Peek into Deborah Powers Melear’s science lab at Sayre School in Lexington and you’ll find grade-schoolers having so much fun they don’t even realize they’re learning science. After two dozen years in education, nothing could gratify Melear more.
“The students are engaged in their investigations and I know they are learning, so I’ve accomplished my goal,” she said. The source of learning and fun? LEGOs.
Two years ago, Melear collaborated with technology specialist Joan Skees to institute and co-teach the LEGO education programs. This enlivened Melear’s third-grade unit on simple machines – levers, pulley and gears. Instead of only reading about these concepts, students built models and learned how to control them with a computer program.
“Oh, they were so excited,” Melear said. “They were saying to me, ‘Please come see what my machine is doing.’ They were happy and immersed in learning about the operation of machine components and how to apply science to real problems.”
Melear’s fifth-graders take these concepts and build robots. They learn to control the robots through a computer program, changing variables to achieve a desired result.
When Sayre Board of Directors member, Rudy Schmidt, brought his college-age son, David, to class to observe, David informed the students they were studying the same concepts as he was in college.
“Deborah has opened up these students to the joy of problemsolving,” Sayre Headmaster Stephen Manella said. “The students are testing different hypotheses and evaluating the outcomes while working collaboratively with peers. This type of critical engagement is an essential skill for 21st-century learners.”
This past year, Melear was awarded The Short Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching, her second time earning the honor.
During Sayre’s weeklong topic study on artists, Melear chose Rube Goldberg, known for his drawings of complicated machines performing simple tasks. Melear’s students did more than research, they created their Rube Goldberg contraptions.
“Once they got it built, they executed it over and over,” Melear said. “That’s the outcome I desire as a teacher. I know my students will remember this moment.”
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