Clayson Thayer of Champion tries out a robot he programmed through a LEGO MINDSTORMS class at the MPCC Imperial campus.
Robots taking STEM education by storm
A new type of storm is sweeping across west central and southwest Nebraska— leaving a hunger for science and technology in its wake.
Ever since LEGO MINDSTORMS arrived at the Mid-Plains Community College campuses, the area response has been an insatiable desire for more.
“It has really taken off,” Mary Pierce, MPCC Ogallala Campus administrator, said of the programming.
“We never could have predicted it would become this popular.”
In essence, LEGO MINDSTORMS is a hands-on, cross-curricular form of STEM education that engages students by encouraging them to design, build and program robots. The robots are then disassembled and used for additional classes.
The MPCC Ogallala campus initially purchased eight LEGO MINDSTORMS kits after receiving a $3,600 grant from the Keith County Foundation Fund in the fall 2017.
The kits were taken on the road with the first class being taught in Arthur in spring 2018 by University of Nebraska-Lincoln 4-H Extension Educator Mike Eskelson.
“We’ve had a session every fall, spring and summer since, and our classes are typically full,” said Pierce. “Kids love the technology.”
It was so successful, in fact, that by 2019 it was time to expand.
A second grant for $2,500 was applied for and received from the Keith County Foundation Fund, allowing the Ogallala campus to purchase additional kits and accessories.
The grant also paid for a “Train the Trainer” workshop to help others become LEGO MINDSTORMS instructors.
“It’s really hard to find instructors trained in the technology in the area,” Pierce said.
“Two of the individuals who went through our workshop are now teaching LEGO MINDSTORMS classes for MPCC in McCook and Imperial.”
The MPCC Imperial campus borrows the kits, which now total 12, from the campus in Ogallala. The target group in Imperial is students ages 8-10.
“They have a lot of fun,” said Brenda Ledall, MPCC Imperial Campus administrator.
“In addition to assembling the robots, the students are learning to code them with a program on the laptop. It’s great for career exploration. The same technical skills are needed in fields such as computer programming, engineering and even automotive and diesel technology,” she said.
Ledall noted that several life skills are also gained through LEGO MINDSTORMS. Those include the ability to read and follow directions, creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.
Like Ogallala, Imperial’s classes fill up fast. They are currently offered in the fall and spring, whenever kits are available.
Up until recently, the kits also had to be shared with MPCC’s campus in McCook.