Can a Lego League rekindle student interest in STEM education? – The Herald of Durango

Durango School District 9-R is looking for volunteers to put the program into action

Students compete in the 2014 Four Corners FIRST Lego League Robotics Tournament at Miller Middle School. The Superintendent of Durango School District 9-R wants to restart the Durango Schools program. (Durango Herald file)

Durango School District 9-R is looking to start a program for students of all grade levels, but it needs volunteers to put the project into action.

The curriculum is the FIRST Lego League, a robotics program that aims to introduce elementary school students to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects by challenging them with real-world problem-solving opportunities designed to develop their critical thinking, coding and design skills.

The school district is looking for parent volunteers to help coach students in the program. Interested parents don’t need engineering or programming skills, and the school district will provide resources, equipment and coaching advice, said Karen Cheser, superintendent of Durango School District 9-R.

Cheser said she had a personal fondness for the FIRST Lego League. The program aims to teach students how to effectively problem solve, but it also emphasizes teamwork, inclusion, and innovation through creativity and persistence. (FIRST stands for inspiration and recognition of science and technology.)

FIRST Lego League was formed in 1998 by FIRST founder Dean Kamen and Lego Group Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen. They set out to create a program that allows children to “play meaningfully,” according to the program’s official website.

“It’s a competition,” Cheser said. “They call it a co-op because… it’s a competition but you also know that you are building camaraderie with other teams, you are working towards that big vision and that goal.”

The program emphasizes inclusion. Cheser said one of the values ​​she sees in it is that it provides students with an activity other than sports, including students from less represented groups such as women and minorities.

“It makes it more inclusive for all schools and students in the district,” 9-R spokesperson Julie Popp said. “In high school, we had the aerospace team and they have a robotics course. But it’s great, Karen’s vision and to extend it to students of all ages and across the district, which will make a big difference.

Cheser said that FIRST Lego League founder Kamen noticed that students’ enthusiasm for STEM subjects began to wane as they got older, and the program was developed in an attempt to curb this trend.

“Even students, young children, even if they are excited about it, their enthusiasm wanes. Especially for underrepresented populations such as women, minority students, they usually did not enter or support their enthusiasm about it, ”said Cheser. “By the time the students are in fourth grade, they are no longer interested. So he created this program so that students could be as interested in robotics competitions as in sports. So it really looks like this.

Students at Bayfield Middle School compete in the 2013 Robotics Challenge, in which participants program a Lego vehicle to negotiate a course while completing certain tasks during the Lego Four Corners League regional tournament at Animas Valley Elementary School. The Superintendent of Durango School District 9-R wants to restart the program for Durango schools. (Durango Herald file)

Cheser brings her passion for the FIRST Lego League to previous school districts where she worked. She coached in the Lego League and participated in the FIRST Head Challenge programs for about 12 years while she was superintendent of schools in Fort Thomas, Kentucky’s No.1 School District at the time, she said. said, and assistant superintendent of Kentucky’s third largest school district before that.

Durango also has the potential to become Colorado’s No.1 school district, Cheser said. She believes that the FIRST Lego League program can help students learn to approach problems with creative solutions.

Competitions within the program include regional, state and even global events. In Kentucky, league teams coached by Cheser have qualified for world tournaments. The competitions are organized each year around different subjects, from natural disasters to the challenges faced by seniors.

“They develop a product or some sort of solution, and then they have to present it to experts and others, get feedback and continually improve their idea,” Cheser said.

During the competition, the teams present their projects to the judges. Cheser described the process as “the best example of authentic problem-based learning.”

Shubham Banerjee works on his Lego robotic braille printer at his home in Santa Clara, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associate Press Kit)

Some participating students even continued to market their ideas, demonstrating that the program also strengthens entrepreneurship and global thinkers, Cheser said.

Parents who want to get involved don’t need programming or engineering skills, and Cheser said she will be there to guide them on how to mentor students throughout the program.

“I just don’t want parents or volunteer coaches to be intimidated,” Cheser said. “You don’t need to know programming or engineering. … Generally, students are great at understanding block programming. They can do a lot more than we expected young children to do. So we’re going to support our volunteers and make sure they have everything they need. “

State funding is also available that could help the school district acquire the resources it needs, including robotics.

Parents who wish to volunteer to coach FIRST Lego League students can register through an online form. The school district can have as many teams as needed to accommodate all students interested in participating.

Once the school district receives enough volunteer requests, which Cheser said he hopes to accomplish this week, it will begin accepting students into the program. The league runs from October to December.

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About Jennifer Schuman

Jennifer Schuman

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