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Playing With Legos to Support After-School STEM Lessons

By guest blogger Gina Cairney

With a bucket of Legos, there's an endless number of things that can be built, from a simple square block to a 5-foot replica of a superhero of your choosing. You can even build a replica of St. Peter's Basilica if you really wanted to.

But some educators have learned that toys like Legos and K'NEX can also be used outside formal classroom time to teach science, technology, engineering, and math.

In Perrysburg, Ohio, elementary-age children use the construction toys to learn basic scientific principles, The Toledo Blade reports.

Build It, a hands-on educational center that opened in December, has different sections dedicated to specific science topics, like earth and space, life, and the physical sciences, according to the Blade.

Hands-on activities, according to Tracy Huziak-Clark, an associate professor of science education at Bowling Green State University, have the potential to engage students in ways traditional teaching methods may not.

"Anytime students are able to be creative, work collaboratively, and create something, it really builds on their learning," Huziak-Clark told the Blade.

At Build It, children build cars from Legos, then test them for certain specifications like distance traveled and durability. Fun, engineering, and physics. The whole shebang.

Although schools throughout the country have begun implementing technology like iPads and tablet computers into their classrooms to create a 21st-century learning environment, hands-on activities like the ones at some STEM-focused after-school programs are reported to engage students on a deeper level in understanding STEM applications like physics.

Through the use of programming and robotics, for example, children and teens participating in 4-H programs can learn the process of scientific inquiry and engineering design.

In New York, RoboFun offers after-school clubs in LEGO Robotics and Scratch video-game design, which gives students an opportunity to create their own interactive games using software developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Drake Planetarium and Science Center in Cincinnati offers after-school Lego programs to schools that sign up for the sessions. In this program, like the other programs, students build models while applying math and science skills. They also develop their critical-thinking and analytic skills.

If students are up for a bigger challenge and want more than just an after-school program to satisfy STEM needs, there's also FIRST Lego League, a robotics program for 9- to 16-year-olds that combines competition with real-world skills.

(There's also a junior FLL for children 6- to 9-years-old.)

Students who participate in the league not only learn STEM principles but they also learn life skills such as teamwork and problem solving, according to the website.

For parents trying to find an after-school program for their children not interested in sports or the arts, STEM-related programs may be the ticket. It's got Legos, robots, and room for creativity. It could also be a lot of fun, so what isn't there to like?

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