Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Big Kids, Little Kids, LEGOS and Science -- A Perfect Combination

On January 14th, all four classes of second graders from Dike Newell School stepped out of their yellow school buses and hustled into the cafeteria at Bath Middle School with excitement written all over their faces.  Inside, twenty middle school students were waiting for them in the cafeteria, standing behind six different tables covered with various robotic LEGO contraptions.

Second grade teacher Sue Michaud received a sizable grant for "beginner" LEGO robotics kits a couple of years ago, and she is well aware of the benefits of using them in the classroom.  Knowing that I run the LEGO Robotics program at the middle school level (with more advanced kits), she approached me with the idea of having middle school students teach second graders about simple machines using LEGOs.  It was a GREAT idea!

The second graders were engaged and captivated by the creations built by the middle school students.  As part of their visit, they had to fill in spaces on BINGO cards with examples of simple machines.  Instead of using chips or crossing out the boxes, the students drew pictures depicting the things they saw. 

I could not have been more proud of the middle school students.  They were patient, warm and kind to those little kids.  I could see a bit more softness than normal in the way they carried themselves as they interacted with the second graders.   Maybe they saw a little bit of themselves in the faces of the little ones.  The middle school years are a time of acute focus on oneself, so it's important for kids to be reminded that each one of us is part of a bigger picture. Even though kids may be in different schools and different developmental stages, they are all still KIDS who are curious, energetic, imaginative, creative and inquisitive.  

A big part of Expeditionary Learning at BMS  is giving students the opportunity to present their learning to authentic audiences.  This Simple Machines Exposition to second graders was a perfect example of this model.  We all agreed it was a great success and plan to continue the exposition annually!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Preparations for Simple Machines Expo

Since returning from break on Monday, the computer lab has been filled with focused middle schoolers, tinkering with tiny contraptions.  In just one week, they will be presenting their work to 63 2nd graders to demonstrate the mechanical advantages of simple machines.

It's serendipitous that this activity is happening at this point in the school year.  It briefly shifts the focus from writing computer code to design engineering, which will be crucial for the robots we build for the Robotics Track Meet, in May.  The Track Meet has events that require robots to have complex gearing systems, swinging levers, grasping claws, and projectile launchers.  LEGO Robotics is so cool because it draws on three distinct thought processes:

  • Creativity to imagine solutions to a problem
  • Design engineering, to make systems that are strong, efficient and redundant
  • Logic, to write clear computer code for robots to function as planned

Preparing for our Simple Machines Expo for the second graders will give the kids a crash course in design engineering.

It's great to see how excited these students are to share their work and higher level understanding with their younger schoolmates.  They are taking the task seriously, and are tailoring their seven minute scripts to make them accessible for the second graders.  They are all trying to remember what it was like to be a little kid!  

We are mostly using designs inspired by two excellent books by Yoshihito Isogawa.
He is an engineer, a professor of engineering,  and a LEGO expert with over forty years of experience building and designing models and robots.

Monday, January 4, 2016

All in the Family

An important aspect of any Expeditionary Learning School (like Bath Middle School) is using students' knowledge and understanding to make presentations to authentic audiences.  On Thursday, January 14th, the entire second grade from Dike Newell School (63 kids!) will be coming to BMS for a one hour exposition on simple machines.

Six tables will be set up for the second graders to cycle through.  At each table will be a team of three middle school students presenting examples of the uses of simple machines in LEGO creations.  We will have gears, levers, pulleys, screws and wedges.  The benefits of this expo go both ways -- for the second graders this will make their learning more exciting and contextual;  for the middle school students this exploration of design engineering will dovetail perfectly with preparations for the Robot Track Meet this spring.   

Check back here for photos of our workshop as we get ready for this exciting event.