Block by block
FRONT ROYAL — Standing in a village of Lego rooms, fifth-grade teacher Jill Alicie was unsure of what might happen.
The students had their tools — Lego kits brought from home or provided by the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization. They had their instructions: Build a room of their own design, with two doors on separate walls, each door using six blocks in width and stretching at least eight blocks high.
Be creative, Alicie told them.
Setting to work, the third, fourth and fifth graders at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School in Front Royal determined for themselves what a room with two doors under such architectural constraints might look like.
Some, like 10-year-old Parker Hammock and 8-year-old Caleb Garrett, envisioned houses from the outside, Parker’s with a gate out front and Caleb’s with glass doors, a flat roof and a statue in the garden.
Others, like 8-year-old Tabby Potter and 9-year-old Elisabeth Lieberum, imagined the room itself, with walls to either side of a vast, roofless expanse.
Once her doors were in place, Elisabeth concentrated on the garden out front, with a birdbath and a little help from her classmate Tabby.
“She gave me these carrots and flowers to put in my garden,” Elisabeth said.
“We’re trying to work together,” Tabby agreed. “It’s fun making stuff.”
Alicie started the club earlier in the year to help students learn STEM education through challenges that encourage them to read and follow directions, count blocks and engineer designs.
“It’s really making them think outside the box,” she said.
The concept grew from ideas that Lego promotes through email campaigns, but Alicie said her club is a pared-down version since the school couldn’t afford to do anything larger.
The PTO purchased 25 kits and square flats the students use as a base for projects so the club could meet for an hour after school on Thursdays. The PTO also offered to buy a robotic set so the class could build Lego robots and plans to help the students build interactive Legos on their Chromebooks.
The children like it because it gives them a chance to play Legos with their friends after school, maybe not realizing how much they’re learning in the process.
Alicie assigned a “hilarious” intricate maze challenge on another Thursday and the building of a storybook character from “The LEGO Movie,” but said a third planned project fell apart when she tested a design for a candy dispenser and found it too difficult to make.
Continuing her push for STEM education, Alicie also planned the school’s first science fair, a volunteer effort that’s attracted 30 students — “just to get the experience.”
Mainly fifth graders, she said, they will prepare an invention, an experiment or a research project to present at the school from 6 to 8 p.m. on April 8.
Prizes will include passes donated by the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum in Winchester and passes to the movies or the bowling alley.
Lego Club is the school’s only after school club, Alicie said, excluding the occasional after school movie, and so far an hour has proven enough for club members to complete their challenges.
“The real diehards want more pieces than I have,” Alicie said. So she’s encouraged them to bring in their own from home or share with a friend.
Parker admitted he has so many at home he’s lost count, but so far variety has been a friend to him.
“There is one thing missing that I really want to do,” he said on Thursday, reaching for his surplus of materials and holding up a four-fingered plastic piece. “Ceiling fan.”
Cordney Martin, 8, designed a living room. In it, Green Lantern and Batman were green lighting the room’s proportions.
Alicie took a breather from all the construction.
“My favorite is seeing the girls here,” she said. “Lego in the past has been so geared toward the boys.”
At the store, 99 percent of Lego products are for boys, a fact she said hasn’t escaped the notice of her daughter, 10-year-old Katie Alicie, who was less than pleased with the selection that Lego markets to girls.
“Why do they get, like, the gears and the wheels?” Alicie remembered her daughter asking. “Why do I have a puppy in mine?”
Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org