Building Real-World Connections In Middle School

Caroline Hanson

Ascent Enrichment and Robotics Teacher

Aspen Middle School, Grades 5-8

LEAP Teacher

Aspen, Colorado


Caroline Hanson is building lessons
for her middle school students that
grow with her students as they
learn. According to Caroline Hanson,
students love the open-ended
learning and that there isn’t just one
way to solve problems with LEGO®
Education products. Because of this,
there is less pressure for them to
get the “right” answer, leaving more
room for experimentation, creativity
and differentiation. Using this
pedagogy, Caroline Hanson creates
lessons that inspire investigation
and real-world understanding.

Her 6th grade students learn how
to make robots complete mazes
and create choreographed dances.
These challenges leave space for
variance—that is, Hanson can require
the dance be a certain length or
involve sounds or decorations,
or she can specify the number
of blocks or sensors required
for a maze. The possibilities are
virtually endless and keep the
learning fresh and engaging for
her students as they prototype,
modify and continue to build on
the concepts they have learned.

In 7th grade, Hanson brings
real-world connections into the
classroom by incorporating realworld
problems and interdisciplinary
tie-ins. For instance, she teaches
lessons around space exploration
and problems current scientists and
engineers are facing. She does this
through the EV3 Space Challenges
that emphasize the power of
problem solving in challenging
environments. In 8th grade, the
EV3 Design Engineering Projects
help her teach gear ratio, which
she ties into autonomous vehicles
and the future of self-driving cars.

Using math and science, she can
reinforce these lessons and relate
them back to her students’ core
classes. “Applying the concepts
they learn through their core classes
builds that sense of relevance, which
is so important for students,” she
says. “They get to use and see the
concepts outside of a controlled
experiment or a piece of paper.”

“Students get to use and see the concepts outside of a controlled experiment or a piece of paper.”

Caroline Hanson
Ascent Enrichment and Robotics Teacher, Aspen Middle School, Grades 5-8, LEAP Teacher, Aspen, Colorado

Hanson has seen her students
congratulate each other on
successful outcomes, or even put
in self-directed work. One student
decided to build a robotic chairlift.
“He spent hours in class and was
not quite finished on the last day
of class, so he came in during the
teacher work day to perfect his
project, spending many extra hours
getting to his goal and feeling
good about it all,” she says.

Engagement enables students to
build the skills needed to get
ready for high school
and beyond, such as
teamwork, collaboration,
self-awareness and
“Different strengths
emerge in
robotics,” she
says, “And
students have a
chance to shine
apart from their academic work.” They learn about
themselves and their learning style,
and they are motivated to fix their
mistakes. She adds, “Even failure
with a robot can be engaging.”

Even as her students continue to
grow and develop through robotics,
Hanson is building her skills through
LEGO Education. “I like that I have
not come close to learning all of
the capabilities, so I am constantly
building my own professional tools
and knowledge as I find new ways
to interact with the students and
get them to try new challenges.”

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