The FWSU Story: Do you Mindstorm? We do!

In fifth grade at BFA Fairfax, every student completes a 6-7 week Lego Mindstorms robots unit. This opportunity grew from the makerspace that was created by Rhonda Siemons, Kendra Myers, Victoria Reynolds and Sandy Brown in 2016 with the encouragement and support from then FWSU Superintendent, Ned Kirsch and current elementary principal, Tom Walsh. The makerspace was designed to meet the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) standards for all students in grades 3-5. One of the resources used to help students learn were Lego Mindstorms EV3’s. We are fortunate to have enough kits available so that students can work in pairs with one kit. The kits were obtained through grants, one of them being the STEM Challenge Initiative, Inc. abbreviated as SCI. The goal of the SCI board is to provide affordable and meaningful STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) educational opportunities for the communities in Franklin and Grand Isle Counties. It is a great resource for educators.

By working with the robots, from building to programming them, the students learn to investigate problems and find possible solutions. In addition to content specific skills, essential transferable skills such as collaborating and communicating are learned and practiced. From the first lesson on through to the end, students have to understand and interpret two-dimensional learning to create three-dimensional robots. Troubleshooting and perseverance is the name of the game. Mathematical concepts such as estimating and measuring distance, time, and speed are practiced. Fifth grade students will also be programming using Mindstorm EV3’s as part of their Starbase program in the Spring.

Each trimester, one class works with the Mindstorms for an hour a week for 6-7 weeks. Lessons are co-taught by both Sandy Brown and Rhonda Siemons. Students are excited for the “Mindstorm Day” to come. They assemble the robot together and by the end of the unit are programming it to do their bidding (within reason). The hour goes by quickly because students are engaged and challenged. 

In the new configuration of grades 5-8, we are grateful to Sandy Brown for growing this wonderful opportunity and expanding it into BFA Fairfax Middle School. When I asked Ms. Brown to to share a little about herself, she offered the following (next time you see her, please thank Sandy for all that she does-and has done for students over the years): 

“Over a 24 year time span, I have taught in grades 3-8, with 5th grade being the one I have taught the longest. I have a  master’s degree in science education. I lived in Fairfax with my husband and two daughters for 30 years, both daughters graduated from BFA. Our family has grown to include 2 son-in-laws and 2 grandchildren with one on the way. My husband and I now live in Winooski. I am so glad I can still be in Fairfax five days a week. Teaching has provided me with the special opportunity to be with children and work in science and social studies, two subjects that I absolutely love.”

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

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