LEGO picks six Wake County schools for new education program

khui@newsobserver.com March 21, 2012 

McKenzie Upson, 6, a first-grader at Combs Elementary School in Raleigh, uses LEGO blocks on Wednesday to express how she would feel if she was an animal in a rain forest whose tree was endangered of being cut down.

T. KEUNG HUI — khui@newsobserver.com

  • More information WHAT’S A LEGO? The LEGO Group is a privately held company based in Denmark that was founded in 1932. Its most well-known product is the LEGO brick, whose interlocking plastic tubes earned it the distinction of “Toy of the Century.” LEGO Education is a subsidiary that focuses on products for classroom use. LEGO Education and a group it formed awarded $80,000 in grants to the Wake County school system.

— If having fun is the key to promoting learning, then learning is being promoted in abundance at Combs Elementary School.

For the past five years, students at Combs have used LEGO’s signature bricks to stretch their creativity and imagination to build what they’ve been talking about in their classes. Now five other schools will have the same opportunity as part of a new partnership announced Wednesday between the Wake County school system and LEGO.

A pair of grants will allow three Raleigh schools – Combs, Centennial Campus Middle and Athens Drive High and three eastern Wake schools – Hodge Road Elementary, East Wake Middle and Knightdale High – to join the LEGO Smart Schools program. They’ll receive LEGO products that are designed to help students develop problem-solving skills with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math.

“This program is desperately needed to promote creativity and learning for us to have 21st-century students,” said Nancy Allen, principal of East Wake Middle School.

Allen was among the educators from the five new LEGO schools that toured Combs on Wednesday to see what the students have been doing.

In one room, teacher Pam Almond told her first-grade students to use LEGO blocks to express how they’d feel if they were animals living in a rainforest whose tree was in danger of being cut down. The class had just finished reading a book about rainforest conservation.

“It’s fun,” said Isabella Everett, 7, one of Almond’s students. “I get to express myself.”

In another room, older students showed how they’ve been building mini-catapults firing tinfoil rocks.

“Not many people get the opportunity to build catapults,” said Henry Sederoff, 10, a fourth-grader. “Not many people get to use this technology.”

This kind of enjoyment has convinced Muriel Summers, principal of Combs, that hands-on projects are the best way to teach students to learn. Her “aha!” moment came nearly five years ago when a student using the LEGO blocks told her “thank you for letting us use our imagination.”

“It made me think: What are we doing for a child to thank me for letting him use his imagination?” Summers said. “What have we done to our children?”

Summers said the focus on standardized testing nationally has resulted in students not being given the opportunity to be creative.

Summers said the use of the LEGO products has reduced discipline problems and raised the confidence of her students. She said it has also improved how the students are doing academically.

”It builds the imagination and creativity of our students,” she said.

LEGO Education North America and the Education Blueprints Association are providing a pair of $40,000 grants to Wake. The school system is providing $80,000 to match the grants. Superintendent Tony Tata said he’d like to have the program in all of Wake’s 165 schools.

“Creative programs like this one drive innovative classrooms and better prepare our students to compete in the 21st century,” he said.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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