SouthLake Christian Academy in Huntersville now has a classroom dedicated solely to learning by playing with LEGOs.
LEGOs, the plastic building blocks that lock together, are helping students in junior kindergarten through second grade demonstrate their knowledge through the use of hands-on methodology.
A $10,000 anonymous donation by a family whose children attend the school was used to dedicate a classroom to the theory of teaching by kinesthetic learning and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education methods.
That classroom, known as the LEGO lab around SouthLake Christian, was the result of the donation that was used as starter funds to help get the room stocked and ready for use.
Sarah Beam, SouthLake assistant principal and LEGO lab teacher, has been an educator for 30 years. She said she can feel the excitement every time she walks into the classroom.
She said the LEGO lab helps students learn to think and analyze. They are beginning to learn to do lab reports, so that by the time the children are in high school, they are familiar with the process.
“It is a buzz of kids working together,” Beam said. “Everything we do is to support what they are doing in the classroom.”
She said the students know to be careful in the LEGO lab, beginning with cleanliness. Each student first washes his or her hands before touching LEGOs, and can’t wait to get in the classroom to do their project or build for the day’s lesson.
To do a project, the class looks at blueprints together, then makes a hypothesis, performs the build and at the end of each lesson they reset the LEGOs for the next class.
Using this method, Beam said, students are learning concepts such as sequencing and patterns, comparing and contrasting. They are focused on teamwork and the lessons reiterate what they learn in other classes.
Students learn about simple machines, she said. They learn concepts such as force, velocity, load and pivot.
“Their hands are popping up because they get what they are learning and talking about,” Beam said.
Beam said some children who are usually quiet and shy in other classes come out of their shell in the LEGO lab.
“The greatest thing about this program is that it facilitates learning for every child,” she said.
“LEGO lab takes care of the learning difference. Every child in that lab finds success. You can hear that success when you listen to the buzz. It’s not just because it’s the LEGOs, you can use anything, and you use what you have.”
SouthLake Christian Academy Principal Mark Apgar said the LEGO lab helps students to show what they know.
“I don’t know many children who don’t love LEGOs. Any child can learn with LEGOs and many can connect with that style of learning,” Apgar said.
He said that while this hands-on approach is not a new idea, he thinks it is part of a reform in education and doesn’t see it changing anytime soon.
While the plan is to eventually expand the program to include all grades beyond second, with a much more advanced style of LEGO building including robotics for upper grades, right now is a good evaluation time for the teachers to determine what next steps need to be taken.
“For me, I look at the big picture,” Apgar said. “This is definitely where we want to take our school. This is the difference of teaching to the test and teaching to learn.”
With his office being close by the LEGO lab classroom, he said the excitement is very high among the students.
“It’s impressive. Learning can be fun and highly effective. Such high level thinking is taking place, but we know they’re having fun.”