CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Legos are much more than just a great toy for architecturally inclined children. These days, they’re also an educational tool.

Two years ago, a teacher at Cheyenne’s Gilchrist Elementary began using the plastic building bricks to teach writing to her first-graders.

Now, Amber Dent and Kim Ross are using them to teach coding at Cheyenne’s Pioneer Park Elementary. They recently received a $3,000 grant from Taco John’s through the Cheyenne Schools Foundation. With it, they purchased 19 Lego WeDo 2.0 kits.

Pairs of fifth-graders and second-graders sprawled across the hallway and Ross’ classroom earlier this month. They each had a small Lego robot, which they were attempting to program to roll backward.

The robot, named Milo the Science Rover, is just a few inches long and tall, with wheels, a motor and one eye.

Nevaeh Gonzales, a fifth-grader, and Lariya Lewis, a second-grader, had some trouble keeping their Milo from turning off, but they enjoyed programming the robot. Nevaeh showed how they program Milo using software on a computer.

During the work, Lariya continually jumped up to help other students with their robots.

Ross, Lariya’s teacher, said, “They’re not afraid of technology at all. It makes their worlds expand more with all the technology that’s going on. They’re used to robots.”

Dent, a fifth-grade teacher, said, “We’re looking at computer science skills, specifically computer programming and coding. We have a bunch of different missions lined up and outlined for (the kids).”

The Lego kits come with missions and teacher guides already prepared for teachers, she said.

The first mission is to build Milo and learn to program him to move forward, stop and move backward.

The kids’ next mission will be to build an arm that will pick up an item and bring it to them. Later, the kids will perform a rescue mission with a helicopter they will build. It won’t fly, though Dent said the students will program the propeller to spin.

Second-grader Jennessa Garrison and fifth-grader Ariela Craven successfully demonstrated how well they programmed their Milo.

Jennessa handled the programming. Ariela said, “What’s she’s doing is programming it to play music and to go frontwards and backwards.”

Jennessa said it’s kind of hard, but it’s also fun.

Dent said she and Ross applied for the grant after they saw the Lego WeDo 2.0 kits at a technology convention in Texas.

“We want to do computer science, but it’s hard to find things at a second-grade level that they’re ready to do,” Dent said.

The skills the kids are learning align to the state’s second- and third-grade science standards, she said. They also are learning engineering, which is part of the fifth-grade standards too.

“That’s being able to take a problem, find a solution and say, ‘Now, how can we make this solution even better’ and redesign another solution for it.”

She added that the kids are learning math skills with the Lego kits because they’re learning to solve problems in steps, just like students do in math.

“A big part of coding is using an algorithm, and algorithms are in math too,” she explained.

“An algorithm is you telling the robot what to do. Now let’s look at math. What are you telling the numbers to do?”

Dent said the work aligns with the computer science push from Laramie County School District 1.

Computer science also is a big focus for Jillian Balow, state superintendent of public instruction.

Dent said she hopes the skills the kids learn might also inspire them to join the school’s Lego robotics team in sixth grade. She is one of the coaches for that team.

Ariela is a member of that team. She said she didn’t get to do anything like this project in second grade, but she always wanted to do robotics.

She added that the project is like robotics, but easier. “It teaches the younger kids. If they want to do robotics, it teaches them how to do it.”

Ross said the project will prepare students to enter the job market someday, though that’s still a long way off.

“They’re going to be ready for those computer jobs that are going to be out there when they get to be adults,” she said.

Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle,