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Education - KaBOOM! News

Last fall, Byron Gilliland asked the janitor to help him move most of the furniture out of his classroom, leaving behind just a few tables and chairs, and a huge amount of empty floor space. He was thrilled to have extra room for educational adventures. The janitor was happy to help (it would make the classroom easier to clean).

Byron is a 1st grade teacher at Jefferson STEM Elementary School in Winona, Minnesota. But sometimes he feels more like his students are teaching him.

"At least once a week, I point out to my students something I've learned from them. They figure out things that I wouldn't have thought of. As a student they absolutely love that. How often do you hear as a first-grader that you're smarter than your teacher? It gives them more drive to put in extra effort."

Byron is always looking for new ways to challenge his students creatively. When he heard about Rigamajig, he had a hunch it would be exactly the learning tool that he was looking for; something that could help his students cultivate enthusiasm for scientific inquiry. On its surface, Rigamajig is a collection of wooden planks, nuts, bolts, and loose parts. However, when mixed with the passion of a caring, motivated teacher, it becomes an infectious means to encourage free play and inquiry-based learning in the classroom.

Jefferson STEM Elementary School class with Rigamajig

Can you spot Byron? He's the big kid in the back.

Byron's been focusing on science and engineering because it helps his students with higher-level thinking skills. They're encouraged to think outside of the box to develop practical solutions to real-world problems.

Recently, the class did a joint effort with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to develop new ideas for uprooting invasive species. The students had a brainstorming session to determine what kind of machine would have this capability. Eventually, they settled on a pulley and sketched out different possible designs. Using the Rigamajig, the students were able to bring their ideas to life. They negotiated different pulley systems and voted on the one they thought would work best. Afterwards, the class went into the field to see the machines that were actually in use by the USFWS. The students relished the opportunity to relate the work they were doing to the real world.

Byron's approach to project-based learning with the Rigamajig encourages inclusiveness in the classroom. Students of varying academic and social competencies find themselves working together, suggesting ideas, and learning from each other.

The students are becoming seasoned Rigamajineers

The class has had a bunch of adventures with the Rigamajig. From performing operations in base 10 to creating leprechaun traps, Byron has found endless uses for the learning tool, and the outcome has validated his approach:

"It's amazing how much you can get away with when the results show up. As our test scores go up, it seems like I can try a lot more things in my classroom."

Now, when the janitor passes by Byron's room during the school day, he often stops to watch and smile – and not just because of his lighter workload!

Learn more about Rigamajig. We have grants available for qualifying schools and organizations. See what Byron's been up to on his class's Facebook page.


Kids should have time to play - at home and at school. We know that creative play can make kids happier and healthier, but some kids are not getting enough of it. That’s why we’re teaming up with Children’s Claritin® to make our schools more playful!

Children’s Claritin® and KaBOOM! have launched a national program to bring Imagination Playground™ to four schools in need. Imagination Playground™ is an amazing mobile block-based play system that engages children’s minds, bodies, and spirits through active, creative play. By interconnecting the components, children are able to build and rebuild their play spaces with each visit. Imagination Playground™ engages kids in creative play that is physically challenging and collaborative.

Twelve schools in Arizona, California, DC, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington are in the running—you can help us determine which four schools will receive an Imagination Playground™! Just visit Children’s Claritin®’s Facebook page and vote once per day for the school of your choice. Voting runs through October 31, 2013.

See Imagination Playground™ in action and vote now!


by Paula Jenkins

I’ve been a teacher for 21 years. And through my work, I’ve seen the Play Deficit first hand.

Since I began teaching, the number of hours kids spend outside playing has plummeted. Kids are spending more and more time behind TV and computer screens. And equipment like swings are being pulled from school playgrounds because they are considered "too dangerous."

We can’t let the Play Deficit hurt our children. We must let them play.

Play is crucial to healthy social, emotional, and cognitive development. Every day, I see kids learning important lessons on the playground. And I’m sure you can understand how grateful I am when they return to class calm and focused after running around with their friends.

Please join me and other educators and help KaBOOM! fight the Play Deficit.  Be a part of their Spring Donor Drive and your gift will be matched dollar for dollar by the A. L. Mailman Foundation.

Right now, their goal is 365 donors to help KaBOOM! support a 50-state attack on the Play Deficit by helping:

  • Build playgrounds in disadvantaged communities.
  • Create an interactive map so they can identify cities where the Play Deficit is most rampant – and concentrate their efforts there.
  • Ensure that at least one model playful city exists in each and every state. Their Playful City USA program provides grants to municipalities that offer innovative programs to get children active, playing, and healthy.

Investing in children is investing in all our futures. Please help and let them play everyday.