MANCHESTER, NH – Gov. Maggie Hassan had a front row seat Thursday for a different kind of show-and-tell day at Jewett Elementary School.
Fourth-grade students were huddled in team formation, prepared to show off the FIRST Junior STEAM Ahead programmable robots they’d created using LEGO Mindstorm EV3, and other bits and pieces of the interlocking building block system. Hassan was joined by Mayor Ted Gatsas, other local officials, and business professionals.
Among them was Dean Kamen, father of the FIRST educational revolution.
Kamen serves as President of DEKA Research & Development Corporation and 26 years ago founded FIRST – For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology – which has become an international incubator for inventive minds.
Kamen said during a brief presentation that this giant educational step forward for Manchester’s students will have life-changing implications.
“Fortunately these people have been able to do something that nobody else around the country has done yet,” said Kamen, of Manchester school administrators for pushing forward with the program.
“They put a stake in the ground and they said we’re going to change the opportunities for kids in schools, and teachers in schools, to do something that might really, really materially affect what you kids learn and how you learn — and give you a taste of what it’s like to do really cool stuff while you’re still young enough to get so good at that cool stuff that colleges are going to be fighting over you, and companies like mine are going to be fighting over you in the future,” said Kamen.
Jewett Street is one of three schools participating in the inaugural FIRST LEGO League program in Manchester school district, along with Beech Street and Green Acre elementary schools. Four more schools will be added to the program in 2015-16, with the city’s remaining seven elementary schools getting on board the following school year.
The program applies math, language arts, science and problem solving to design and technology challenges, and also builds teamwork, respect and discovery.
Mayor Gatsas said there are a growing number of volunteers involved, who are an invaluable part of the program. Manchester School District will continue to support the new programs as they launch over the next two years, at a cost to the district of about $20,000, in addition to corporate sponsorship and mentors.
Jewett Street teacher Valerie Tarbell spoke about how she had wanted for several years to start a Lego League program but without the necessary resources, it was impossible.
“We didn’t have the time, we didn’t have the staff and we didn’t have the money. When the opportunity arose earlier this year to apply for a spot as one of three schools to pilot a FIRST Lego League, we jumped at that chance. Thank you, for letting us to ‘steam ahead’ as we take our students further into the 21st century by exploring science and math concepts, engineering new designs to solve problems, and enable students to present their own ideas in their own ways,” Tarbell said.
“The 2014 FIRST Lego League’s challenge was ‘How individuals learn.’ What an appropriate topic for this year for the Manchester School District, as we delve into first Lego League on our own,” Tarbell said.
“The teachers and students are all learning about core values, the flexibility, the missions that are on the table, and the EV3, which they have to put together,” Tarbell said. This journey has had a few bumps along the way, but more important, we’ve witnessed many many successes, especially with students, learning how to work together for a common goal.”
Corporate contributions and grants for the program were made by Argosy Foundation, Autodesk, the Norwin S. and Elizabeth N. Bean Foundation, and Texas Instruments, to cover the cost of the technology, including the LEGO kits, robots and computers.
Mentors from AutoDesk, DEKA, FIRST, SilverTech, Wasabi Ventures, the NH High Technology Council, Fuentek, Robbins Farley and Salesforce/Cloud for Good provide hands-on guidance in the classroom for the program.
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