Sitting at the front of my room I had a tile board that read “Play is the Highest Form of Research” one of my favorite quotes from Einstein. I have often used the word play when I want to dive deaper into something I’m learning. I used it so much I had a high school student tell my “you play too much” as I was rolling my Sphero around the room, and showing students some of my favorite iPad apps that day. She did not mean it as a compliment, she wanted to know when we were doing notes and what exactly was going to be on the test. I laughed and soon after bought a pennant sign I found at the store that said “Play Time” I displayed it on a rolling cart in my class with lab supplies for the dissection we were doing. For me in order to learn I need to get some hands on time to experience the lesson without a lot of constraints. I have tried to bring this approach to the classroom even though I teach a difficult content area filled with science concepts, anatomy and physiology.
I love to learn but unfrortunantly many students have been discouraged from critical thinking and true learning as our education system has moved to elevate the importance of testing. I find some students so concerned about the right answers, or how to pass the class that they can not enjoy a learning experience like an anatomy dissection without asking, “will this be on the test”?
I was introduced to Lego Education Programs through CTE training in our school district. I have been a fan of lego my whole life, and love the ability to build and create things that it offers. I tell my children at home, to get rid of the directions, and build whatever you want. There should be no rules when creating. So naturally these professional development opportunities just got me thinking of more ideas. The new school I had moved into had just made a large investment in Lego Education Robotics to start their program. At the State level, new K12 computer science standards had been added, so I anticipate our students’ base knowledge in this area to increase. I see connections to my medical class, as I want my students to be familiar with emerging technology and the ideas of design as they head out into the healthcare field. I am always looking at workforce changes and how they impact our CTE programs.
As we were in the process of remodeling my classroom, I decided it would be helpful to have a STEM Maker Space Area given all the projects I incorporate. I found an area of the room I thought would work as a Lego Wall and started to let people know of my plans. Soon after I was approached about the Lego Master Educator Program by trainers who I had met. I loved the idea of embracing teaching with legos for a couple reasons. The school is a title 1 low income school, as much as I love teaching with a high level of technology it can be intimidating to some students. I advocated for iPads and zSpace computers for these students, knowing many will not be exposed to this at home. I can teach anatomy so much better with these tools. Explaining 3D modeling or asking kids to create it may be too big a leap for some, and having the opportunity to build with a tool like lego, which they see as a toy, lowers the entry level for these STEM concepts.
I applied and was selected as a Lego Master Educator in 2019. Throught the year I was exposed to professional developments, networked with other teachers who were using legos to share ideas and was able to lead professional developments in my district and at several conferences including CUE Nv, NACTE, and the National Health Science Consortium Sate Leader Meeting.
Lego had commissioned a Harris Poll Study of parents, students, and teachers in 2019 that found that students reported low confidence in STEAM subjects and that teachers believed lack of confidence hindered learning in their students. The same study showed 93% of parents believe hands on learning helps students retain information, and 99% of teachers believe hands on learning builds condfidence. As CTE teachers we incorporate hands-on activities daily. I absolutely prescribe the othe ideas that #STEMisCTE but I also know the lack of confidence I have encountered in the last 9 years working at title 1 Las Vegas High Schools is real. Students are afraid to try, students don’t believe they are capable, and as teachers it’s our job to make them believe before they can learn.
The first time I pulled out a box of Lego’s with a group of HOSA students, I realized some had never used legos. As they are perceived as toys, an interesting thing happens when students get them, they attempt to build, it doesn’t work and they try again, and they work until they are satisfied with their creation. There is no perceived failure just the process of building something so confidence is achieved.
I used them in a design thinking activity where we went through the process of creating a prototype. Students were limited to a small set, and had to work together to build a design. At the end there are always comments about, “I just needed a few more legos” or “if I could have had this piece”. Once we have the discussion I have guided them to the conclusion that design is a process. We apply it to medical scenarios like creating a prosthetic which is probably not perfect the first time, but you must listen to the person as they try to use it and then make more adjustments. It does not mean the design was wrong or the person failed, it means it was part of the process. This is a confidence building activity. Do I want my future healthcare providers to be confident and able to critically think and solve problems? Yes I do, and I imagine you do as well.