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Bring out a tub of LEGO, and kids will cooperatively and happily play for hours! It’s more than just colourful sets of bricks to keep them busy, it gives them the chance to build, design, construct, learn and tap into their imagination. I’m sure that you’ve enjoyed playing with Lego as a kid; what did you love to build?

First LEGO League Jr

Every year, First LEGO League Jr works with experts in the field to create a challenge that relates to an important real-world issue, with an end result of two defined parts: the Show Me poster and the Model. Past challenges have been based on hot topics such as nanotechnology, climate, and transportation. This year’s challenge was: a Moon Mission. 

Inquiring with LEGO 

My class incorporated the LEGO Robotics challenge into their inquiry for the PYP (Primary Years Programme) unit Sharing the Planet. Our central idea was “access to resources affects opportunities”. What better way to understand that idea than limiting the students’ resources by taking them to the moon!

The students split up into teams of 4 members and were given the Engineering Notebook. 12 missions were included:

  • problem solving (how to grow food on the moon)

  • what to use for energy

  • teamwork tasks (what to do if something goes wrong)

  • presentation skills (a list of questions to rehearse with was included)

  • Construction (specific components had to be built)

  • a poster display (with instructions on the type of elements that would make a poster stand out)

The initial tasks of picking a team name and unpacking the kits provided an easy way to help everyone work together as a group. From there, they soared! We arranged the classroom so that they had their own space pods with their Moon bases in the middle. Over the next 4 to 5 weeks we spent working on this inquiry, the students in each team formed great friendships as they worked towards a common mission. 

Working towards a common mission

The concept of “resources” may seem vague to children and it can be hard to imagine water not coming out of the tap or simply not having enough food to eat. By “relocating” to the moon, it was easier to understand how a lack of resources or not being able to run to the shops at the drop of a hat can make things more challenging and affect what you do. 

Problem solving became a team effort and the partnerships extended into math and literacy, with students naturally supporting their teammates. Teams worked together to make the rover, cranes and containers for food, water, air and energy. They were allowed creative freedom so libraries, swimming pools, greenhouses, look-out towers and a pet area also made their way onto the moon bases! The Moon Mission filtered into all areas of our learning over the unit time: our literacy lessons were based on the moon and included dynamic galactic vocabulary, while maths became more realistic when I changed the wording to include lunar challenges and we had deeper discussions on the type of items we value given the limited space of moving things to the moon. In fact, we read and researched a lot into the topic!

Caroline S, a member of Team NASA, said: “I did a lot of research at home about how to get energy from moon dust. Since nothing is growing on the moon, we need to be careful about how much we use of everything. That’s why building the rover was so important because it helps us go out and collect moon dust.”

One website we all loved was Story Time from Space, which is actual real-life astronauts reading stories they love from inside the spaceships orbiting Earth! Neil P, another student from Team NASA, said: “I watch one Story Time episode at home every day and I LOVE IT!”

Teacher support

My class also received support from other educators at CIS. Mr Ben Cooperman, TK’s STEAM teacher, cut the wooden bases we needed to build the Moon bases on, and Mr Timothy Studlo visited our classroom to present a lesson on the elements that would make a good poster for each team to display their work. The students learned about the design process, made drafts and worked as a team to make their poster bright, easy to read, neat and informative. 

Mr Egmond Boon and Ms Judy Kay (our digital literacy coaches) popped in weekly to check on our progress.  Mr. Boon, Head of Innovative Learning, said, “I was impressed with a teacher taking on a new project, out of her comfort zone and one that engaged the class fully in Sharing the Planet. I checked in weekly but everything ran on time with the students eagerly looking ahead at the moon missions for what the next challenge would be."

As their teacher, I was really appreciative of all the support my class received. During the tournament, I noticed that some schools had their materials professionally printed but I felt that the real learning came from the students’ own input and doing it as their very best grade 3 selves. As a teacher, I resisted the siren call of getting our materials professionally done. Looking perfect wasn’t the ultimate aim (although they DID look fantastic); it was the hands-on, collaborative learning. One compliment we received from the judges was how great it was to see our students’ work and handwriting. 

Competition day

The day of the competition was exciting. We went to Lakeside on the bus, carefully transporting our wooden bases and setting them up at our numbered tables. We had a set time when the judges would visit each team and we could interact with the LEGO challenge table. The rest of the time, we could meet and mingle with students from other schools and countries to chat about our newest and biggest passion: LEGO! After the awards ceremony, we headed back to Tanjong Katong. Although it was already 7pm by the time we reached the campus, our students were on a lunar high and very proud of their adventure.

Reflection

This new project for our Sharing the Planet unit really engaged the students and naturally brought out their problem solving skills. What if something went wrong with the more complicated robotic element? Answer: the students would actually figure it out themselves, and even showed me - I didn’t necessarily have to have all the answers. 

I also wasn’t sure if this project would hold our students’ interest or whether the deeper lines of inquiry and concepts would be evident, but this turned out to be one of our richest inquiries of the year. The results astonished me and have encouraged me to try more dynamic approaches to teaching the units of inquiry than ever before. I was proud of the fact that this was 100% student-produced. 

Over the following week, we gradually “returned to Earth”; as we reflected on the experience as a whole, showed our work to the grade 6s as inspiration for their own PYP Exhibition, and to our fellow grade 3 classes. It was a successful mission. I hope that more classes can join the lunar quest next year to explore resources and how sharing the planet can come alive. Resources are precious! Who knows what the future of space travel will bring for this generation, and the sparks of interest that have been lit will carry them into galaxies unknown.

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