Shontelle Lewis (Sharon State School, Bundaberg, QLD) is an advocate for primary school students learning to code and was the winner of the LEGO Education Teacher Award for 2017. She has created and run robotics and coding challenges benefiting not only her own students, but also those of other schools.
How long have you been a teacher, and what ages/subjects do you teach?
I have been teaching since the start of 2010. Primary P-6. Science, Technology, English, Maths, Geography, History, Art, Health, ICT.
What are the most important things that you want your students to learn?
That they can achieve anything if they set their mind to it. I want them to learn about real world issues and how to solve them. Instead of learning just about the world issues, try to encourage them to find solutions as well.
When did you start using LEGO Education products in the classroom?
I have used LEGO from the start of my career and continue to use it because it assists in providing a real world model for problems. With the right management of the LEGO, it is not difficult to create interesting and engaging lessons that connect the national curriculum with real world issues.
What have been the benefits?
The best thing is that it's hands on/minds on thinking and constructionist learning. There are many children who benefit from learning to think laterally. The 3-D thinking is so much more real to learn using LEGO to develop real spacial awareness. Using LEGO sparks learning conversations and importantly, motor development. The other benefits are the critical thinking and creativity that come from the learning tasks that you can design for your students.
How does it fit in with the curriculum?
I use LEGO robotics mainly. For example if I was teaching the children about percentages in a maths lesson and after I had orientated the learners with the concept, I would ask them to use the light sensor and get them to go on a light reading hunt in pairs in the classroom. They would make a table to record their findings. Then we would be able to share and discuss what we did, why we did it, and how it would be useful to know percentages of the light readings. Then this lesson links to our Science unit on reflected light. The discussion from the Maths lesson is re-visited and we would discuss ambient light and reflected light. Then after research on the internet and learning about periscopes (for example), the assessment for Science would be introduced. The task in Science is to create a maze using mirrors to create a path using reflected light. A LEGO robot that can navigate through a maze using a light sensor!!! = curriculum covered! Of course you would need to analyse the criteria to make it align. LEGO can create learning connections between key learning areas.
What have been the greatest challenges / blockers?
It has been difficult to convince people that robotics should be used within the classroom using curriculum and during school hours, rather than a stand-alone robotics club after school. I think some schools don't have the funding to provide more resources for a class set of robotics kits perhaps. Or I hear others say they use robotics for their gifted students. I believe robotics should not be pigeon-holed into being a special 'thing' for one type of 'group'. It needs to be offered to a whole class no matter their learning level. Not every one of them will become a robotics expert but the concepts they learn are priceless. I think the management of the kits is another issue teachers worry about. My belief is that this is just something that a professional teacher needs to work out. It can be done. It is for the learners benefit. The biggest challenge for me has been to show teachers that you should use robotics to teach across the curriculum in a classroom context, not to teach robotics. Robotics clubs are great for learning robotics. At school, robotics needs to be seen as a tool for learning across the key learning areas.
Could you tell me about one student who has been positively affected?
Years ago, a student from grade 3 entered the Bundaberg Robotics and Coding Challenge. He entered the Secondary School Invention section. Even though he won against all the older students, he could not accept the award because he was in the incorrect section. The judges awarded him the Inventor of the Year Award instead. He was so influenced by the support and encouragement that 7 years later (2016) when he was in year 10 he approached us at the Robotics Challenge to be involved and he is now a judge each year. From entrant to judge! It is wonderful to have him on board.
Do you have any advice for teachers thinking about getting started with LEGO Education?
Go and see a FIRST LEGO League tournament or ask your school for support to obtain resources. It is such a worthwhile tool to have and it is an investment for your classroom. Don't just think about robotics kits because you can do so much with the other educational LEGO kits on offer. Read up on each and choose which is best for your class and school. I highly recommend LEGO resources for quality and service but most importantly for the benefit of learners.
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