Above, third graders Zytaja Smith, 9, left, and Rachel Lopez, 9, create a story with LEGOs during their Build to Express clas

Sam Roberts / Times-News

Above, third graders Zytaja Smith, 9, left, and Rachel Lopez, 9, create a story with LEGOs during their Build to Express class with teacher Kim Griffis (not pictured) Monday at Eastlawn Elementary School.


Students using LEGOs for education
By Mike Wilder The Times-News 2/29/12     
Reprinted with permission.

   A lot of students at Eastlawn Elementary School asked for LEGOs for Christmas.

   Kim Griffis, a teacher at the school, knows why.

   She’s the instructor for a new effort at the school in which students in kindergarten through fifth grade come to her classroom once a week to use the plastic building blocks.

   The projectsstudents tackle tie in with the subjects they’re studying, such as English, science and math. The activities are designed to promote thinking skills and teamwork.

   This week, Griffis had students use the LEGOs to illustrate a fairy tale or fictional story they created. That was in conjunction with other activities to observe the birthday of children’s author Theodor Geisel, known as Dr. Seuss.

   On Monday, Griffis explained the day’s challenge to a class of third-grade students.

   “Think about it before you start creating,” she said. “You should be thinking about it with your partner.”

   Students spent five minutes creating a scene before pausing to describe their story ideas.

   Dontae Neddham had created a restaurant scene. A “magic person” showed up and gave the owner three wishes.

   “The owner asks for a better restaurant (and) he gets something different,” Neddham said.

   Rachel Lopez created a story about a tree in a park. “He notices that he’s got feet,” she said, which upsets people who fear the tree will walk away.

   Physically creating the scene helps students use imagination, Griffis said: “Even the shyest person enjoys this.”

   Coming up with ideas on the fly should help students learn to think quickly and problem-solve in other situations, both inside and outside the classroom, Griffis said.

   After students finished their creations, they began writing their stories. Griffis reminded them about concepts such as main characters, setting and plots, and helped them with spelling and grammar.

   Other LEGO projects have involved using the blocks to make pinwheels and using a fan to see whether the large or small pinwheels would turn faster, along with creating tops to compare how fast axels of different lengths will spin.

   “We also have a space kit where they learn about NASA,” spacesuits and satellites, Griffis said.

   Within the school, the LEGOs program is known as STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — though Griffis points out she throws in English, writing and social studies. Beyond the school, it is called “Build to Express with LEGOs.”

   Grant money paid for most of the LEGOs, she said, while LabCorp donated the space kit.

   Principal Whitney Oakley said the weekly sessions are part of the school’s overall strategy to build a “challenging and engaging learning environment.” Students learn to think creatively, which is part of Eastlawn’s effort to make every student a leader.

   The school has received federal Race to the Top money to help boost student scores.