A vision of St. Louis inspires student creativity with LEGOs
A vision of St. Louis inspires student creativity with LEGOs
Posted on 06/18/2013
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Take a look around you for a moment and think about the city where you live. Think about what the City of St. Louis looks like today. Now, think about what the city could look like in 50 years. 

To stretch your mind even further – think about what the city could like in 50 years using a model made of LEGO bricks.

That was the task for students from Confluence Academy-Old North and Confluence Academy-South City. As members of their school’s FIRST LEGO League team, they participated in a LEGO Expo. They had to visualize the question – What would St. Louis look like in 50 years? 

With their imaginations and a LEGO kit, each team spent weeks creating a work inspired by their thoughts and teamwork. All of the materials were donated. In May, they joined other teams at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park for LEGO Care Rebuilding St. Louis – One Brick at a Time. 

FIRST LEGO League exposes students to math, science, technology and engineering. It is part of FIRST Robotics – For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. FIRST LEGO League introduces younger students to real-world engineering challenges by building LEGO-based robots to complete tasks on a thematic playing surface. FLL teams, guided by their imaginations and adult coaches, discover exciting career possibilities and, through the process, learn to make positive contributions to society.

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  A view of one of many LEGO structures from Old North's LEGO League team.

The expo was first-time experience for both teams.

The Old North LEGO/Robotics Team has seven members in grades 5-7. The team sponsor is Stanley Johnson, administrative intern and in-school suspension teacher. 

South City’s team name is COMETS – Committed to Obtaining Mathematics Engineering Technology and Science. The team has eight members in fifth and sixth grade. The team sponsors are Deborah Bertish and Lyndsey Derber, sixth grade science and math teachers.

“The students jumped right into the building and construction of the city, coming up with dynamic ideas about what the City of St. Louis would look like in 50 years,” said Bertish and Derber. “A few weeks in, the group decided to try a different approach and began to build the city as it is now and make modifications and additions as they would see St. Louis in 50 years.”

“Our team started actual construction about three weeks before the expo,” said Johnson. “They reviewed some overhead views of the city to help shape their vision for their projects.”

“As the project progressed, they became more involved and invested in not just their own contribution, but they also came to the realization that they had to work together in order to be successful,” said Bertish. 
Johnson described the level of interest for his team. 

“Our students were highly engaged from the very first meeting. After we had our first construction project to get used to the LEGOs, they were all onboard for the journey ahead. As they experienced more and more success, they became more and more intrigued about the endless possibilities of where this could go.”

What’s next for the teams?

South City is creating an official FIRST LEGO team so they can participate and compete on a regional level. “We plan to practice this summer with a FIRST LEGO game so we can have a better understanding of how the game works,” said Derber.

Old North’s team wants to “continue meeting to design future projects and to start the planning for the robotics component for the team. Some of the students are looking into summer camps that offer LEGO or robotics, science, technology, engineering or math,” said Johnson.

Team sponsors noticed a change in their students after the experience.

“Our scholars have become much more prideful about their capabilities and are showing great interest in STEM-focused careers as they incorporated a little of each into their project,” said Johnson. “I have also noticed the growth in confidence in each member because they have really accomplished much more than they thought they could at the beginning. They’re being recognized by their peers for their newly revealed talents.”

Derber and Bertish said, “We noticed that students became more comfortable with being creative and pushing themselves to think outside the box. They also became better team players and learned how to work with and learn from each other rather than in isolation.”

“We believe the students were able to obtain an understanding and interest in engineering as well as problem solving,” they continued. “When an idea was a bit more challenging than expected, students learned to persevere and try different ways or ask for support from other team members. We also saw our students grow socially by learning how to work with each other while utilizing their strengths.”

Johnson said the experience “reinforced the expectation that higher level education is the key to future success. Our team didn’t just want to do the basics, they pushed themselves to think deeper, analyze longer and collaborate to reach the common goal.”

“I was so amazed by the creativity and expression in all of our scholars and the work of the other schools at the expo,” said Johnson. 

The enthusiasm and interest in doing well paid off for both teams – they earned awards for their efforts.

Old North was presented the Inquiring Minds Award. South City received the High Five award.

Rebuilding St. Louis – One Brick at a Time involved the LEGO CARES Foundation, the Saint Louis Science Center, US FIRST Robotics and the St. Louis FIRST LEGO League Planning Committee. 

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  South City's LEGO League team talks about their design at the FIRST LEGO Expo.