Artful Learning school beats STEM students in Mars Rover challenge
CASTLE ROCK—One Douglas County school defied all odds at a recent LEGO Design Challenge event.
27 elementary school teams from all over Colorado were tasked with developing a model of a Mars Rover for NASA, which needed to be able to travel forward in a straight line, halt when it encountered an object with its sensor and then travel backwards before coming to a stop.
Most of the teams were made up of students from STEM-based schools and programs. But it was the only non-STEM school—Meadow View Elementary—that walked away with top honors at the event.
Three years ago, Meadow View—a neighborhood public school—transitioned to an Artful Learning model, which engages students in their learning through the lens of the arts. It is the only Artful Learning school in Colorado and one of just 23 schools nationwide.
“Being a school in which most think of Artful Learning as just painting pretty pictures, we were able to prove that the rigorous nature of the inquiry based learning does indeed allow our kids to rise to high and deeper level of thinking. This includes the sciences,” said Michelle Grove, a fourth grade Meadow View teacher who helped prepare students for the challenge.
In the challenge, students had to build their Mars Rover using their basic LEGO® kit, and then create a coding program to create the rover's movement, with the goal of one smooth motion throughout. Meadow View’s fifth grade team took top honors in the competition, while the fourth grade team placed fourth. Meadow View was the only Douglas County school to participate in the competition, which was held in Colorado Springs.
While many of the STEM-based teams have competed multiple years in a row, this was Meadow View’s first year in the competition.
In preparation, the fourth and fifth grade teams met twice weekly after school for five weeks. The students practiced coding skills and were given several mock-building exercises to challenge their critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication skills.
“I coached them through the 21st century skills of problem solving and systems thinking, as we knew that to win we would have to understand the nature of the task, as it would be measured by their ability to create a solution to the problem and require a great deal of attention to both the systems of coding and engineering their builds,” said Grove. “We practiced how to explain their solution and the process of building as we neared the competition.”
The wins keep coming. Since the fourth and fifth grade competition, a second LEGO Design Challenge event last week for the younger grades saw Meadow View once again taking top honors. This time, it was the kindergartners that took first place and third grade taking third place.
“The best comment I heard all evening was from the head of the Lego Design Challenge team,” said Jacqueline Bledsoe, who helped coach the second and third grade students participating in the challenge. “His exact words after the kids’ wins were, ‘I don't know if Meadow View should come next year. You need to give the other schools a chance!’”
“Some of the judges that came by to comment as the Challenge progressed mentioned how well our teams collaborated with one another and how unique their thinking was,” Bledsoe said. “I think this is truly a commentary on how communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking aren't just buzz words, but truly live in our school's approach to teaching and learning.”
“Artful Learning has children authentically practice how to share their thinking and express their feelings, along with understanding that some of the best creations come from multiple perspectives,” Bledsoe continued. “One judge mentioned to me that she was so impressed that our second graders were so natural and comfortable sharing their Mars Rover and design process. She said nothing seemed forced or coached and she truly knew the students were the ones who owned their creations.”