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Helping students learn with Legos

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Clagett coaches middle school Lego League

By Becca Owsley

Bill Clagett Sr. uses his engineering knowledge and love of Legos to help students at T.K. Stone Middle School build a brighter future though Lego League.

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Before his 35-year career as a local dentist, Clagett studied chemical engineering. He was drafted into the U.S. Army and served one year in Vietnam before using the G.I. Bill to go to dental school.

But he always enjoyed engineering. When his children were little, he played with Legos with them. That interest stuck with him and with his children.

One son, who lives in Savannah, Ga., made sure his Legos evacuated with him during a hurricane warning. Another worked with engineers from all over the world and the common theme he noticed was they all played with Legos as children.

With that information in hand, it made perfect sense for Clagett to become involved in the Lego League at T.K. Stone.

When Clagett was on the Elizabethtown Independent Schools Board of Education, he went to a presentation on the First Lego League program and came home knowing it was something he had to mimic.

The district received a 21st century grant and he was able to use that money to buy Lego Mindstorm kits that had a larger brick with a computer chip students could program to operate motors and sensors on a Lego robot.

The program began at T.K. Stone in 2001 and within a few years the team won a state competition. Clagett continued to volunteer with the program.

But this year, the teachers who were involved with the program in the past could not help.

Clagett was interested in continuing the program, principal Beth Mather said.

“He called me several times during the summer and first month of school this year to inquire as to whether we had found a sponsor,” she said. “In September, when it was evident I did not have an individual to serve as the club’s sponsor, he asked if he could take the position.”

Through the years, Clagett has seen how the Lego team has positively affected students and didn’t want anyone to miss out, she said.

“He has the patience of Job when he works with the students, facilitating an understanding of robotics, writing code for the computer and the importance of team work,” Mather said.

Because the school missed the deadline for the national Lego League program, Clagett found a state program he could use this year called Student Technology Leadership Program.

For Clagett, it’s all about the students involved.

“A lot of the kids that get involved are really sharp kids,” he said. “They are so sharp that in the past they have not needed help to do things."

With Lego League, they discover they need help and develop teamwork skills they may not have needed before, he said.

The hands-on element of building Lego robots also is a benefit, he said.

After building their robot, students use it to finish assigned tasks.

The students’ ideas fly around the room during the meetings and Clagett sees his job as being a resource rather than forcing them into a particular method.

Clagett said he’ll look at something and think of the logical way to do it and the students don’t see it at all. What they come up with often is simpler and more elegant than his logic, Clagett said.

For example, he would complete one thing and then move on to another, but sometimes students combine two missions into one.

“They don’t know they can’t do something,” he said.

When what they created works, the kids are excited.

“They’ll hoop and holler and jump,” he said.

He does admit he constantly is cleaning up Lego pieces from under the table after meetings.

Clagett prefers the old-school approach to Legos. He likes to have a tube of bricks and come up with an idea to build something instead of using a kit with instructions. That’s the approach he uses with students to spur their creativity.

Becca Owsley can be reached at  270-505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.

Getting to know Bill Clagett:

  • Sports team: He has degrees from the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, so he is a fan of both.
  • Favorite television show: “The Big Bang Theory”
  • Hobbies: Legos, woodworking, yard work and reading science and technology books
  • Favorite book: “The Count of Monte Cristo”
  • Favorite movie: He joked it’s always the last one he’s seen because his wife is more of a movie buff.
  • Church: Living Faith Baptist Fellowship
  • Family: Wife, Joan, three children and nine grandchildren. “He’s just a good, good guy,” Joan said.

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