STEM lab activities 'really good for your brain'

Cary Ashby • Apr 8, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Making LEGO creations in the new STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lab “is really good for your brain.”

That’s what second-grade student Greg Keefer thinks about the work space in the Pleasant Elementary school library. He collaborated with Anthony Filpo, also a second-grader, and Mindy McMillin, the mother of Ethan Barker, to assemble a hockey player, which has gears to move its arms.

“It’s good for you to make new things because it’s good for your imagination,” said Keefer, the son of Ty and Abby.

McMillin said the STEM lab is beneficial for students because it’s an opportunity for them to create things, “problem-solve” and follow directions.

“If you don’t follow the directions, they will miss stuff,” she added, noting her challenge in creating the LEGO character was “getting my brain and his on the same schedule.”

Pleasant Elementary debuted its STEM lab during two open-house sessions Friday. The school used grant money through the Norwalk City Schools endowment fund to finance the project. 

In addition to many LEGO kits, the lab features 18 tablets used to program the creations, six chairs and “wobble chairs.”

Second-grade teacher Olivia Gamble explained the philosophy behind the colorful chairs, which require some balance to sit on them. Not only do they allow allow the students to stay in the same area, she said the chairs also provide children an opportunity to be able to learn and move at the same time.

“Some need to be standing when they are doing things. Some of them need to be moving when they’re learning,” Gamble said. 

While in the lab, students learn coding and programming.

The idea for creating the educational space started in January 2018. Principal Janice Smith, who said “STEM activities are motivating, engaging and (are) real world-inspired,” created a committee to see if the school could obtain a grant. Gamble said one issue the members discussed was “what we wanted it to look like.”

While the original vision didn’t focus on using LEGOs, “it turned out this is was the best route for us,” the teacher added. “This will provide the most bang for the buck.”

Smith, echoing what many local educators say about STEM labs, said she sees them as places to provide opportunities “for students to fail and try again in a safe environment.” 

“We are using LEGOs to engage their natural creativity and curiosity. They will learn new skills and perfect old ones,” Smith added. “Elementary children often have a wonderful sense of curiosity and inquisitiveness that naturally leads them into exploring and learning. This is why we are excited that our Pleasant kids are becoming STEM kids.”

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