Legos® and Language

Several third-graders crowd around the table, each of them vying for a moment to control the hand-made robot. If they offer the right command, it will say “Hi” or maybe even repeat their names.

“It does not speak English!” one girl exclaims.

In that way, these students relate quite well to their Lego® machines.

Here in a classroom at Gonzaga’s Summer Language Program, they represent 10 languages, and new hope for their families. The Summer Language Program, run by Gonzaga for the last 16 years, provides a necessary skill for children trying to integrate into their new Spokane schools and neighborhoods. It has grown from a handful of kids to nearly 300, with a teaching staff of Gonzaga students in the Master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language (MA/TESL) program and experienced teachers from Spokane Public Schools.

With rave reviews from local schools and a high demand from the area’s refugee service organizations, the program has been a great success. But as educators know well, there is always another tactic to try, another avenue to pursue to make learning more engaging and fun.

This year, the language program adopted a STEM focus, so while the students (ages 6-18 in grades kindergarten through 12) are learning English, they receive
a healthy dose of science, technology, engineering and math. What better way to enhance language learning and some engineering concepts than through the use of robotics in the classroom?

Homemade robots, crafted with Legos® and small computer screens, were stored on shelves until, at last, the students could play with them. The local high school students who created and programmed the simple yet ingenious tools were themselves recent immigrants for whom English is a second language.

You can read more about how the Summer Language Program is connecting Gonzaga students with opportunities to have a positive impact on the greater community in Gonzaga Magazine.

You can also contribute to community building initiatives like these through the Campaign.