Play and learn: Sparking learning block by block

Can Lego help students become innovative in thinking and problem solving?

By Ian Davies

Lego is more than just a toy and its “learning through play” philosophy empowers children to become creative, engaged, lifelong learners. This would fit beautifully into a model of learning at schools where the emphasis is on active learning as the route by which students develop critical thinking, take control of their own learning and enhance social skills through a “values based” education that enables our high achievers to become globally responsible citizens. Even more, they become genuine leaders.

Not only does it enrich the curriculum through making a Science STEAM programme realistic by dealing with exciting practical experiments, but its carefully crafted experiential learning develops over time a personal skills framework that “promotes a child’s drive to learn, their ability to imagine alternatives and to connect with their surroundings in a positive way”.

A range of neuroscience findings suggest that as learning becomes broad, interconnected and dynamic, it leads to innovation in thinking and problem solving. A Lego learning class challenges students to make connections from their learning in all subjects. Yes, English, languages, writing and social sciences, for example, are also part of the experience with a strong emphasis on communication skills. As students respond to problems set through the activities, they connect concepts and skills, applying their knowledge and even sparking new ideas.

To illustrate the claim through an example: The students could be given the task to design a machine that benefits the lives of others. They could build machines that deliver tablets via a computer controlled dispenser, a tracking robot that senses obstacles (very useful for the partially sighted) or a model that picks up and manipulates objects (useful in many situations). We see students thinking about the society in which we live, creating a solution that works through advanced technical skills and develops the personal affective skills of working with others in different teams.

One often undervalued aspect is of allowing children to make mistakes in an environment where they realise the potential of doing so. Appreciating this is an important aspect of producing an answer. Some students use this practical situation to value their artistic, design and computer skills. Others think about the practical ways in which the product can actually be mass produced, echoing entrepreneurial skills. Lego even claims that the development of such a carefully supported learning and social programme can lead to a happier adolescence and adulthood through higher academic scores and better health. Our personal experience has not yet observed this, but our ‘gut’ feeling is that “surface learning”, whereby simple memorisation of facts and information takes place, is replaced by “deeper learning” where knowledge is connected to real world conceptual understandings and higher levels of critical thought. As teachers, we know that learning does not take place in a vacuum. A real-life context is required for reasoning to build upon and develop ideas to create new paradigms. Likewise, we certainly see a greater appreciation of the environment, which is no bad thing in today’s world.

Our Lego Innovation Laboratory is seen as an investment in our learning and ultimately therefore in our students. Meaningful, socially interactive engaging experiences give us power as teachers as our students experience genuine success. This is probably even more important to Pre-School and Primary students but it is equally as effective with older learners. At the end of the day, it is seeing the smiles on the faces of the students alongside their continual requests whether they can go and “learn with Lego” that makes our day. Because we know that they are giving themselves an advantage in their own futures. And, that is what we strive to achieve as educators.

(The writer is Head of School, Garodia International Centre for Learning Mumbai-GICLM.)

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