Andrea Fristoe

Unlocking Agricultural Engineering Through Legos -- 2014 Ideas Unlimited Award Winner, Region VI -- Derek Ritenour

Blog Post created by Andrea Fristoe on Jul 30, 2015

Derek Ritenour

2014 NAAE Region VI Ideas Unlimited Award Winner


Every day, teachers and administrators are looking for new ways to incorporate science, technology, engineering, and math into the curriculum presented to students.

For Derek Ritenour, agriculture teacher at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School, in Woodstock, Virginia, STEM is literally "built" into his curriculum. Through the use of Lego Mindstorm systems, Ritenour provides his students with hands-on, inquiry-based experiences that show them how STEM principles are applied in their daily lives.

Ritenour begins his Lego unit by engaging his students in a discussion about engineering. His students list what they already know about engineering and structures, as well as the current questions they have about engineering, structures, and the Lego systems they will be using. The students are then given the challenge of building a structure with their Lego kits that will successfully hold a textbook six inches above their desks.

"Lego Mindstorm encourages my students to brainstorm and find creative solutions to problems through selecting, building, testing and evaluating," said Ritenour. "This system encourages cooperation, communication and teamwork amongst my students."

After their first task is complete, the class comes back together to discuss what they have learned as well as any additional questions they have based upon their first Lego challenge. After this discussion, Ritenour gives students additional challenges to construct various structures, increasing with difficulty each time. Students are able to scaffold what they learn from each challenge to complete the next challenge. As his students progress through the unit, their challenges begin to include additional components like motors, sensors, and programming for more complex structures.

"By using the Lego system, I've been able to bring science to life while also giving students an awareness of career possibilities in agriculture," said Ritenour. "My students are better equipped to face the real world of agriculture after participating in the inquiry-based STEM curriculum I've been able to design as a result of the Lego Mindstorm system."

For more information about the Lego Mindstorm system, please visit this link.

The Ideas Unlimited award is sponsored by National Geographic Learning | Cengage Learning. For more information about this award and to learn about the other 2014 Ideas Unlimited award winners, follow this link.

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