Gallatin Elementary students becoming early engineers, architects

DOWNEY - Every Wednesday after school, 20 fourth and fifth-graders at Gallatin Elementary School transform into engineers and architects. For 90 minutes, the inquisitive students work together using problem solving skills to design and build everything from catapults and merry-go-rounds to castles and skyscrapers using one of America's favorite building blocks - LEGOs.

"When you think of engineering, you think that's so hard, but so many of them love it and want to be engineers," said Julie Bliss, fourth-grade teacher at Gallatin Elementary School.

Bliss is hopeful the eight-week program will encourage her advanced students to learn the concepts of physics, architecture, mechanical and structural engineering while having fun with more than 10,000 pieces of LEGO building materials.

After hearing about the educational workshops, known as "Fun with LEGO Engineering," Bliss, who serves as coordinator of the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program for high-achieving students, looked it up on the internet.

"It's a pretty well received program," said Bliss. "Every lesson has a focus - steering cars, elevators, gondolas - a lot of it is stuff kids can't build at home."

The LEGO program is produced by Irvine-based company Play-Well TEKnologies. Founded in 1998, Play-Well TEKnologies enlists instructors with varied careers to teach a series of pre-engineering workshops to kids around Southern California.

"Kids love it, we're just building with LEGOs, but you see how they change," said Megan McInerney, a biology graduate who teaches the eager group of Downey students every week. " By the end of eight weeks, they're amazing builders. It makes me happy when students get into science."

For the twenty students in the program it's less like work and more like entertainment.

"It's really fun because we try new things that we've never been able to build," said Tristan Yepez, 10. "I've got some LEGOs at home, but these can actually move things."

When Bliss pitched the program to parents the response was overwhelming. Even though the cost of workshops was $120 per student, GATE was able to bring the cost down to $20 per student, which was then paid by parents.

"It's wonderful for cooperative grouping," said Bliss who's hopeful the program will one day be available for every child. "We're considering opening it up to other students, it's a great opportunity for the kids."

********** Published: May 31, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 07