LEGO Education North America and the Education Blueprints Association are providing a pair of $40,000 grants to Wake.

If having fun is the key to promoting learning, then learning is being promoted in abundance at Combs Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C.

For the past five years, students at Combs have used LEGO’s signature bricks to stretch their creativity and imagination to build what they’ve been talking about in their classes. Now, five other schools will have the same opportunity as part of a new partnership announced March 21 between the Wake County school system and LEGO.

A pair of grants will allow three Raleigh schools (Combs, Centennial Campus Middle, and Athens Drive High) and three eastern Wake schools (Hodge Road Elementary, East Wake Middle, and Knightdale High) to join the LEGO Smart Schools program. They’ll receive LEGO products that are designed to help students develop problem-solving skills with a focus on science, technology, engineering, and math.

“This program is desperately needed to promote creativity and learning for us to have 21st-century students,” said Nancy Allen, principal of East Wake Middle School.

Allen was among the educators from the five new LEGO schools that toured Combs on March 21 to see what the students have been doing.

In one room, teacher Pam Almond told her first-grade students to use LEGO blocks to express how they’d feel if they were animals living in a rainforest whose tree was in danger of being cut down. The class had just finished reading a book about rainforest conservation.

“It’s fun,” said Isabella Everett, 7, one of Almond’s students. “I get to express myself.”

In another room, older students showed how they’ve been building mini-catapults firing tinfoil rocks.

“Not many people get the opportunity to build catapults,” said Henry Sederoff, 10, a fourth-grader. “Not many people get to use this technology.”

This kind of enjoyment has convinced Muriel Summers, principal of Combs, that hands-on projects are the best way to teach students to learn. Her “aha!” moment came nearly five years ago when a student using the LEGO blocks told her “thank you for letting us use our imagination.”

“It made me think: What are we doing for a child to thank me for letting him use his imagination?” Summers said. “What have we done to our children?”

Summers said the focus on standardized testing nationally has resulted in students not being given the opportunity to be creative.