What do you get when you add one innovative teacher, 12 elementary school boys, Winnipeg's adoration of the Jets and roughly 5,500 Lego pieces? A terrific inner-city school project that combines moviemaking, math skills and a novel way to cheer on the team.
Strathcona Community School's Robert Hewitt was looking for something to do with the boys who hang out in his classroom over lunch breaks. He's always been interested in stop-motion movies, he says, and knows kids love working with Lego.
An educational mission was born.
Hewitt attempted to recreate the Winnipeg Blue Bomber logo in Lego last year. That project was scratched when the team failed to win the Grey Cup. But the early effort taught him you have to work on a large scale if you're working with interlocking plastic blocks. So the Jets logo was mapped out on paper, making sure the scale was correct.
The grades 4, 5 and 6 students and their teacher decided to build a 100-centimetre-by-100-centimetre base, using the dimensions of flat Lego sections. The learning started immediately.
"We mapped it all out in advance," Hewitt says. "We had to start sorting the Legos by colour and size. Some of them (the students) were just counting by tens. They're now counting by hundreds and thousands."
The builders realized a small Lego piece has four dots. They learned what a half-block represents and how many blocks they needed if, say, a section of the logo called for 105 pieces.
Hewitt says the light went on for some of the boys when they realized one side of the logo was the mirror image of the other.
"The symmetry was something that struck them," he says. "They got that it was the same in reverse."
Hewitt says he wasn't telling the students what to do step by step.
"I really just talked to the boys. I really want them to own as much of this as they can."
Dakota Sass, age 9, explains the process:
"We started with a bunch of Lego pieces and some paper," he says. "We would count the squares and put them down where they belonged."
It's an all-boy project, simply because these are the students who hang out in Hewitt's class over the lunch hour.
There was more than math involved in the project. There was finance, too, although Hewitt kept those concerns to himself. While there was already some Lego in the school, they didn't have the flat base pieces or the light grey found in the logo.
They scrounged some and bought some, using grant money from the Moffat Family Fund. Another teacher donated a portion of her Moffat money, allowing Hewitt to special order pieces online.
The teacher made appeals for Lego on Facebook and "literally sorted through every piece of Lego in the school."
Lego donates their product to children's hospitals but not to schools. The student-built logo has yellow blocks in it now. Those will be replaced in a few weeks when the light grey pieces arrive.
Hewitt says he's open to donations of any kind of Lego. If it can't be used for the Jets logo, there will be other projects over time.
If he gets too much, he says his inner-city kids would love to take some home.
So, math and finance were first. Moviemaking is the final component. Hewitt and his boys filmed the construction process. They've got a roughly five-minute time-delay video that was shot over a three-week period.
When it's time to dismantle the project, they'll do it randomly, filming it using a stop-motion effect to make it appear the pieces are moving.
"I always thought math was boring," says Malik Harb, 10. "This isn't boring."
The boys will each get a CD of the project. Hewitt says the movies will likely be shown at a school assembly and they'll send one to True North.
His only concern is getting the project finished in time.
"I wanted to be done before the Jets were done," he says. "Unless they make the playoffs, we won't make it."
Go, Jets, go!