LEGO Mindstorm a building block for success


New spin on a 65-year-old toy to help Langley middle school students succeed

LANGLEY, B.C.—While it’s often teenagers who attract attention to their distraught outbursts, Youth Unlimited and HD Stafford Middle School have long known what studies show—it’s the pre-teen years where intervention is both possible and critical. That’s why they‘ve partnered to turned their attention to a surprising ally in helping those young people—LEGO.  Puzzled? Think less interlocking plastic bricks, and think more innovative robotics.

In a 2011 United Way study, researched showed that as disengaged kids aged 9 to 12 moved from middle school to high school, they report a troubling decrease in self-confidence, self-worth, optimism, empathy and satisfaction with life. If left unchecked, this exacerbates as children move into adolescence.

“However,“ says Danny Ferguson, youth worker and director of Youth Unlimited in Langley, “the study also shows that children who engaged in afterschool-structured activities scored significantly higher across almost all dimensions of psychological and social well-being than their non-involved counter-parts. That’s the kind of outcome you get behind. And that’s exactly what the Langley community is starting to do.

It was this understanding that prompted Stafford school officials to push for additional school activities for students to fill the gap in time between the end of the school day and when they go home. Input from BCIT practicum students suggested the launch of an afterschool LEGO club, but the resources and man-power to launch it, felt like an unattainable dream.

Stafford Vice Principle Iha Hayer reached out to Youth Unlimited outreach workers for project support. For Youth Unlimited, whose ethos is to create long-term, sustainable initiatives that both meet community needs and align with outreach workers’ passion, involvement was a no-brainer.

“We saw this project as a really smart investment in our kids,” says Ferguson. “LEGO has a way of igniting imagination and developing community—two ingredients we definitely want to see more of in local youth. LEGO Mindstorms takes it to a whole new level.”

The project is based on the First LEGO League curriculum which uses LEGO Mindstorm, a series of kits with software and hardware to create customizable and programmable robots.  Projects like this enable youth to research engineering projects, such as environmental sustainability, then build working systems to address these issues.

Through the power of social media, Youth Unlimited jumped the initial funding hurdle, and after six hours of broadcast, Kitchening and Co stepped up as a program sponsor, and the program was a “go.”

“It’s the definition of community partnership,” says Ferguson. “Stafford provides the space, BCIT students teach robotics, the shop teacher volunteers his time and a local business provides the start-up funds. We couldn’t be more thrilled to coordinate and provide the youth workers.”

While research affirmed project relevance was high, expectations for student turn-out was temperate.

“We were expecting 10-20 students to be interested,” explains Ferguson, “But as it turns out we have our 12 kids, and there are over 100 on the waitlist.”

The initiative launches today and will continue through the end of the school year. The hope of Youth Unlimited, HD Stafford and the community partners is to relaunch the full-fledged project in September to meet the demand. Ferguson says an additional $1,000 would create space for 30-40 more youth. He dreams of sending kids to provincial LEGO competitions and LEGO land in California.

“I would love to find the funds to send Langley youth to next year’s competition,” he says. “This project really feels like just a beginning of what’s possible.”

Posted on May 31, 2016