Irving ISD drives student engagement with hands-on lessons


Irving ISD drives student engagement with hands-on lessons


  • Increased student engagement in the classroom
  • Access to engaging curriculum for all students
  • Connection to Texas state standards across ELA, science, and math
  • Supports CTE pathways


  • Located in Irving, Texas
  • Serves 31,400+ PreK-12 students and 4,400+ employees
  • 37 campuses
  • The 12th largest school district in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex
  • One of the most diverse districts in the state

When Irving Independent School District (ISD) wanted to engage its diverse student population in learning content to meet state standards, hands-on solutions from LEGO® Education were the perfect fit. “It’s helping students to learn in a better way. It’s a different approach and that’s what we needed,” says Robin Bayer, Irving’s Chief Learning Officer.

Getting Buy-in

Different departments came together wanting to provide opportunities for their students to engage in learning experiences where they fail forward, collaborate, think outside the box, and push a problem to all four corners. Irving’s vision is clear: To become the premier district for educational excellence, fostering the full potential of students and empowering educators. Combined with the district’s focus on career technical education (CTE) pathways, curriculum decisions are an important part of preparing students to be college and career ready. Irving selected LEGO Education and used ESSER funds to bring LEGO Education solutions to all PreK-12 students through STEM labs and core curriculum.

Bringing in new materials meant getting buy-in from teachers, librarians, administrators, and others. Initially, Bayer wondered, “Could we really say [students] were mastering objectives and having fun at the same time? Were teachers going to embrace it?” But she quickly found herself advocating for the program after seeing the levels of student engagement, ease of use for teachers, and connections to learning objectives.

To secure buy-in and implement at scale, the team knew it had to embed LEGO Education into the curriculum and the school day. “We know that teachers don’t have time to add anything extra in and our instructional minutes are precious, and they’re limited,” said Erin O’Connor, STEM and Innovation Specialist. Teachers also feel more comfortable using solutions they know are supported by their administrators and connect to state standards.

Putting Students on the Path to Success

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more engaged classroom,” said Principal Lindsey Sanders, whose PreK-5 students all learn with LEGO Education. Teachers and administrators across the district have seen first-hand the impact embedding LEGO Education in reading, math, and science has had on student engagement.

Judy Boone, Director of Digital and Learning Resources, noticed the immediacy of student engagement as students applied their learning and the concepts. “It makes the learning more sticky,” she says. “It feels real-world to them and so that makes the content come to life when they learn through play.”

“With learning through play, I see the students making real-world connections to the subjects that they’re studying based on the standards we have here in Texas as well as Common Core studies.”

Chejuana Willis-Martin, District Digital Learning Coach

Students are helping their classmates, using the vocabulary being taught, and becoming leaders in their own learning. Irving’s educators have seen the transfer of skills and how students practice managing their behavior and interacting with peers, which supports social emotional learning (SEL). Teachers have been moved to tears when students with disabilities or those who have struggled to find success with traditional learning step up, collaborate, and are vocal and engaged in the classroom.

Hands-on learning has even changed students’ outlook on subject areas. Many struggle with anxiety or pre-conceived notions about not being good certain subjects like science or math. “That goes away when they are learning through play,” says Chejuana Willis-Martin, Digital Learning Coach.

Boone credits this to the “low-stakes way of teaching” that creates a safe environment for students. The district embraces the concept of failing forward, and the iterative nature of open-ended projects allows them to feel comfortable taking academic risks and asking questions because there isn’t only a right or wrong answer. “You hear all the aha moments that they have,” Willis-Martin says.

Perhaps one of the most compelling proof points of student engagement is when students are excited to talk about what they did at school. Bayer’s own children are students in the district, and like most her first grader typically doesn’t tell her about school. But after doing the Spinning Ferris Wheel lesson in class, he was “just completely in love with school and he’s still talking about it,” she shared.

Willis-Martin says, “the joy is through the roof! Kids are like ‘when are we going to do this again? Are we going to do it in math? Are we going to do it in reading or science?’ They want to fit it in every part of the curriculum and core content that we have.”

Empowering and Engaging Teachers

Engagement starts with teachers. Teachers called it a breath of fresh air when they first started teaching with LEGO Education. “They see how much joy it’s bringing the kids, and it really makes them happy too,” says Sanders. “That has made a huge impact on my campus.”

For some teachers they are learning an entirely new approach, while others are rediscovering their own excitement and passion for the teaching profession. “They’re teaching and learning in a different way and apply that to every lesson they teach in the future no matter what it is,” says James Tiggeman, Director of STEM Innovation.

“Hands-on learning is something that’s missing from modern education.”

Robin Bayer, Chief Learning Officer

With nearly 70 standards in K-5 alone, Irving’s teachers are focused on objectives and supporting state standards across content. Any initial skepticism is replaced with empowerment because the LEGO Education lessons support the educational experiences students need to obtain skills, while also teaching to state standards and building CTE pathways. The Irving team did the heavy lifting for teachers by embedding LEGO Education lessons into ELA, math, science, and more. The STEM Innovation team noted how teacher-friendly the LEGO Education kits and lessons already are, which makes their jobs easier and helps secure teacher buy-in.

Keys to a Successful Implementation

“We really want to define and be purposeful about how we are preparing our elementary kids to go to our middle schools and then onto our high schools and be successful at every stage and beyond,” says Tiggeman. All Irving ISD students have access to curriculum that incorporates, expands, and enhances the state's curriculum standards. Additionally, the district wanted to ensure the LEGO Education program supports its CTE pathways by building the foundation, confidence, and interest in STEM areas early.

To achieve this, Irving knew it needed to set teachers up for success and invested in a professional development program with LEGO Education to train its campus educators and leaders. The Department of Digital Learning provides ongoing support, including assisting in the classroom when teachers are launching lessons. It helps take away the anxiety for teachers as they build the capability and confidence to teach with the learning through play methodology. It was also this team who embedded the LEGO Education lessons into the curriculum and tied it to the state standards in a way that made sense to the teachers and would be easy to implement with their students.

Irving ISD is made up of all Title I schools nearing 80 to 90 percent socioeconomically disadvantaged and has an incredibly diverse student population with a vast mix of languages, backgrounds, and abilities. Having a learning experience that truly levels the playing field and supports all their learners has been a gamechanger for the district. Whether students are newcomers to the country, gifted and talented, anxious about math or science, or struggling academically or behaviorally, all students and the staff in Irving ISD have found success with LEGO Education.

And the evidence is in the scores. Irving has seen differences in how a student scores on an exact standard pre- and post-lesson, and they also track student engagement and joy. Willis-Martin credits the increased confidence and comprehension to hands-on learning. She says, “I see that our math scores will increase. Kids understand the formula now because they can relate back to how they put the project together and how they utilized that formula or that particular piece of division or multiplication.”

Teachers also rate the lessons every year, and it’s easy to see why LEGO Education gets high marks.

Lessons Learned

  • “I would tell other central office administrators that there is room for this.” – Robin Bayer, Chief Learning Officer
  • “Teachers love it and you’re going to fall in love with it as well.” - Chejuana Willis-Martin, District Digital Learning Coach
  • “It’s better than being on our phones or tablets all day.” – 4th grade student
  • “As a teacher, hands-on learning has allowed me to channel my love of learning and share that enthusiasm with my students.” - Sylvia Huber, Digital Learning Coordinator
  • “What I love about learning through play is that students engage more deeply, especially our English language learners. The outcome and impact on student achievement can’t be overstated.” – Judy Boone, Director of Digital and Learning Resources

Solutions Used

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