legos, everyone gets involved.” Macie Letterman and Micaiah Dye use the WeDo sets in Amy Becker's third-grade classroom. They said they sometimes play with Legos at home, but unlike the ones they own, the WeDo sets can be connected to a computer to move and make sounds. “We use a computer to make them move,” Letterman said. 'It's not really hard to learn to do because there are directions.” Letterman said her favorite WeDo to build has been the top that spins when it is coded correctly. Dye said he and another student built a spaceship with their set. “You should work together and make something cool,” Letterman said about the sets.
Coding and programming also takes place in the computer lab, where instructor Ashleigh Johnson leads students in using Code.org, a non-profit “dedicated to expanding access to computer science and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color.” (www.Code.org) According to its website, Code.org indicates that its vision is “that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science.” The organization believes coding should be made part of schools' core curriculum. Using the website, students learn about creating algorithms and watch videos of students around the world using coding and programming in everyday situations. This is the first year for computer class at the elementary school, according to Johnson. “I started with the younger grades,” Johnson said about teaching coding. “They are a lot more familiar with it, and I am slowly integrating it into my older grades.” Johnson said she believes it is important to teach coding because it gives students the chance to learn about the parts of a computer and how they work.
“Coding gives life back to the knowledge of what it means to follow directions, what it means to collaborate as a team,” she said. “They're constantly doing team work and learning how to solve problems ... they have to work together to be very specific in learning to give the computer a specific set of directions to complete a task. It teaches them not only to do that themselves — to be independent — but it also teaches them how to do that in a situation where they're working with other individuals who have different viewpoints and mindsets on how to solve a problem.” Johnson said coding gives students a better understanding of how a computer works.
“This has been amazing,” she said of the coding programs. “I've seen so much life occur for them in the computer lab since we started coding. They're able to see young students from all over the world code as well, and they see that these students are wanting to work with computer systems. They're getting to understand it at their level, though. It's, 'this is something I can accomplish, something I can do, whether I'm younger or I'm older.' It gives them a lot of confidence in that.”
Johnson said she learned about coding during a staff meeting last year. “They asked if I would be interested in trying it out,” she said. “I'm always interested in trying new things that will get (students) passionate and motivated about learning, specifically in the computer lab, not just about the computer, but how we can use our skills in the computer lab in real life, and that's really clicked for them through coding."
Fifth-grade teacher Amy Ginnings secured a grant last year that brought her classroom to one-to-one this year, with every students using a Chromebook during the school day. Part of the grant has students creating their own newspaper, The Panther Press, during writing each week. Bridget Smith-Wilson said they use the computers in their class to do a lot of reading and writing. They are also using their Chromebooks to prepare for MAP testing. “Right now, we're planning in our notebook and then writing on the Chromebook so it will come together smoothly,” she said.