G-R Elementary and 4-H join forces to bring STEM opportunities to rural Iowa

District kicks off second year of FIRST LEGO League

Innovation in every brick: A FLL team strikes a pose during a meeting, showcasing their impressive creation. Pictured left to right: Henry Randolph, Flynn Brubaker, Abel McDivitt, Joselyn Anderson, and Emma Haskovec. PHOTO COURTESY OF KATIE LUBBERT

REINBECK — Gladbrook-Reinbeck Elementary School is excited to announce its participation in the second year of the FIRST LEGO League Explore program, an initiative aimed at fostering an early interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Principal Shaun Lehmann’s commitment to expanding STEM programming in the district has found a powerful ally in Iowa 4-H, creating a dynamic partnership.

Lehmann, driven by the belief that even small schools should offer their students equal or superior opportunities, reached out to Grundy County Extension & Outreach seeking support for launching an after-school robotics club, with specific interest in the FIRST LEGO League Explore program, designed for elementary school-aged children (ages 6-10).

What is FIRST LEGO League?

FIRST LEGO League (FLL) is an internationally recognized program that engages students in hands-on STEM experiences.

Future innovators in action: FLL youth showcase their team model and poster to VIPs during the end-of-year celebration at the G-R Elementary gym last March. PHOTO COURTESY OF KATIE LUBBERT

FIRST stands for ‘For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.’ It is a youth-serving nonprofit, committed to advancing STEM education.

The program is not just about building with Legos; it integrates programming with a robotics set in a playful manner, allowing students to create motorized LEGO models.

“The real goal of LEGO League (Explore) isn’t to complete the build but to become better teammates. The core values are: Impact, Innovation, Teamwork, Inclusion, Discovery, and Fun. Because we talk about these concepts during our sessions, our kids know what impact and innovation are and they know how they live those values in their work,” shared Anne Tedore, a parent volunteer coach.

In response to Lehmann’s vision, Iowa 4-H Youth Program Specialist Katie Lubbert delved into researching the FIRST LEGO League program, its requirements, and the associated costs. Her efforts yielded success as she secured a grant from the Iowa 4-H Foundation, and a second from John Deere, providing essential funds for season materials, Lego Education Spike Essential sets, and tablets to support five LEGO League Explore teams at the elementary level.

“First Lego League and 4-H share so many similarities. Both are committed to fostering hands-on learning experiences, and empowering youth with the skills and mindset needed for future success,” Lubbert observed.

Eager minds, bright ideas: Youth proudly showcase their team model and poster, ready to unveil their discoveries from the 2022-23 SUPERPOWERD season. Pictured left to right: Theo Yockey, Caleb Sherman, Lucas Sherman, Braxton Wedmore, Collin Utter, and Jim Devore. PHOTO COURTESY OF KATIE LUBBERT

With the funding in place, families in the district were invited to a LEGO League Find Out Night at the elementary school to introduce the program and recruit coaches. The enthusiasm among adults to witness children engage with technology and coding was evident, with 10 parent volunteers stepping up to coach teams in the first year.

When asked why he volunteered to coach his son Theo’s team, Chris Yockey remarked, “I wanted to offer our kids another venue to have fun while learning STEM principles.”

He further added, “Coaching may seem a bit intimidating, especially if you think you have to know how to write computer programs. That’s not the case, there are instructor guides and lots of resources, you just have to be interested in helping kids learn while having fun.”

The inaugural season, which concluded in March of 2023, saw five teams with a total of 29 youth participants engaging in 12 team meetings. The program’s success was celebrated with an end-of-the-season event in the elementary gym, where teams presented their projects to a panel of invited V.I.P.s, followed by recognition certificates and a pizza celebration with family and friends.

Six-year-old first-grader Emma Haskovec had this to say about her experience in LEGO League: “You get to learn new things and I learned I’m unique. There are things I’m good at and can practice at the things that are harder. I’m good at building, drawing, and coding Legos and following directions.”

Each year FLL releases a new challenge based on a real-world scientific theme. This year’s theme, MASTERPIECE, challenges children to imagine and innovate new ways to create and communicate art globally through STEM. Gladbrook-Reinbeck Elementary is currently finalizing teams and recruiting coaches for the upcoming season scheduled to kick off in early December.

Principal Lehmann encourages interested coaches, parents, and youth to reach out and learn more about the Gladbrook-Reinbeck LEGO League by contacting him at (319) 345-2822, or shaun-lehmann@gr-rebels.net.