When Kristen Hughes taught in Chicago, she often found her classroom to be limited on supplies. The situation led her to learn more about donorschoose.org.

Donorschoose.org is a website that connects the general public with public schools. It also recently served as the platform that helped the now-Wedgeworth Elementary School teacher to write and receive approval for a grant to purchase innovative classroom supplies.

Through donations from six donors, Hughes was able to purchase two LEGO Coding Express sets for her dual-language kindergarten class.

The LEGO set is designed based on recommendations from the National Association for Education of Young Children, the 21st Century Early Learning framework and Head Start Early Learning Outcomes, according to LEGO.com.

The product allows students to pause, stop and change the direction of the train and even sound the horn. The concept is to combine the familiarity of the train with new action bricks that early learners catch on through a play-about sequence. Learners will better grasp looping, conditional coding, as well as, cause and effect.

The coding tool also helps students develop critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, language and literacy and express ideas with digital elements.

"The train has lots of components to it so the students can set up little scenes and create a story with it," Hughes elaborated. "The cool thing is that it has little bricks with it that go in between the track and the train itself has a light reading device that can look at the color of the tile [that is] set in between the tracks and depending on the color of the tile it [the train] will do something."

The LEGO component of the curriculum tool allows the student not to be intimidated by learning something new since the objects are familiar. In fact, Hughes hasn't had to instruct the students how to use it, as the kids took off on their own.

"When my kids saw the boxes and that it was LEGO, they ripped them open and dove right in. I didn't have to tell them it was a coding kit, they just jumped right in and tried it out."

Hughes has spent 12 years in education and served the past nine in Waxahachie ISD. This will be her fourth year to teach dual language.

The learning equipment will impact about 37 students a year. Hughes hopes to be able to host an after-school coding club once she has all of the necessary supplies purchased and additional resources.

"I think robotics and programming are some of those 21st-century skills that are brand new and a lot of kids by the time they graduate might be required to know some of those types of things before they go into the workplace."

She added, "I think if they have experience with this in elementary, then they have a good foundation."

The project was fully funded on May 9 after a donation by the AT&T Foundation was matched by SONIC Drive-In.

SONIC Drive-In was able to raise funds through the Limeades for Learning initiative in a partnership with DonorChoose.org. The company was able to give $143 toward the Waxahachie teacher's project and went on to match $1.2 million in other donations.

Since 2009, SONIC has donated $13.1 million, supported 33,177 classrooms, and provided necessary learning materials and teaching resources requested by teachers to impact 995,310 students in partnership with DonorChoose.org.

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450