BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — With a bucket of LEGO bricks, a handful of popsicle sticks, 45 minutes and ingenuity, the third-graders rose to the challenge: creating a pinball machine that flips a marble through a maze.
“Does everyone here know what a pinball machine is?” asked teacher Kim Buehrer. Fair enough question, considering pinball machines were invented in the 1930s – the same as LEGOs.
“It has controllers you press to try to keep the ball from going into the hole,” replied Alivia Graven, one of nearly 30 third-graders who stayed after school for LEGO Club.
Waterville Primary School launched LEGO Club this year, available in six-week programs for each grade level. Each Monday, students face increasingly difficult challenges, explained principal Dr. Jamie Hollinger.
Last week, LEGO Club graduates and fourth-graders Erick Chen and Reece Buehrer roamed the room helping the younger students work through the brainstorming, designing and building process.
“The hardest challenge we had was creating a golf course where you had to get a golf ball into a hole,” Erick said of his LEGO Club experience.
“Ours was building a scene from a story,” Reese said. “We did the Gingerbread Man.”
LEGO Club gives students an opportunity to use their imaginations, said third-grader Cassady Stamm, who was collaborating with Colby Brown, Keegen Yanik and Jason Freytag on a pinball design
“You can build different things and come up with ideas and work together,” she said.
At the end of the LEGO Club sessions, each team has a representative stand up to explain their thought process and what special features made their designs work. Then, the creations are put on display in a “manufacturing fair” for all to see either virtually or in person.
Just getting together after two years of restrictions is much-needed, said Matt Beakas, dean of students. Seeing the students get excited while building skills is even better. Second-graders and first-graders will also have an opportunity to participate in the afterschool program this spring.
While LEGO Club is limited to just a few dozen students per grade for now, Beakas said the plan is to expand it over the next few years in terms of size and challenges. This year, the school received two grants to help with that goal.
An Anthony Wayne Education Association grant funded the purchase of LEGO Robotics We Do kits that have a Bluetooth LEGO motor that can be synchronized with an iPad and controlled by the students. This will be introduced into the program.
“That means students can build a car and program the speeds or make something with arms or legs and control those,” Beakas said. “It’s more advanced coding.”
Hollinger recently learned that the school was awarded $5,000 to expand STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programming. The funding from Ohio STEM Learning Network – in partnership with Battelle – will be used to purchase LEGO Education Spike Essential and Spike Prime student kits. This will allow K-4 students to code and design with these adaptive, hands-on learning systems.
“Students will analyze data and engage in design challenges to prototype solutions for relevant, real-world problems,” Hollinger said. “The LEGO Education kits have easy-to-use hardware and intuitive coding that even the youngest learners can access.”
Waterville Primary School is one of only 12 elementary schools in the state to earn the Ohio Department of Education’s STEAM designation for incorporating science, technology, engineering, arts and math programming into the classroom and after school.
“STEM and STEAM schools employ highly effective teachers and leaders who meet the needs of the whole child. In addition, these schools have well-established partnerships with businesses, nonprofit organizations, institutes of higher education and other entities in their communities to prepare students for post-high school success,” according to the ODE.
“For us to have that designation is huge,” Beakas said, noting that the school is in the process of seeking its reaccreditation right now. As visitors come to the school to see how STEAM is woven into the curriculum, he has no doubt that the LEGO Club will be a factor.