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Decatur Parks & Recreation and Lego Education
Building Towards the Future
In a recent video, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and other tech execs banded together to urge children to take up learning computer programming, citing it as a skill that schools aren’t teaching but a skill that is needed in the United States now more than ever. That’s just one of the reasons why Decatur’s Parks & Recreation department is happy to offer our Lego Robotics classes to the public. These programs have been such a success that we have expanded them to now include a new class called Lego Story Starters that focuses on enforcing reading comprehension skills to elementary school students. Let’s take a look at the benefits these programs could offer to your children.
Building an Interest in Engineering Concepts
Younger students and those not familiar with robotics start in Lego Robotics and use basic Lego bricks combined with Lego’s gears, motors, and sensors to create machines that are then programmed on a computer. We use software designed by Lego but based on the Graphical User Interface system that helps children grasp the basic concepts behind computer programming while reinforcing concepts like gearing up or down, the transfer of motion, and the importance of simple machines. Being able to use Lego products, one of the most popular toys on the market for kids of all ages, helps establish a familiarity and comfort immediately. This is especially useful when dealing with special needs students, who we are happy to accommodate each and every Friday. Most students often forget they’re learning and are surprised when we start using mathematical concepts in the experiments we conduct. This program is not offered anywhere else in the area.
The next step uses the Lego Mindstorms NXT kit, an advanced robotics building program that literally builds off of what we learned in Lego Robotics. We use servo motors and sensors that can detect motion, touching, and even different colors with our machines in order to make robots that walk, talk, roll, and look; there is even a robot that automatically organizes Lego bricks by color and size, which is the dream of every parent! Just as the machines advance, so does the programming, but it is easy to pick up and challenging to master. Our ultimate goal with this group is to be able to field a team for local, state, and national robotics competitions, which offer not only adventures for your children but opportunities for college scholarships as well.
Building a Team
With that goal being stated, it is also important to look at the process of developing that team. Just as with the team sports that we offer, we want to provide your children with the opportunity to make new friends and learn valuable leadership and team skills. In doing so, we strive to provide a safe environment for each and every participant.
Building a Program
Another goal of the Lego programs offered here has always been to make sure everyone has the opportunity to be included. While we maintain an affordable program with a convenient monthly payment plan, not everyone is interested in robots and gears and motors. At least not yet. That’s why we are so thrilled to being able to implement Lego Story Starters in August of this year. In Lego Story Starters, students are provided with a short story/prompt that they then either recreate or finish in Lego form. We are able to take these models and upload photos to the computer that can be edited into a comic book style story with panels, dialogue, and effects. While focusing on the importance of reading comprehension, we are also able to reinforce concepts like point of view, continuity, and collaboration. Just as almost everything can be built with enough Lego bricks, we hope to be able to interest almost everyone with these Lego programs. This freedom almost guarantees that even more programs can be offered in the future.
Building with Everyone
It is also our pleasure to offer our Lego classes to students with special needs. I have personally seen the classes bring delight to children of all ages who are, for instance, diagnosed with either Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. Their parents are also thrilled to see them so engaged in an activity. If nothing else, we can help some kids come out of their shells, for at least a little while. Like everyone else, some get into the building process while others are more than happy to commit to the computer aspects. All Lego classes for special needs children are offered at the discounted rate of $10 per month. It is our goal to include everyone who can manage coming.
Breaking it Down
We recently celebrated the first anniversary of Lego Robotics, and it has been a tremendous privilege to work with everyone who has come through, let it be for one class or for that entire year. Lego Education programs are really on the forefront of teaching with new and exciting mediums, and the success we’ve seen so far only makes us want to bring more opportunities like these to the community. We offer times during the day for homeschoolers as well as our after-school times. Again, it is our ultimate goal to have a robotics team, and I want this team, all the way through the reserves and rookies, to have as many people as possible involved. Consider this your invitation!