By Varsha Thatte | LEF Student Ambassador
The future has arrived at Estabrook Elementary School!! Thanks to the Lexington Education Foundation (LEF), elementary-age students now have the opportunity to learn engineering concepts through hands-on instruction in robotics. The use of robotics to teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts is gaining wide-spread popularity in the U.S. as a way to help students develop a passion for STEM subjects, and to teach skills such as problem-solving, goal-setting and logical thinking.
Jeffrey Harris, a Mathematics Teacher at Lexington High School, received an LEF grant to design and implement an after-school robotics program for elementary school students. The grant funds Lego kits for students and training for the teachers running the program.
The program, designed for fourth and fifth graders, has been extremely well-received at Estabrook Elementary School, where it was implemented. “The first six-week session started in the fall and the class got filled quickly. There were 25-30 kids signed up for the whole series. I myself taught robotics for a group of fourth graders. Kids at Estabrook wanted to get involved and were really excited about it,” stated Mark Taggart, a 4th grade teacher at Estabrook.
Jeffrey Harris explains one reason for the program’s warm reception, “Elementary kids did not have the opportunity to learn about robotics until LEF helped us to establish the program at Estabrook. The LEF grant has had a huge impact on the elementary kids. It gave us an opportunity to teach robotics, which will spark their interest in engineering at an early age.”
The curriculum is divided into six sessions. Each session is structured as a conceptual presentation for 10 minutes, followed by a challenge period to be done in small groups. The introduction session starts with brief explanation about Lego and how robotics work. This session is then followed by hardware and software sessions. The hardware session teaches concepts such as using sensors and motors. The software session covers programming objectives and the programming languages used to program the Lego Mindstorms robotics kits.
The fifth session tests students’ abilities through an advanced challenge, which incorporates the hardware, software, and engineering concepts from the earlier sessions. The last session is a free build session, which runs like a robotics science fair. During the final session, students think up, design and build a robot of their own, and then present their creation to the entire class.
Kevin Le, a student at Lexington High School who helped to create the curriculum for the robotics program said, “The curriculum we made gives a huge exposure to engineering. Kids will gain problem-solving skills and creative decision-making capabilities.” Also, completing these hands-on projects builds concept understanding and reinforces students’ confidence in their own abilities.
Mark Taggart mentioned that they received many thank you notes from parents, saying their kids learned a lot of interesting, fun, and useful concepts. A parent at Estabrook said, “It was the absolute best after-school program we’ve ever participated in. Thank you so much for bringing that program. It taught my son that he absolutely loves computer programming, which is a big deal for me, since he doesn’t seem to like anything but watching TV! Thank you, LEF.”
Mark’s vision is to take this initiative to greater heights, explaining, “Our next goal is to bring robotics into the regular classrooms, make it a part of the curriculum officially, and extend it to the five other elementary schools.”
The Lexington Education Foundation (LEF) was founded in 1989 to support “better schools, brighter futures” for Lexington Public School students. LEF funds faculty-initiated grants that help address emerging issues and priorities in the district. LEF grants often fund pilot programs that point the district towards the most effective ways to address challenges and improve achievement for all students.Lexington Education Foundation (LEF) is an independent 501(c)(3) charitable organization. LEF is not affiliated with the Lexington Public Schools. For more information go to www.lexedfoundation.org or find us Facebook.