Incorporate faith and fun into STEM learning
By Katie Chamberlin
Whether as a brain break in your classroom or an after-school activity, LEGO projects are a perfect addition to educational settings.
I have seen how transformative LEGOs can be in my K-5 LEGO Engineering class at Saint Agnes School in Arlington, Massachusetts. It’s amazing what my young engineers can create with LEGOs in just 45 minutes. By building with LEGOs, students develop critical thinking skills, learn how to work as a team, and become better problem solvers – all while having fun.
LEGO projects have also helped my students understand how their faith calls them to make a difference. Before students build their LEGO projects, I talk about how the project connects to our faith, especially Catholic Social Teaching. Studies have shown that children become more interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) when they see how they can use STEM to make a difference in people’s lives. As a Catholic school, we are lucky to be able to connect faith to service in tangible ways for our students.
Students’ imagination is endless when building with LEGOs. Try these six LEGO engineering projects for unforgettable learning experiences.
When I first asked my students what they wanted to build in LEGO Engineering class, the resounding request was a house. Not only does building a house help students express their creativity, but it is also a way to talk about the call to family, community, and participation. As Mother Teresa said, “Love begins at home.” Students brainstormed a list of people and animals who they love in their homes. At the end of class, students added lights (mini LED candles) to their houses and reflected on how they could be a “light” for their families and communities.
Building a bridge is my favorite introduction to engineering. Our class talked about how engineers care for God’s creation by building bridges for people to safely cross rivers so that they can see their families. It is a opportunity to ask students: How do things that engineers build connect us to people who we love?
The best part about LEGO projects is the opportunity for students to try hands-on, project-based learning. When building LEGO boats, we talked about how engineers care for God’s creation by helping people their loved ones and moving supplies to help people live happy, healthy lives. Students practiced floating their boats, a hands-on activity that also doubled as a science lesson.
“Mrs. Chamberlin, why is there a string across our classroom?” my student exclaimed as she walked into class. For this design challenge, we used simple LEGO pieces to create zip lines and tested them using a string running the length of the classroom. My students were fascinated to learn that people all over the world use zip lines to travel to school and work, which led to a discussion about the dignity of work. This simple project sparked engagement and critical thinking among my students. By testing and improving their zip line designs, students could develop a growth mindset in a non-traditional way.
My students loved combining art and engineering to design a park space for their community. Students mapped out their plans, used LEGOs to design the park, and presented their proposals to the class. I was astounded when one group added a wheelchair-accessible ramp to the park. Creating a beautiful park space helped my students understand how they could care for God’s creation. Is there a space in your community that you could encourage your students to redesign?
During our “Maker Day,” students could invent, construct, and think outside the box. Maker Day is based on the Maker Movement, which encourages people to create instead of buy items. My students used everyday objects — like LEGOs, cardboard, recycled paper, bottles, and tape — to build an invention. The only rule: Create something that improves people’s lives. By the end of the week, my students created bionic arms, toys for children, and animal shelters. A Maker Day can help your students see how “making” and STEM can create stronger communities that value and respect everyone.
Katie Chamberlin is a PreK-8 STEM teacher at Saint Agnes School in Arlington, MA. She teaches K-5 LEGO Engineering, PreK-8 Computers, and middle school Project Lead The Way.
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