Pupils use Legos to build their own Bennington

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BENNINGTON — For Ian Coffey, Legos offer limitless possibility.

Coffey, a former employee of Legoland Discovery Center in Boston, shared some of that possibility with Molly Stark Elementary first-graders Wednesday morning through building their own version of Bennington, part of a three-day program that will involve all students.

Coffey started with showing students some things he's made from Legos — a large vase, a replica of the Star Wars character Yoda, a bunny, an intricate tree and a pumpkin.

One student asked him how he built Yoda. "With a lot of bricks," he said. "I built him from the base up."

He told the students they were going do something different with him than they did last year, during his first time at the school — build their own city.

He pointed to a section of the floor, laden with small Lego buildings and vehicles, to represent Bennington. "We don't have any police stations or fire stations," he noted, and asked the students what they wanted to build that exists in their town.

"Schools," said one.

"Walmart," said another.

Separated in groups of four or five, they dug through large bins of Legos spread out on four tables, offering red, blue, yellow and everything in between.

"I think it's excellent," Sara Scanlon, first-grade teacher, said as she watched students start their buildings. "The kids love it. It gets them engaged."

The programs he's offering differ by grade, but all involve learning things like creativity, team-building or math, Coffey said in a short break between groups of students.

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The goal? "To have them learn things without actually knowing that they're learning," he said.

For the first-graders, making buildings teaches them to work together and be creative, along with helping to build dexterity in the hands, he said.

Third and fourth-graders are building race cars out of Legos, racing them and calculating their velocity. "They're learning math through Legos," Coffey said.

Micheal Nolan, a third-grade teacher at Molly Stark, first found Coffey through a news article. He asked Coffey if he would come to Molly Stark for a two-day residency last spring. This year, he'll be there for three days — Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

He'll also be offering a free Lego build at the school's open house for parents and students this week, Nolan said. "It really extends the creativity," Nolan said of Coffey's program. "[It] adds a whole extra piece to the school day. It's fun learning."

The program is partially funded through the parent-teacher group.

Coffey is the founder of Bricks by Ian, a Boston-based company that uses Legos to emphasize things like team-building and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

"Pretty much, if you think of Legos, the sky's the limit," he said.

There's nothing particularly unique about Legos for learning the things he teaches — you could use any sort of building block, Coffey said.

"I just like Lego," he said. "I grew up with it."

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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