30 June, 2022 | Posted by Michelle Hogan

Discovering STEAM at Portobello Montessori School with IET FIRST® LEGO® League Discover

Engineering and science are literally now child’s play, as an Portobello Montessori School celebrates being selected for Ireland’s first ever IET FIRST® LEGO® League Discover programme.

LEGO®, the 'toy' we all know and love, is being used by children aged from just four years old, to formally support STEAM learning in the classroom.  

In Dublin, more than thirty pre-school children at Portobello Montessori School are currently taking part in the programme, supported by Portobello Institute and having received generous funding from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), and support from Learnit, the LEGO® education specialist. 

A practical and fun hands-on learning programme developed by LEGO®, ‘FIRST’ stands for ‘For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology'. FIRST® LEGO® League encourages children to think like scientists and engineers, developing practical solutions to real issues.

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At a showcase this week (Tuesday, 28 June) to celebrate the children taking part in the Discover programme, Denise Flood, Director of the Portobello Institute, said young children’s open minds and eagerness to learn makes pre-school a fantastic starting point for STEAM learning.

“We are surrounded by science in action in our lives and, yet, somehow, STEAM subjects get labelled as dull or difficult as students get older. We are incredibly excited and grateful that Portobello Montessori School has this opportunity, via the IET FIRST® LEGO® League Discover programme, to nurture an interest in science and technology in our young children," she said.

The new Discover module is a global STEAM programme for 4 to 6 year olds to help develop STEAM skills from an early age.

Children explore a real-world theme and learn through play. They also absorb the FIRST® LEGO® League core values which are celebrating discovery and teamwork, all while having fun!

Portobello Institute is a well-known private college delivering further and higher education from its campus in Dublin's North inner city.

Due to its background delivering early childhood education for over 40 years, there is also a pre-school on the campus which has become the first in Ireland to pilot FIRST® LEGO® League resources to run the discover programme.

Catering for a variety of children of different nationalities and backgrounds, the pre-school education team, including teacher Natasha Murphy are very open to the new learning opportunity and interested in how it might influence pre-school curricula in the future.

Lucy Owen of the IET, the operational partner of FIRST® LEGO® League, said it is hugely important to encourage young people to experience engineering in action.

“As well as bringing excitement to STEM subjects, children get hands-on experience with the engineering design process and creating innovative solutions to real-world issues. 

"Our mission is to inspire the next generation of engineers, and we know how important it is to engage young children from the very beginning of their education. By engaging children in meaningful and stimulating STEM experiences, we can encourage a love of learning in these subjects and dispel myths around engineering and technology careers," she said. 

There is an ever-increasing need for young people with STEM skills to fill the future of engineering roles, the IET representative added, saying that the engineering body is proud to work with Learnit in Ireland to encourage more bright young engineering minds to take part in FIRST® LEGO® League.

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Astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, maintained that a scientist is a kid that never grew up, Ross Maguire of Learnit said at the celebration of the IET FIRST® LEGO® League Discover programme in Portobello Montessori School.  

Children are born scientists with their inquisitive nature and their urge to question how the world works. FIRST® LEGO® League Discover is a stepping stone for young children to discover the world of STEM through play, developing collaboration skills, and learning about their world.  

“It's an incredibly accessible programme, giving teachers and facilitators the ability to help children discover STEM through fun, hands-on, project-based activities.  These young people are taking early steps to becoming tomorrow's innovators, creators and problem solvers," he said. 

Dr Marguerita Magennis is the Head of Portobello Institute's Early Years STEAM Strategy.

"Supporting Portobello Montessori School on this journey along with LearnIt and IET has brought about tremendous learning and achievement for not only the parents, teachers, and children; but also the Early Years team.

"From a research perspective following the journey, observing the changing language of STEAM firsthand, and experiencing the teachers raised awareness of their role in enhancing the emerging concepts.   

"Portobello's Early Years team aims to share this experience within the early years, and highlight the value to children's cognitive abilities when they engage with the STEAM concepts at an early age and in an appropriate way. 

"We aim to highlight that it is the concepts and language of STEAM we need to support at this early stage, rather than actual subjects. It is by providing the children with the skillset they need, that we are enhancing the inquiring mind, supporting questioning, and encouraging logic and reasoning, thus developing their natural curiosity and creativity. And in doing so we are enabling these children to engage with the STEAM subjects later in their school and career," she said. 

The parents of some of the children involved gave positive feedback on their experience on the programme too. 

"We were so excited to learn our child would be taking part in FIRST® LEGO® League Discover as part of her learning in pre school. I hadn’t realised all the benefits - increasing vocab, shapes and colours etc.

"But the most pleasing part for me was how it assisted our daughter in situations with pre school friends. At first she came home to say a friend had taken her LEGO® piece and the next story she had the next day was that the two of them had worked together using all of their pieces to build a bigger structure.

"I also really love that it gets girls into LEGO® building and creating too. The variety of pieces and characters (animals and cup cakes etc) means what might once have been classified as a “boy toy” is actually really inclusive and there’s a piece for everyone," one parent explained.

"Saoirse has really enjoyed taking part in the FIRST® LEGO® League Discover and since starting has been more enthusiastic to play with LEGO® at home. She has more confidence and creativity and is now able to create her own 'masterpieces'. I also feel it has been good to balance out from the more traditionally girl games that she plays ie dolls etc.," another parent added. 

Portobello Institute is commited to developing innovation in early childhood education in Ireland and is proud to be involved in this collaborative project, the first of its kind in Ireland.

For more on FIRST® LEGO® League, see fll.learnit.ie, email fll@learnit.ie or call 01-5240004.

To learn more about integrating concepts of STEAM into early childhood visit our Knowledge Zone here. You can watch our webinar on The Aistear Framework, underpinning STEAM in Early Education; The Irish and US perspectives here.

If you are interested in pursuing further or higher education in early childhood studies at Portobello Institute please visit our department page here.

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