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Students at Cartmell Elementary are learning to think like designers and engineers.
As part of two new enrichment classes, Engineering is Elementary and LEGO Robotics, students solve real-life challenges using basic engineering design principles.
In LEGO Robotics class, students assemble and program WeDo Robots out of LEGO bricks. Among the bricks are those with sensors, small motors that power the robot’s moving parts and a USB hub that connects it to a laptop computer on which students program the robots. Students follow printed visual instructions on how to assemble and program the robots.
Third, fourth and fifth grade students at Cartmell each study a different curriculum and work on a different robotics kit.
Jessica Breeden, who teaches LEGO Robotics, said that students work in teams of two but that the teams also share with other teams and suggest design improvements.
“Every student is engaged in learning during robotics class,” Breeden said. “Students become the teachers when they help each other; I think [students] learn better that way.”
In addition to LEGO Robotics, Cartmell has added Engineering is Elementary (EIE), a program that “fosters engineering and technological literacy among children,” according the website of the Museum of Science, Boston, which developed the program. In EIE, students read stories about students from a variety of backgrounds and cultures who face a real world problem. Students then are given a task similar to the one in the story and are challenged to devise a solution. Students work in groups to devise possible solutions, using the engineering design principles — ask, imagine, plan improve and create.
“Kids enjoy EIE because it’s hands-on and uses group effort,” said Chasity Taylor, who teaches science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at Cartmell.
In a recent lesson, Taylor set up simple machines (such as a lever, pulley, inclined plane, and wheel and axel) and had students test them to see which machines worked best.
“Some kids were really thinking outside the box,” Taylor said. “That’s what I like about EIE. It encourages kids to try new solutions to problems.”
Taylor recalled a student who often struggles in regular classes, but who is excelling in EIE. “Anyone can excel at it,” she said, pointing out that she has already had students say that they wanted to be engineers.
In another lesson, students studied different kinds of bridge designs — beam, arch, and suspension — and were given the task of constructing a small bridge based on a limited budget. Taylor said that afterwards, the students conducted a gallery walk in which they predicted which bridges would be the strongest and most stable. The students then tested how much weight the bridges could support, using bolts as weights.
“Sometimes the projects that look the best don’t always work the best,” Taylor said. “The kids are often surprised at the results after testing a design.”
Students have both Engineering is Elementary and Robotics for six weeks each as part of a rotation that includes art; music and dance; health and physical education; and library and technology.
“The goal is to use 21st Century technology to teach 21st Century learning skills — critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity,” said Doug Oak, principal of Cartmell Elementary School. “These are the skills students will use in real jobs, and we are starting now to prepare students to do them in the future.”
Jeff Fremin is director of public relations for Carroll County Public Schools.