Sandy Brown is an elementary school teacher at BFA Fairfax. In 2017, she and two other elementary teachers and a technology integrationist developed a STEM lab for students in grades 3-5 that they named the BFA Innovation Space. Despite their focus on technology and collaborative learning based on the Next Generation Science Standards, the teachers felt the need for robotics to augment their program.
The STEM Challenge grant that Sandy Brown received in 2017 allowed her to purchase two LEGO EV3 Mindstorm robotics kits and one EV3 Space Challenge. These kits contain 14 physical science experiments, current space exploration topics, 15 engineering design projects and 12 computer science projects that can be reused for future classes.
This year middle school students in grades 6-8 had the opportunity to select the EV3 Mindstorm Robotics class as one of the Flexible Learning Opportunity classes in order to pursue more personalized and in-depth learning. Students choosing this class come to the MakerSpace and build the robot. The students can also practice coding the “brick”, which is the brain of the EV-3. The BFA technologist has even worked with High School students on coding the brick.
In the 2017-2018 school year, a fifth grade class is fortunate to be working with the robots for six weeks. They are using the LEGO e-learning course to help the students work through unpacking the kits, learning about the EV3 Brick, the cables, the core pieces and building the robot. The final step is to program the robot.
In speaking with Sandy Brown about her observations regarding the Mindstorm kits, she indicated that the students who persevere and problem solve are the most successful with this type of learning. Ms. Brown indicated that these are the skills that the teaching staff hopes all students will improve upon as they participate in the program. The students have been highly involved from the beginning from unpacking the kit through the coding of the robot.
Ms. Brown indicates that interest in working with the kits is equal among both female and male students and that using them with all fifth graders this year is allowing students to make an informed decision as to whether they want to choose Robotics as one of their six-week Flexible Learning Opportunity classes. She feels that students who may not have previously chosen this class are doing so because of the exposure they have had to working with the Mindstorm kits.
Ms. Brown also indicated that when students are working on this project they are happy to get their kits and get started and will clap with excitement when something works. While striving to “get it right”, students will have their heads down and hands working and will be talking with their partners about how to solve the problems. They also reach out to other student groups to discuss possible solutions. Ms. Brown indicated that “it is good to see an educational tool capture their attention and interest when so much is competing for their attention”.
Ms. Brown also stated that the only improvement she would like to make to the program is to figure out how to make the kits available to more kids. When one class is using them, the teachers don’t like to break them down, so for six weeks they aren’t shared. A possible solution to this is to purchase additional kits for the program.