While LEGOs are a ubiquitous childhood toy, for KIPPsters at KIPP DC middle schools, they are tools used to help solve real-world science and technology challenges through the LEGO Robotics clubs at KEY, Valor, Northeast, WILL, and AIM Academies. First piloted last year at AIM and WILL Academies, the program has grown in size and scope due in part to a $10,000 Amazon Future Engineer Robotics grant. “It made it possible for the program to be more equitable, allowing what we rolled out last year with AIM and WILL to be available at other middle school campuses,” said Hilda Aganga-Williams, senior science and engineering instructional coach.
Teams meet once a week to explore basic concepts of engineering and coding by designing LEGO robots and solving current scientific problems. While students are exposed to STEM concepts and new career possibilities through science and technology, they also are able to build soft skills such as leadership, communication, and teamwork.
Ms. Shoshana Oppenheim is a fifth-grade lead Science teacher at KIPP DC AIM Academy and is in her second year leading the robotics club at her school. While seeing the growth of the program from year one to two has been great to see, it’s been the growth of the students and seeing how success within the robotics club has led to positive benefits both academically and socially for students that has been most fulfilling.
“There have been many highlights for me, but the ones that stick out the most are when I see one student grow from being a bit quiet or reserved to now leading others, or watching the growth of a student who would get frustrated easily to now thinking through situations and problem-solving. I always enjoy watching what we do here show up in the classroom. “
Recently, our middle school robotics teams competed across the region in the FIRST LEGO League’s regional tournament at the United States Patent Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia. While each of our schools had a great showing, the team at Valor Academy won the Judge’s Award and AIM Academy took home first place honors in Robot Design, where students were scored on the strategy and design, construction, and programming of their robots. The tournament also saw high parent engagement, with many families of the competing KIPP DC students in attendance to show their support throughout the day-long event.
Davillo is a fifth-grader at AIM Academy and part of the LEGO team that took part in the regional tournament. In building their robots and winning first place, he credits “teamwork, listening, and trusting each other” as key to their success at the tournament.
Looking ahead to the future of LEGO robotics at KIPP DC, clubs will continue to meet throughout the year, and there is a potential there is a potential for a KIPP DC LEGO league tournament across middle schools, where schools within our network can compete against one another. Whatever evolution the program takes next, what will remain constant is the creative outlet it offers KIPPsters to explore STEM concepts, build skills, and grow academically and socially alongside one another.