Making the Connection: Engaging Students with STEM in Title 1 Schools

Laura Knapp

K-5 Technology Teacher

Gateway Science Academy South

St Louis, Missouri


Laura Knapp is a K-5 Technology Teacher at a Title 1 school in St. Louis, Missouri. The primary obstacle she faces is engaging her students whose minds are preoccupied with challenges they face at home. She has limited resources and limited time and sees her students on a 45-minute rotational basis.

To overcome these built-in hurdles, Knapp focuses on student interest. “You have to make the engagement so high that you can overcome that,” says Knapp. By connecting her students’ projects with their interest areas, it allows the students to move past these obstacles as they enter class and ignite their excitement for learning.

Knapp does this by engaging her students with LEGO® Education Build Me “Emotions,” LEGO® Education WeDo 2.0 and LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3 sets. “To help them concentrate, I create activities that are fun, open-ended and relevant,” says Knapp. For instance, she had her students learn and understand the basics of programming by making their LEGO® Education WeDo 2.0 and EV3 robots move and retrieve items on makeshift fields for soccer, basketball and baseball. With the sports unit, Knapp had her students complete challenges, such as programming their robots to retrieve a baseball from the outfield. The students were immediately immersed in what they were doing, because coding was embedded in an area related to their interests. To meet the needs of her diverse student body, Knapp is constantly improving upon her curriculum while meeting ISTE standards.

They’re focused. They’re asking questions. They’re going beyond what they’re required to do. A lot of students with trauma stay focused on short-term goals and we need to get them thinking about their true potential in the long run

Laura Knapp
K-5 Technology Teacher, Gateway Science Academy South, St Louis, Missouri

Knapp also taught force, pull, friction and weight through WeDo 2.0. By coding the LEGO® Education model to pull gifts during the holidays, the students were coding and engaged in their learning through the relatable, problem-solving settings developed by Knapp. In another instance, she used the Drop and Rescue project from WeDo 2.0, which includes the building and programming of a helicopter, to talk about the hurricane relief efforts in Texas and Puerto Rico. By tying it to real-world events, Knapp made the curriculum relevant to the students and allowed them to explore outside of their world.

Of the skills she sees her students building are programming and logic, but also social emotional skills and teamwork. “A lot of what our kids need at our school are those social skills,” says Knapp. “These students are coming in with barriers already in place from home lives filled with high poverty,” she says. Through working in groups and asking each other questions to complete the tasks, her students are developing important 21st century skills.”

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