A Story of…A Passion for Playing with Keva Planks

Dublin Elementary's Monica McLeod has a Passion for Keva Planks
Rich Boschetti, DPIE Academy Director
January 28, 2020
Ms Monica McLeod from Dublin Elementary School

Ms Monica McLeod Dublin Elementary Teacher

Dublin Elementary Teacher, Monica McLeod who has been teaching at the school since 1996 has a passion for many things in her life.  She’s a huge San Francisco Giants and 49er fan and is over the moon about the upcoming Super Bowl, she loves gardening, music, travel and animals.  In fact, she has three pets, a cat named Dwight, a dog named Scarlet and a Gecko name Boo.  But this year she has discovered a passion for teaching her Engineering & Problem Solving with Keva Plank class as part of the DPIE After School Program.

When asked about how she came up with the idea for her class and why she was excited to teach it, Ms. McLeod said, I discovered Keva Planks at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley when my son and daughter where very young. We used to go there on rainy weekends so the kids could play with the thousands of blocks and build all kinds of projects. They were able to work with kids of all ages and I loved the problem-solving skills and teamwork they developed as they worked on constructing their buildings.”

How have you structured the class to keep things interesting, challenging and fresh for you and your students?

The course is everything I thought it would be and more! I’m surprised just how much I love teaching the course and seeing just how creative the kids in the class can be. We structure the class into three parts, we start with individual construction challenges, then move to small group projects and then end with free play where kids can build their own projects. Before kids begin working, I reinforce certain concepts I want them to think about like balance, proportion, design, stability, sturdiness and design & function.  I love all of the activities, but the small group challenges have been the most fun for me as I watch kids working in teams and each week the kids surpass my expectations.

When the kids finish their projects or if the projects fail and fall apart, I debrief with them afterwards and ask questions like, ‘What would you do differently next time,’ ‘Would you live in this building’ then ask them to explain ‘why or why not.” It’s amazing how kids intuitively understand concepts and begin to develop an understanding of construction, architecture and engineering.

Parents have told us that their kids enjoy your class, talk about the activities around the dinner table and look forward to attending class each week.  Why do you think your course has been so popular with the students enrolled in them?

Kids seem to enjoy the structure and variety of activities and challenges in the class and are becoming more confident, creative and brave in using the Keva blocks and are learning to work effectively with their teammates. They are learning engineering and construction skills in the team challenges and then applying those skills to their free play projects. The kids are learning teamwork, problem solving and to hold each other accountable for their work during our team challenges. Plus, I think the free play time allows them to use their own imagination with the projects they create on their own.

What are you hoping the kids will take away from your class that they can use in the future?

I hope the kids have fun in the class and will come away with a better appreciation for engineering, teamwork, learning to compromise but just as importantly, having learned to speak up for themselves and to defend their ideas and perseverance.

From what we saw when we’ve visited Ms. McLeod’s class, her students are certainly enjoying themselves and are building the essential skills necessary for a solid foundation in all future endeavors.