Dr. Alan Fiero, right, tasked his second graders to build a cooling fan from LEGO pieces, connect them wirelessly to their Chromebooks, and program them to perform tasks. Diego Cagara / Spotlight News
VOORHEESVILLE — Voorheesville Elementary teacher Dr. Alan Fiero beamed as his second grade class ambled into his science lab at 9 a.m. on Thursday, April 18, already noting numerous raised eyebrows and parted lips among the inquisitive youth.
Upon being seated, the students, split up into pairs, observed with curiosity at how their tables each had a LEGO Education set and a Samsung Chromebook laptop. Fiero asked the class, “Does anyone know how do you tell a robot what to do?” A few petite hands shot up to the air and Fiero pointed one young girl out to answer, her expression exuding a contrasting mix of nervousness and confidence. She suggested, “You program it first, like giving it instructions?”
Impressed, Fiero nodded, “Exactly, it’s like when your parents tell each of you to get enough hours of sleep, wake up, brush your teeth, have breakfast and get ready for school. But with robots, the language of giving instructions is called coding.”
He further explained that the class would be tasked to build a robot out of LEGO pieces, code it to perform a simple task and then students can start creating their own codes for their robots to do. In this case, the robot was a handheld cooling fan which could be connected wirelessly through the Chromebook where students can give it instructions to follow, like making the cooling fan turn clockwise or counter-clockwise or changing its spinning speed.
After giving them the go-ahead, the pairs began working to build the all-LEGO cooling fans and connect them wirelessly. It was a pleasant sight to see that some students physically went over to help others too who were having difficulty connecting their cooling fans. As teams began announcing that their cooling fans were working, Fiero and the rest of the class applauded with encouragement.
In a phone interview prior, Fiero explained that the LEGO Education sets are meant to help introduce and get elementary school students more comfortable with STEM topics — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. This could also increase the likelihood of interesting them at a young age to later pursue a STEM-related career in the future.
Voorheesville Elementary was among 30 K-8 schools nationally to receive LEGO Education sets early this year, which were designed to work with 2nd through 4th graders. This was part of a grant by technology company Siemens which awarded over $100,000 worth of LEGO Education sets and professional training to the 30 schools. In Voorheesville Elementary’s case, it received 13 sets in total, valued at around $2,600, and Fiero’s April 18 class was the first to use them.
When asked how the school first applied for the Siemens grant, Fiero said that a second grader’s parent works for Siemens who informed a teacher about the grant opportunity. Eventually the grant’s information reached Fiero who said he looked into it and thought it was a worthwhile opportunity. “The LEGO Education sets are linked to NGSS [Next Generation Science Standards] and each kit starts with a little video that introduces a problem to kids who will then learn to build apparatus, give them basic coding to make them work and learn to add more tasks,” he said. “LEGO also has many lesson plans online.”
Fiero also said that after his April 18 class, more 2nd graders as well as 3rd and 4th graders will get to use the LEGO sets too in the coming weeks. The sets will also be used in classrooms in the upcoming school year, and can be used with the aforementioned online lesson plans to boost their usage.
“The theme is connectivity and kids get to learn more about how the world and science works,” said Fiero. “In this age where kids are bombarded at an early age with so much information and claims online, they can now learn to judge claims scientifically which is a great life skill. I think people forget that kids do have the skills to think through problems and careers in STEM are great in their future.”
He also enjoyed how the LEGO sets are ideal for younger kids as he believed they learn more by touching and working with them, instead of being at the mercy of lectures. “Kids, often underestimated sadly, do want to get involved in active learning and LEGO helps,” he added. “I want to thank Siemens for doing this for us. It’s been all worthwhile.”
As his 9 a.m. class concluded, Fiero grinned with pride as most of his students were able to build their cooling fans, connect them wirelessly and help others who were struggling behind. “It never ceases to amaze me how technologically-savvy my kids are,” he concluded. After the students were led out of the lab, Fiero’s next second grade class arrived later at 9:45 a.m., their intrigued expressions evident as they saw the LEGO sets and Chromebooks, ready for use.
“Now, does anyone know how do you tell a robot what to do?” Fiero asked once his new class sat down. He smiled when a number of small hands rose up.
For more information, visit education.lego.com.
Photos by Diego Cagara / Spotlight News