Gaining STEAM through Lego Robotics
From the desk of Joe Olayvar
Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math, also known as STEAM, is currently a catch phrase that personifies a push to elevate those topics into mainstream thinking (and coolness). In its effort to further 21st Century learning, the Washington State Library (WSL) is doing its best to be part of that push. What started out as a potential use of Lego Mindstorm EV3 robotics to bring STEAM topics to rural and tribal libraries, quickly became a full-fledged regional workshop with thirteen scheduled stops.
Utilizing funding opportunities from the Institute for Library and Museum Services (ILMS) through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), WSL purchased ten Lego Mindstorm EV3 Core sets, extra components, and ten laptops that will comprise a pair of circulation kits. However, because the EV3 programming software may at first glance seem intimidating, a training program was developed by Evelyn Lindberg and Joe Olayvar to take the sting out of it and demystify some of the uncertainties.
The idea was simple; provide all the tools necessary, introduce the Lego Mindstorm EV3 robot with a few of its basic capabilities and programming aspects, then allow the imagination of library staff to formulate their own workshop based on their community’s likes and needs. Out of that idea was born the “Gaining STEAM – Lego Mindstorms EV3” workshop launched in late January and will continue through April. The kits used for this training will then be available for circulation to Washington’s rural and tribal libraries.
Our first stop was Port Angeles where the participants were subjected to our grand scheme. Which turned out to be a little more than time permitted and stretched their capacity to absorb three tons of information. Basically, our ambition and volume of content for the six hours we had…was a bit overzealous. The deer in the headlights look afterwards said it all. But we did warn them that they were our guinea pigs and thankfully, they eagerly rose to the occasion and conquered the challenges. We have since then adjusted our curriculum so that future participants would leave with less of a headache and still gain a lot of STEAM.
So here we are now wrapping up our west side tour with seven workshops under our belt and six more scheduled for the east side of the mountains. We’ve been as far north as Sedro Woolley and as far south as Fort Vancouver with roughly seventy library staff participating. I say “participating”, because this is very much a hands on workshop with most of the time spent programming the robots for mini challenges that progressively increase in complexity. Then, for added danger, they get to activate the Legotron Blaster to neutralize a container of weaponized gnomes in the final, culminating challenge.
As you can see by these photos, it’s serious business discovering your inner kid again. Since there’s absolutely no prerequisites for this workshop, most have gone from knowing nothing about programming, to assembling a Lego Mindstorm robot and programming it to tackle the various challenges. Not to mention the highly acclaimed “I Robot” challenge with its chocolatey goodness reward that sets the stage for a day full of skill set expanding fun.
If you have any kind of experience with Lego’s, even if it’s through observation only, you know how grippingly fun and immersing Lego’s can be. Now add the creative exhilaration of building and programming a robot to that, and you’ll understand the magnetic attraction that kids of all ages have for it. Then add the fact that you’re sneaking in STEAM curriculum and you’ll understand the benefits to the individuals and families that make up the communities where our libraries live…and serve.
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