For over 75 years LEGO has provided immense entertainment to children (and adults) all over the world. From simple stackable bricks, the company has grown into an educational toy provider, giving its fans the opportunity to learn while they play. The development of special parts such as slopes, eyes, wheels, propellers and windows have brought the creations to life.
For a moment, let’s go back to the simple four by two and two by two bricks. In one session we gave children these bricks to build dinosaurs, and in other to build forest animals; the results were amazing. Although resistant and unsure at first, the children eventually figured out how best to use the square and rectangle blocks to create animals that have rounded shapes. The giraffe and the brontosaurus looked the same, but does that really matter?! We often overlook the imagination and creativity of the child in our search for perfection. The children translated their understandings into three dimensional objects. After all, both the giraffe and the brontosaurus are four-legged herbivores with long necks that enable them to reach the top of trees for food. In the mind of the child one was a dinosaur and the other a giraffe, even though the LEGO versions looked the same. The translation of knowledge into action reinforces the concept of animal physiology.
Similarly, building a volcano with a vent for baking soda and vinegar “eruption,” helped the child translate the book learning of a volcano structure into a three-dimensional, physical one. This indirect learning makes it more enjoyable for the child and increases retention of concepts.
As children get older, so do the complexities of science concepts and the objects they can make. When we introduced bridges and structures to five year olds, we saw only beam bridges. It’s the simplest and most popular kind, but the kids didn’t know the technicalities of this type. Their bridges were functional – some where cars went over the bridge, and some where cars could go under as well.
The same activity with older children, however, was more defined. It wasn’t just a bridge over water anymore; it was a suspension bridge like the Golden Gate Bridge or a steel arch bridge like the Sydney harbour bridge. Building bridges doesn’t make children civil engineers, but it allows children to start learning concepts at a young age, and defining them as they grow older. Building them with their own hands helps reinforce concepts and designs.
We’ve been talking about STEM (science, tech, engineering, math) concepts all this while, but why is it really that important? We are surrounded by STEM every day, all the time – how we breathe, the food we eat, the mobiles we use, the cars we drive, the pets we take care of, trains, planes, animals, plants, rollercoasters, bridges, towers, storms, earthquakes, – all STEM. To put it very simply, we are learning about how the world works.
“In the 21st century, scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly important as we face the benefits and challenges of both globalization and a knowledge-based economy. To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past.” (National Science Foundation)
When we combine the all-time-favourite LEGO with STEM, we have the perfect recipe for learning!