December 13, 2013

Lego Santa helps Clinton students with STEM education

After-school club teaching a commitment to STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, education.

By Jesse Scardina
Staff Writer

CLINTON — This time of year, the big stars are Santa Claus and Rudolph.

click image to enlarge

PIECE BY PIECE: Clinton Elementary School students assembled a Lego Santa Claus in a sleigh at the school this week. From left are Devin Harriet, Zachary Delile, Damien Peavey, Cody Dixon, Bryce Dostie and Ethan Cochrane.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

ON LEGO: Clinton Elementary School students Amber Wescott, left, and Haley Trahan select Lego pieces to construct one of Santa’s reindeer during a project at the school this week.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Students in the Clinton Elementary School Lego Team couldn’t agree more, which is why the group of roughly 10 students have spent their afternoons building a motorized version of the Christmas duo with the toy building bricks Legos.

While the program provides students the opportunity to build and create with their classmates, the lessons behind the after-school club evoke a commitment to STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The need for more knowledge and skill in those subjects is immense, as one in seven new jobs in Maine in the next 10 years is expected to be in STEM-related areas, according to a report by the Educational Development Center, a non-profit organization that researches how to improve education and workforce preparation.

Those STEM jobs will also yield wages that are 58 percent higher than other jobs in Maine, with an average annual wage of more than $55,000, according to the center, which was commissioned by the Maine Department of Labor.

There are more than three STEM jobs available for every one unemployed person, and there are three unemployed people for every one non-STEM job, with the demand growing for STEM employees nationally by 22 percent over the next four years, according to the Maine Department of Labor.

The work with Legos goes beyond just following directions and building something stationary — gone are the traditional square-and rectangular-shaped colored squares that snap into place. The Lego Team works with a set called Lego NXT, which combines the construction required traditional Legos with 21st-century technology. A Lego NXT set comes with a variety of different pieces, including gears and motors that can complete dozens of different projects.

In addition to following the correct steps to make individual blocks turn into Santa and Rudolph, the group is also required to program different motors and calibrate sensors, making the Lego set interactive.

With the hour was running down on the Lego Team’s weekly meeting, the group of students were hustling to get Santa, his sleigh and Rudolph finished. Determined to finish the project well before Wednesday’s Christmas festivities, the group split into two — one working on Rudolph, the other on Santa and the sleigh.

While most of the students continued to build, sixth-grader Bryce Dostie sat down at the computer, committed to making the structure functional.

“I love to build this stuff,” Dostie said, adding that he just got interested in programming in fifth grade, but has been building with Legos for a while. “I like computer stuff and I’m good at it. It’s one of my favorite things to do and I just combined my skill of programming with building.”

Dostie, who also enjoys hockey, soccer and baseball, worked diligently at the computer, making sure the Santa and Rudolph would work properly. When finished and turned on, Santa will pull on the reins as Rudolph runs and throws his head back as if they just jumped off a rooftop. When it’s turned on, Rudolph’s nose lights up bright red.

“We’ll connect that to the motor and to the reindeer,” Dostie said, pointing to a black electrical wire that doubled as Rudolph’s leash. “When we turn it on, it’ll make it look like they’re flying.”

Elementary schools such as Clinton’s have been working on developing STEM disciplines to engage its students, whether it’s using exciting technology like iPads and other tablets to captivate them or by disguising STEM lessons in with things children like to do, like play with Legos.

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