When toys and engineering collide

TRACY AREA ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER LUCAS NOVOSAD shares in the excitement with his students during last week’s LEGO League session. Those students include, from left, Ava Swenhaugen, Gretchen Lanoue, Trevor DeSchepper, Braeden Connor and Sophia Harsh. Photo / Per Peterson

Tracy Area Elementary School students learn about things like coding in new LEGO League

By Per Peterson

Little did Ole Kirk Christensen know back in 1932 that his LEGO creation would come this far.

A group of 10 Tracy Area Elementary School students are spending some of their after-school time this fall working with the famous interlocking pieces that have over the decades grown into one of the most popular toys in the world. But they’re not building toy homes or cars.

The school’s new LEGO League has taken playing with LEGOs to a new level, as students are implementing technology with the popular building blocks to give them an idea of what it takes to compete in the design and engineering world.

“Two years ago, the school had a bunch of robots it had purchased, and I just noticed that a lot of the kids were really getting into it, and I thought, ‘What more can we do with this?’” said fifth- and sixth-grade teacher Lucas Novosad, a third-year teacher at TAES who along with fellow teacher Amanda Zeug is running the new program. “They wanted to have the robots in their hands, they were developing those coding skills, engineering skills. Some of the kids don’t play sports, so we thought maybe we could get them exposure in something else, how can we go to the next level with this?”

For most people when they hear LEGO, they think of a toy, something you build simple structures with. But this is 2021, and this isn’t your parents’ LEGOs. The 10 LEGO League students — almost 30 signed up for the program — work with LEGOs, but also incorporate technology with what they’re building.

“It’s multi-faceted — they’re building, they’re designing,” Novosad said. “They’re building, with LEGOs, a robot that will basically complete missions, or challenges, within kind of a time frame. There are many different aspects of it. They’re building robots out of LEGOs and coding them to complete the missions.”

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.