HIGH POINT, N.C., June 5, 2014 – More than 100 second-grade students from Montlieu Academy of Technology learned through LEGOs at High Point University this week.
The second-graders took part in a LEGO Showcase, constructing catapults, creating simple machines, configuring robotic animals and recreating natural habitats and life cycles with LEGOs to enhance their understanding of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“For the kids that still need that extra stimulation to learn a concept, LEGO days are great. It’s engaging and the students are focused,” says Cyteria McSwain, a second-grade teacher at Montlieu and recent graduate of HPU. “We are starting to expose our students to STEM concepts at Montlieu, and this is a perfect way to kickstart that.”
In her classroom at Montlieu, McSwain’s students are learning about the biological life cycles of animals. When they came to campus, her students built underwater LEGO habitats that represented each stage in the life cycle of a fish. Participating in LEGO activities that supplement classroom learning, McSwain says, helps students with nontraditional learning styles meet curriculum goals.
Frequently heard in each rotation was “LEGO down!” a phrase that signaled everyone to raise both hands while a student searched for a dropped or misplaced piece.
“We host LEGO days for schools because we are trying to ignite the passion and motivation in building 21st century skills by using tools that students don’t have access to in the regular classroom,” says Dr. Shirley Disseler, assistant professor of education at HPU and member of the LEGO Education Advisory Board.
The event also serves as great real-world teaching experience for HPU education majors. Students assisted with the event by hosting learning stations throughout the School of Education.
“These programs provide our students opportunities to utilize strategies, classroom management styles and all the things they’re learning about how to run a classroom and write lesson plans,” Disseler adds.
Annabelle Ketchum, a fifth-year master’s student at HPU, says LEGO days help the Montlieu students develop skills like teamwork, attention to detail, following directions, patience, mechanics and even computer programming. Ketchum recently traveled to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., with seven other HPU education majors to learn more about the knowledge and teaching tactics surrounding STEM.
McSwain adds that the LEGO program not only teaches students valuable problem-solving skills and self-learning concepts that prepare them for the 21st century, but the students also enjoy getting out of the classroom as well.
“If they run into a problem, the students have to figure out a solution without a teacher telling them exactly what they need to do,” she says. “Your boss isn’t going to tell you how to fix a problem; they’re just going to tell you to find a solution. And a different environment is better for the students because they’re relaxed and think it’s fun – I don’t think they realize it’s work!”
HPU holds an ongoing partnership with Montlieu, hosting spring and fall festivals for the children, providing academic mentorship and putting iPads in the hands of each elementary student. As part of the community-driven iPad Project, HPU education majors assist children in the classroom throughout the year during their student teaching, while the university’s information technology staff provides technical training and support. In addition to holding a technology partnership with the Academy, HPU is also currently moving toward becoming a partner of LEGO education with Montlieu.