Programs of Their Own: MIT and LEGO Bring Robotics and Coding to Grade School

Filed in: Schools, STEM

Filed by Sarah Jackson


2.1.12 | At The Chestnut Hill School outside of Boston, educators are using MIT Media Labs’ Scratch programming language and innovative robotics tools developed in partnership with Lego to teach STEM subjects to kids as early as first grade.

After creating the LEGO Mindstorms robotics kit for ages 11 and up, MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten group collaborated with LEGO again in 2006 to create a lower-cost, easier-to-use robotics kit designed to engage younger children.

With LEGO WeDo, kids can build LEGO projects and then combine virtual and physical worlds by using Scratch, a programming language for kids, to create stories that combine their LEGO constructions with on-screen animations. In the video above, kids show off projects like a pulley system using the WeDo motor and a controller made by attaching the WeDo’s tilt sensor to a popsicle stick.

Educators say that in addition to learning engineering, science, math and technology skills, these tools help kids learn to think critically and to collaborate and solve problems as a team. 

“We always model with the engineering, they always work in pairs,” says Karen Garrison, who teaches science at The Chestnut Hill School. “It’s a compliment to you if somebody else copies you. ‘That’s a great idea. Let me see if I can do that too.’ And we also make sure that they work sometimes with someone that they want to, and sometimes with someone that they’re surprised at how well they work with them.”

Barb Tennyson, who also teaches at Chestnut Hill, says the technology can sometime make teachers feel uncomfortable because they don’t have all the answers. She says she often tells kids, “Figure it out. Ask your neighbor. Look on the website.”

My favorite part of this video is when one student can’t figure out why her project isn’t working correctly, and her neighbor helps her determine that it’s missing a tilt sensor.

For more, read Heather Chaplin’s piece on the development of Scratch Jr., created by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT in collaboration with Tufts University’s DevTech Research Group. This new version of Scratch is aimed at kids in preschool to second grade.

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