LegoLearning at HPU introducing higher education to low income students

by Robert W. Pacheco

High Point University has grown rapidly in recent years.

The university seems to always have workers in reflective vests driving heavy construction equipment, molding the university into a bastion of learning. Less obvious is the work that HPU does within the High Point community.

On Feb. 19 and 20, the High Point University School of Education invited more than 300 first graders from Thomasville City Schools onto the HPU campus for a Lego Learning event.

“The children see the LEGO’s and know that something fun is going to happen,” said Dr. Shirley Disseler, assistant professor of education at HPU and member of the LEGO Education Advisory Board.

“Learning is a fun endeavor, and the LEGO bricks reinforce that fact. The power of the brick can move the power of the mind.”

The School of Education’s expansive lobby was full of boisterous children applying advanced concepts with the help of HPU’s students.

HPU students had set up stations of learning, using the Lego bricks to support their lessons in critical thinking, physics, computer programming, and robotics.

LEGO Learning is a part of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) initiative, introducing advanced concepts to elementary students across the nation.

At one of the stations, with the guidance of HPU students, the 1 st graders were tasked to use “drag and drop” software to program robotic LEGOs.

“If Dr. Disseler had told me my first day that I was going to program a robot, I would have been overwhelmed by the thought,” said HPU student Becky Ball. “But look! First graders can make robots. We can easily bring these concepts to children.”

Dr. Disseler is one of only 10 professors from more than 1,000 applicants selected to serve on the Global LEGO Education Advisory Panel (LEAP).

“LEGO is invested in PreK-21 education programs,” said Disseler. “To get kids ready for college, you first need to introduce them to the fun of critical thinking required in college.”

Introducing young students to the HPU campus, and a higher education environment, is also a key aspect of LEGO Learning. The program is free to local school children and the participating elementary schools pick the educational focus of the activities.

HPU students also benefit from the program due to the practical application of their education being exercised in a real world setting.

“I became an educator at 32,” said Disseler. “I must have cried 156 days that first year; I was overwhelmed by the burden of being a public educator. I know that part of preparing the students for teaching at public schools is to show them that teaching is about building relationships and remaining rigorous.”

“Scenario- based individualized instruction is not a concept exclusive to college,” said Disseler. “Our students can carry these lessons into the public school system and be agents of change.”

Currently more than 300 Triad teachers are HPU students who worked with Dr. D isseler and LEGO Learning to hone their skills.

“We get to see how to personalize education and make it fun,” said HPU senior Maribeth Harris. “Getting experience with the community outside of HPU rounds out our education.”

Dr. Disseler is expanding the program to reach more children and expose them to STEM subjects.

On April 5, LEGO Learning will be open to the public. To sign up and bring a child to the LEGO event on April 5, register at: education/legoshowcase.