Locomotion Lab on track to nurture Chartiers Valley students' creativity

Megan Guza
| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Tiny hands wielded screwdrivers and glue guns last week during a special after-school workshop at Chartiers Valley Intermediate School.

The two-day workshop called “Recycled Robots” was part of the Locomotion Lab creativity program that started in February.

The Locomotion Lab will “bring arts and science into the curriculum and get kids thinking creatively,” said Mary Mastren-Williams, an intermediate school art teacher who runs the workshops. She secured a $20,000 grant for the program through the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's Center for Creativity.

About 30 students spent two days last week constructing moving robots out of electrical circuits and recyclables. Other Locomotion Lab projects have included digital painting and pop art T-shirts. Next month will feature poster making.

“There's really no curriculum for the Locomotion Lab,” Mastren-Williams said. “I use this environment to have kids create on their own. I facilitate that. It's really student directed.”

Fifth-grader Jacob Adwar said he had no idea how to work with the circuits or LED materials for the robots before the class.

“I took apart my Xbox controller once, but that's it,” he said. “Once you get the hang of it, it's OK. It was fun to learn.”

His partner on the project, Tanner Carlson, also in fifth grade, said he was pleasantly surprised to get the chance to work with robots.

“I want to take robotics (classes) when I'm older, but I didn't think I'd get to start that soon,” he said.

The pair were modeling their robot after a character from the video game Minecraft. Students used computer programs to give movement and sound to the robots.

Mastren-Williams said it's about encouraging creativity.

“It's important because a lot of our curriculum is very structured, very test-driven,” she said. “You can't do that with creativity. It lets them use all the knowledge they've gained and do something with it.”

It hasn't been difficult to get students to give up their after-school hours to learn, Mastren-Williams said, and all the Locomotion Lab classes were full within a week of sending out a call for signups at the third- through fifth-grade school.

“To see little light bulbs go off in their minds and see their little minds working – it's fascinating,” she said. “It's funny to see little kids think like adults. You don't expect them to think through some of the things they do.”

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5810 or mguza@tribweb.com.

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