The Zachary Community School District, together with LEGO Education, hosted a “Shaping Tomorrow’s Creative Problem-Solvers” symposium for elementary education professionals in the Baton Rouge region in December.

The free symposium included three hands-on workshops.

Second-grade math and science teacher Breigh Rhodes said she and several teachers at Rollins Place Elementary have been using LEGO Education tools with their students and were excited to share their passion for using the small building bricks as a hands-on learning tool.

Kristy Gilpin and Stacey Hodges, two second-grade English and language arts teachers at Rollins Place, led participants in a workshop on Story Starter, a tool designed to develop students’ skills in speaking, listening, reading, language, writing, technology and digital learning using the tiny bricks.

Gilpin and Hodges led symposium participants in a lesson so they could experience how students might use the LEGO Education StoryStarter sets to do hands-on storyboarding and work on developing stories using LEGO elements throughout the writing process, Rhodes said.

Rhodes led attendees in an exploration of robotics for lower elementary students using LEGO Education’s “WeDo” robots. Participants were able to build an alligator from the bricks and then use computers and the “WeDo” software to program the alligator to perform commands such as opening and closing its mouth, detecting the motion of a nearby object and making animal sounds.

“I have used ‘WeDo’ robots with students as young as pre-kindergarten age,” Rhodes said. “It’s incredible to see the high levels of problem-solving and creativity students demonstrate and develop through constructing and programming these kid-friendly robots when they’re allowed to experiment and discover using an inquiry-based approach.”

Rhodes said she wanted symposium participants to experience for themselves not only the relevant curriculum connections that could be made in math, science, social studies and language arts but also to experience the power that robotics and programming have as tools for supporting inquiry, creativity, tenacity and experimentation.

James Jones, a teacher at Ocoee High School near Orlando, is on the LEGO Education Advisory Panel with Rhodes. He conducted a workshop on Build to Express, a tool geared at leveling the playing field for students and allowing them to use the bricks and other elements to communicate their thoughts, feelings and ideas.

Rhodes said Build to Express can be used with any content area and is a great tool for school counselors.

“Many students who are struggling or are reluctant verbal or written communicators have shown success with this tool,” Rhodes said.

Kara Duplantier, a computer lab teacher at Rollins, opened up her classroom doors, allowing symposium participants to observe WeDo robotics in use by the Zachary students.

Attendees also watched students work on programming soccer “goal-kickers” they built.