Before the doors open: Preparing to ‘make makers out of everyone’
This is the third entry in a weekly series that takes a peek into preparations for opening the newest Baltimore County school – Lyons Mill Elementary.


Because Lyons Mill Elementary School will have a literacy, mathematics, engineering, and science focus, school staff and school system administrators have spent the last year buying specialized equipment and software, developing curriculum, and refining partnerships. Even a short conversation with those involved reveals that their focus is on bringing opportunities to students and inspiring students to become lifelong, self-motivated learners.

For instance, talk to Eric Cromwell, coordinator of elementary science for Baltimore County Public Schools, about science at Lyons Mill Elementary, and you will hear the word “open-ended” quite a lot.

At Lyons Mill, Grade 4 students will use TinkerCad and 3D printers to design prototype replacement parts for injured turtles at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. For another project, they will study the Baltimore trashwheel, designed to keep debris out of the city’s harbor, and will create plans for one that can operate on land.

Cromwell stresses that both of these projects are “open-ended.” Students are given a problem, resources, and a few parameters, but how they tackle the challenge is up to them.

“The new Next Generation Science Standards have reshaped how science should be taught even at the elementary school level,” Cromwell says.

According to Cromwell, Lyons Mill Elementary’s teachers, Kindergarten through Grade 2, will be field-testing the system’s new science curriculum.

 “What we will see at Lyons Mill Elementary and more and more across the county,” he says, “is that students will produce products. They will solve real-world problems.

“We will make makers out of everyone,” he adds.

Cromwell notes that the school will have an afterschool Junior Maker Club for students in Grades 1 and 2. “In maker clubs, students use materials like zip ties, duct tape, balsa wood, cardboard, and nuts and bolts to see what they can make. It is completely open-ended. They learn how to play with a purpose, how to ‘imagineer.’” 

Lyons Mill has two 3D printers, and Cromwell says there will be many opportunities for students to use them at different grade levels. For example, the school’s Grade 3 students will use TinkerCad and the printers to design and print their own wheels for their Safe Racer vehicles. Safe Racer is a unit in which students design vehicles to succeed in a series of distance and safety tests for their driver, Eggbert, an uncooked egg.

“Students will work in teams to construct, predict, reason, observe, problem-solve, and have fun!” says Lyons Mill Principal Maralee Clark. “Our students will be learning problem-solving skills, collaboration, and communication techniques while using their imagination and creativity.”

Reading specialist Michelle Webster agrees. By integrating technology and hands-on projects in classrooms, “we are putting students in ideal situations to collaborate. They learn from each other. They learn persistence. They learn to negotiate, to listen, to follow directions.”

Webster explains that literacy – reading, writing, speaking, and listening – and technology are woven through all classes at Lyons Mill.

One of the products purchased for Lyons Mill are Story Starter kits created by LEGO Education.

“Each kit includes all kinds of different LEGO bricks, including characters, animals, and costumes,” says Webster. “Students can use the kit to build settings for stories and create sequences. With their devices, students can take pictures and develop comic strips.”

As Webster describes it, many of the assignments teachers give with Story Starter kits allow for maximum creativity. Sometimes, students might be asked to create their own version of a story they read in class or are given parameters like that the story needs to include a certain number of characters and a problem.

Other LEGO Education products that will be used at Lyons Mill include Simple Machines, LEGO WeDo, and LEGO Mindstorm. Simple Machines will be used by students from Kindergarten through Grade 2. It introduces basic physics concepts by having students build with gears, wheels, axles, levels, and pulleys and then use programming to make their creations move. 


“Our youngest students will use Early Simple Machines to experience how pulleys, levers, gears, and wheels work,” says Clark, “making science concepts, such as energy, buoyancy and balance, come alive.”

LEGO WeDo, for Grades 3 to 5, also involves programming as students build robots to solve problems. LEGO Mindstorm involves even higher level programming and will be used primarily with Grade 5 students.

“There also can be a story connection with this,” Webster explains. “The students’ creations might be related to something they are reading and writing.”

Webster, who has been an educator with BCPS for 21 years, is excited about the benefits of bringing more technology, more science, and more hands-on assignments into elementary education.

“There will be so much going on at Lyons Mill,” she says. “Each little piece builds on the other… Maybe we were holding our students back before when we were just teaching reading and writing and the standard curriculum. With our digital learning devices and more technology and more projects, we are opening doors for them, for their lives, their future careers.”.”

A sampling of the equipment, software, and features of Lyons Mill Elementary School that will enhance literacy, mathematics, engineering, and science instruction

123 Circuits
3D printers
8’ Nebula print from NASA donated by the Space Telescope Institute
Automated telescopes
Elevated outdoor classroom space
GIS mapping
LEGO Mindstorm
Simple Machines
Story Starter Kits
VEX Robotics

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