By Pat Jenkins
Ian Chow-Miller’s “dream job” puts him in charge of inspiring scientific and mathematic thinking by students through the use of LEGOS, those venerable childhood building blocks that also pack an educational punch.
Chow-Miller, a teacher at Frontier Middle School in Graham, is one of 39 teachers selected to serve on this year’s LEGO Education Advisory Panel. He’s one of only 10 educators nationally, and the only one from Washington, who will represent middle schools in the panel’s work with LEGO to develop classroom solutions and curriculum that elevate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts. Along with building 21st-century learning skills, the group will have input in the development and design of LEGO products.
LEGO has developed curriculum-based resources for teachers and students worldwide since 1980.for educational pursuits such as robotics.
After being turned down when he applied for the panel in 2011, its first year of existence, Chow-Miller was accepted on his second try following an interview via Skype with the program’s director. Since then, the Bethel School District teacher and his fellow panel members have met and participated in workshops and brainstorming sessions. Their input was videotaped and presented by program leaders at a conference in Denmark that wasn’t attended by the teachers.
Details of the team’s ideas are proprietary and can’t be shared outside the LEGO domain, but Chow-Miller said it’s exciting stuff.
“I love using Legos in class. It’s a dream job for me, and the kids love it,” said Chow-Miller, who pioneered a robotics program in the Bethel district. He teaches three classes of seventh-graders per trimester, each with 30 students, for a total of 270 students a year. Generally, pupils who aren’t taking music classes are directed into the robotics classes – and they’re more than willing participants, Chow-Miller reported. He estimated 95 percent of them are fully engaged, a much higher level of enthusiam among students than he experienced “when I taught social studies.”
Chow-Miller was hired by Bethel five years ago after moving to Washingrton from New York City, where he taught in the south Bronx and coached a school’s robotics team. In the Bethel district, he started with one robotics class while also teaching social studies, and the LEGO influence has grown from there.
His two sons, 2 and 5 years old, both play with LEGOs. The oldest boy “is a fanatic,” said Chow-Miller,. who admitted he is, too, on an educartional level.
Chow=Miller and the other teachers advising LEGO “provide real-world feedback on how ouir products are received by students,” said Stephan Turnipseed, president of LEGO Education North America. He noted there were “many strong applicants” for this year’s panel, “and we are excited to work with this elite group to continue development of world-class products for today’s classrooms.”
The panel has three preschool-level teachers, 10 from elementary schools, 10 from middle schools, nine from high school and seven from universities. Ten of the educators were held over from last year’s inaugural group.