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Locust Valley children use teamwork to catch a leprechaun

Using a fun project to promote STEM learning

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Leprechauns, a ubiquitous symbol of St. Patrick’s Day, are capricious creatures known for making mischief and guarding pots of gold at the end of rainbows. According to legend, if you catch one, you can barter his freedom for the gold. That’s exactly what the kindergartners at Ann MacArthur Primary in Locust Valley had in mind on March 15, the Friday before St. Patrick’s Day, when they set out to make leprechaun traps out of shoe boxes.

Rocco Caracciolo, 5, decided that the best way to catch a leprechaun was to lure him into a box with sparkles and colorful paper.

His classmate Kellan Trautmann, also 5, opted to use glittering pipe cleaners and the netting from a bag of clementines. “They like sparkly things,’’ Kellen explained with certainty.

Though their methods differed, both boys agreed that if you catch a leprechaun you can get the pot of gold. “I think you get a wish, too,” Rocco added.

For these kindergartners, making the traps was a fun, whimsical way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. For the teachers, it was a way to involve the children in a science, technology engineering and mathematics, or STEM, activity in an entertaining and educational way.

According to the Science Foundation of Arizona, STEM is “an integrated approach to learning that provides hands-on learning experiences for children . . . and engages critical thinking, problem solving, creative and collaborative skills.” All these elements came into play in the leprechaun trap project.

“There are a lot of levels to the project,” said Mindy Spear, who has been a primary school teacher for 19 years. “It promotes social interaction, science and [English Language Arts] skills.”

The project is part of the Locust Valley School District Writers Workshop curriculum, and is the launching point for students to ultimately learn how to write a how-to book. Before they could build the trap and write about it, however, the students had to understand the subject matter.

“We worked all week showing them YouTube videos and reading literature about leprechauns and St. Patrick’s Day,” said Lucy Meli, a kindergarten teacher. “That way they got to know all about the subject.”

The children paired off and worked together to come up with ideas on how to build a trap that would work.

“They had to work together, communicate and learn how to share ideas,” said Spear, adding that the process blended creativity with science. “They had to think about planning and how to put things together.”

And according to Meli, the project had even more to offer. “It encouraged a lot of group learning and how to work together and compromise,” she said.

Once the teams had a plan, it was time to build. A table in Meli’s classroom was stacked with all kinds of crafty flotsam and jetsam, including netting, pipe cleaners, colored paper and other sparkly adornments.

The kids grabbed what they needed and started building their traps. One shoebox leprechaun trap was closed off at the top with sparkling pipe cleaners. Others used colorful crumpled papers as leprechaun attracter.

After the teams completed their traps, the teachers scattered them all around the room. Then, on Monday morning, when the kids returned to school, they would see who was lucky enough to have caught a leprechaun.

Teachers planned for children to tackle the final stage of the project later: writing the how-to books on how they built their traps. “This involves sequencing,” said Spear. “They have to explain the process clearly, so someone reading can follow the directions.”

This was the second year in a row that the kindergarten classes at Ann MacArthur Primary made the traps. It was apparent from all the giggling that the kids loved the project. The teachers, of course, saw the added benefits. “It really encourages a higher level of thinking,” said Spear.