By: Rudy Strahan
When most of us think of a school during the summer months, we probably picture a deserted building undergoing an intense cleaning. I recently visited one Owensboro Public School and found quite the opposite. In fact, I discovered twelve certified staff members playing Legos with 106 elementary students, all of them there voluntarily.
Let me explain. Dubbed the Lego Academy, the event was part of the “Building Our Summer” theme at Cravens Elementary School. One of many programs offered by Owensboro and Daviess County area schools through a continuing effort to keep Owensboro kids sharp while having fun during their summer. Programs like the Lego Academy were developed on the heels of staff ‘s constant search to find creative ways to keep local kids engaged in learning and retaining the education they had already received.
The Lego Academy is a hands-on approach using Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) based activities to increase student motivation and academic performance. Students in grades one through five were all invited to enroll. The primary objective of the program was that by the end of the summer students could accomplish things like identifying the elements of a story or develop abilities to do basic scientific inquiry. To achieve these goals, the kids were divided into three groups during the academy, primarily based on grade level and learning skills.
Group #1 – Story Starters
Using Legos, the curriculum was used to reinforce the story elements taught in the first and second grades. Participants worked on fiction, non-fiction, informative, and biography pieces. The curriculum also included creative writing, story structure, genres of literature and critical thinking skills that assist struggling students by using Legos to construct the story based on a single driving question or thought.
Group #2 – Simple Machines
In a math and science based curriculum, students used Legos to construct simple machines using pulleys, gears, wheels, and axels while encouraging team work. Students in third and fourth grade were taught the concepts of everyday simple machines such as wedges and inclines.
Group #3 – Solar Workshop
Students developed four different machines that receive energy from solar panels. This group of students was primarily third, fourth and possibly fifth graders (outgoing 4th graders). The Solar Workshop was team focused and designed to teach about solar energy while demonstrating how solar energy can be used through robotics.
Not only did I find that each of these goals was being met, but I found truth in the old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The Cravens family included more than just caring staff and eager kids. The whole community’s involvement was a necessary part of making this program a success. For instance, Cravens had partnered with the Daviess County Library during their outreach program to structure reading activities around the overall theme of “Building Our Summer.” They sought other partnership resources as well, that created unique learning experiences for the kids. These included field trips to Owensboro’s Science Museum, Owensboro Parks Department’s Legion and Smother’s Park, and Louisville’s Science Museum. Finally, culminating on July 3rd, each group was able to present to their family members their experiences from the Lego Academy by using student-constructed stories, presentation boards, and models.
In my visit to the school I noticed the staff, the community, the parents and even the kids investing in the future by having some fun and learning with Legos. Now that Lego Academy is over, I suppose it would be okay if we tell the kids that the Lego Academy was actually helping improve their math skills, consistent with Kentucky Core Academic Standards, and those “fun” activities were tied to college & career readiness components.
As parents or even future parents, I believe our community should be proud and encouraged knowing that our school systems are working hard every day of the year to make sure our future leaders are prepared.
For more information on educational and fun summer programs for your children in the Owensboro and Daviess County Areas visit your school or district website.