If you asked a child to pick one toy he’d take with him to a desert island, chances are good he’d say, “LEGO”. That’s good news for educators, because that same toy that fuels endless hours of imaginative play in a child’s bedroom can also fuel some major learning.
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Our Visit to Lego Headquarters
We recently had the chance to go to Denmark, and catch up with the curriculum experts at LEGO Education in person. They showed us rooms full of LEGO (they have a copy of every single set since the company was founded!). Here are the five things we fell in love with most. Teachers—if your school has the budget, you can’t go wrong with these five LEGO teaching tools.
LEGO’s Soft Brick Set
Imagine a LEGO brick as big as your foot, or as long as a preschooler’s leg and you’ll start to recognize the open-ended possibilities of this incredible set. Packed with both straight and curved pieces that are soft and spongy, these bricks are made for building life-sized creations. The flexible foam bricks can transform into forts or castles…grocery stores or pirate ships.
There are no directions to follow. Just unleash kids’ creativity, and let them collaborate on a large scale. From spatial awareness to gross motor skills, this set builds on some of the most important components for early learning…and it can build a pretty great obstacle course, too! It's an absolute must-have for preschool and kindergarten classrooms.
Pretend is the work of preschool. It may look like play, and it is, but through that play, students learn to negotiate and build the social skills that are the cornerstone of kindergarten success. Most preschools have dramatic play areas. This one pumps up the learning, by layering counting, following multi-step directions, visual spatial development, and plenty of fine motor practice. Children build the food for their café—from popsicles to tomatoes, pass out the menus, and then get to work serving customers and trading their chunky coins for grub. This set should appeal equally to girls, and get them on the road to loving LEGO—excellent groundwork for the math they’ll meet in kindergarten and beyond.
Can’t get students to use those graphic organizers? This language arts program is meant to take the place of those connected circles and boxes, and give kids a more hands-on way to explore the elements and mechanics of building a story. Using manipulatives, students get to build their comfort level with story structure—literally building narratives and retelling stories using Lego bricks as props. From generating ideas, to laying out a story framework, to presenting to the class, this tool takes some of the stress out of the writing process, especially for students with writing or reading challenges.
While there’s a software component to the product, StoryStarter works perfectly well without it. From analyzing plots to sequencing stories, to improving listening skills and building comprehension, we love this playful reinvention of how to approach the writing process, especially for 2nd-5th grade.
Machines and Mechanisms
Science concepts are typically taught using a pencil and paper, but a hands-on approach gets students to think on their feet, making predictions and then testing their hypothesis in real time. Teaching complex concepts is even easier with something that’s not at all intimidating: the humble LEGO bricks kids have seen since preschool.
LEGO’s Machines and Mechanisms line runs from elementary all the way up through high school. It’s centered on a bunch of construction sets and activity packs—each meant to give kids an intro to a core STEM concept. Teachers can start things off with a short video with characters that have a problem that needs solving, and then let students loose to find an answer. From making a race car that will go faster or farther than a neighbor’s, to testing machines created with standard parts to explore how gears work, we love that the activities are flexible and the sets can be used over and over again.
LEGO Mindstorms EV3
Sure, you may have heard of LEGO Mindstorms already—but this is the third generation of the company’s classroom robotics platform, and it’s seriously hopped up. Although it’s definitely not cheap—it will set you back $5,000 to equip a classroom of 24 students—it should last you many years. And if anything’s going to light a kid's fire for engineering, this just may be it.
In a nutshell, the EV3 is a hardware platform (that’s the robots themselves), a software platform (one that’s thankfully pretty intuitive, and includes almost 50 step-by-step tutorials), and a customizable curriculum complete with digital workbooks. Technophobes, take heart! This thing was built with you in mind; after a lot of feedback from educators that they couldn’t invest the time to figure out how to fit such complex curriculum into a class period, the people at LEGO Education built this version specifically to allow students to build and program a fully functioning robot in 45 minutes flat. That’s just one single class period. The curriculum is digitally delivered, and it installs lickety split. Then students can capture their work in the digital workbooks as they move through the lessons, and teachers can easily take a peek to see how they’re doing and assess their work.
The robots are just plain cool. But working with them also helps build problem solving, collaboration, and design thinking skills, while sneaking in some major STEM action. LEGO recently released 3 curriculum packs for the platform—one that’s teaming with open-ended design engineering challenges, a second that centers around physical science experiments, and our favorite: a Space Challenge set developed with NASA that sets challenges about traveling and living on Mars. Ready for blast off?
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For pretend play, science, spatial learning and more, no toy packs a learning punch quite like LEGO. Whatever your teaching goal happens to be, LEGO is our new favorite tool for hands-on learning.