In November 2017, I stumbled onto LEGO Education. At a small release event in New York City, I discovered the often unknown educational branch of the LEGO company. Dedicated to helping educators instill not just a love of learning but confidence through creativity, LEGO Education offers an entirely unique approach to using LEGO in the classroom.
As part of the release of “Rebuild the World” campaign, LEGO Education invited me to Billund, Denmark, the Home of LEGO, to gain first hand insight into how they plan to enable students by enabling teachers.
What is LEGO Education?
LEGO Education is a branch of the LEGO Company entirely separate from the LEGO retail side of their house. Dedicated to providing resources to educators, the LEGO Education line includes sets for preschoolers all the way through high school. Each line is specifically designed to meet educational and developmental needs.
What’s so special about LEGO Education?
Well, first, I could go on for days about why I think LEGO Education is special. The website offers lessons designed by educators for educators. However, that’s the least of what’s amazing about them.
In conjunction with the LEGO Foundation, LEGO Education works to support students’ needs and researches how to best meet those needs. For example, the recent research about students’ fear of failure and hands-on learning informed much of the recent Rebuild the World campaign that supports LEGO Education’s core mission.
How does LEGO Education fit into “Rebuild the World”?
Sitting at the “Rebuild the World” campaign announcement, I found myself mesmerized by the company’s commitment to creating a better tomorrow for our kids. After all, as I’ve discussed before, LEGO is one of the truly cross-cultural childhood experiences. While the retail side focuses on different types of sets to help bring children and families together, LEGO Education takes that foundational premise and expands on it in more meaningfully pedagogical ways.
LEGO Education “gets” what makes kids excited about learning. During our morning at The Brick House in Billund, LEGO Ed invited children from all over the world to engage in a learning experience. Inspired by David Aguilar, a 19-year-old who has built several prosthetic arms from LEGO® elements, the children were tasked with building something to help someone with a disability.
As the kids sat on the floor, surrounded by bricks, they engaged in some of the most purposeful learning we can have in the present day. Unfortunately, as noted by another press member, many school administrators would have seen nothing but “children playing with toys.” However, what was really happening? This was:
Y’all, collaboration and creativity is right there. Two kids, working together, to create an environmentally sustainable powered wheelchair. This even inspired hope for the future in my generally cold, cynical heart.
How does LEGO Education purposefully build meaningful educational experiences with toys?
Sitting with LEGO Ed always makes me miss teaching (until I realize that I don’t have to grade papers anymore, then I’m pretty ok with not teaching…). A few months ago when I wrote up the LEGO Education SPIKE Prime announcement, I didn’t really understand why the new sets were different and important. I thought to myself, “this is fabulous! I love LEGO Ed, and anything they put out, I’ll cover if I can.” However, sitting with LEGO Ed last week, I understood the reason that SPIKE Prime matters.
LEGO Ed sets are similar to yet different from traditional retail LEGO sets. LEGO Ed’s sets are put together purposefully to teach the basics of learning and STEAM throughout the entire developmental process. As I started talking with the different age-group developmental heads, I realized that each set is designed to build upon the one before it. The SPIKE Prime set is important because it filled a gap in their developmental program.
What is scaffolding?
Scaffolding is the educational term for “building on a learner’s knowledge.” Think about it this way: we teach kids letters, then teach them to read. We start with one chunk of knowledge, then add to it.
How does LEGO Education create a holistic program using scaffolding?
LEGO Education not only designed lessons around pedagogical best practices, but they have build their LEGO Ed products specifically to meet those needs. As I was talking to each age-group development lead, I began to see the multiple threads woven into the fabric of their program. Finally, realizing that I would never be able to clearly explain this in text, I decided to do a walk-through video that highlights the amazing work LEGO Education does to create these meaningful sets.
Why Supported Failure Matters
As noted in the “Rebuild the World” keynote, the jobs we train today’s kindergarteners for will likely not exist by the time they enter the workforce. Our children will need to learn how to readjust, refocus, and retool their skills.
Building resiliency means teaching children that mistakes are not failures. Great accomplishments can come from channeling a mistake into a success. Whether it’s a function of our American “teach to the test” or parental pressures to give our children every advantage for success, we are not necessarily preparing them for their futures. We are preparing them for our adult present or the futures we hope they will have.
However, just as we are not living the same adulthood as our parents, our children will not live the same adulthood as us. To truly give our children the advantages that will make them successful adults, we need to encourage them to take risks, make mistakes, and find solutions to those mistakes.
We need, in essence, the types of experiences that LEGO Education provides.