Blog 74

It’s not all about play! Reflections on  a LEGO Workshop


Lisa Endersby and Celia Popovic, Teaching Commons

Concepts of creative play and hands-on learning have become staples of our teaching conversations. More broadly, our understanding of active, participatory learning has grown to encompass expectations that our students will and should engage with us during class time. These ideas, however, can come with as many barriers as there are benefits, often in our efforts to help students make meaning from what can be very complex or theoretical subject matter while encouraging students to outwardly and willingly participate in lectures.

One new (and fun!) way the Teaching Commons has begun to approach this notion of creative engagement is through the use of LEGO. Following an inspiring session from our colleague Nicola Simmons (Brock University and 3M Teaching Fellow) that included more than a few bricks and blocks reminiscent of our childhoods; we explored how we might share the potential value of LEGO as a teaching tool with our colleagues. Our first Using LEGO in the Classroom workshop was held in November 2017 with a group of colleagues eager to explore how these building blocks might help inspire critical, creative thinking.

What was particularly interesting in the session was our discussion of risk taking in the classroom. LEGO has often been cited as a way to help students move beyond linear ways of thinking and to unlock potential new or novel ideas. This type of thinking and its expression inside the classroom, however, can require a significant amount of risk. Several participants described experiences working with students who may feel pressure to ‘get it right’ and to get it right the first time. LEGO as a teaching tool may help to lessen the all or nothing approach to learning by helping students brainstorm, process, and perhaps even physically rearrange ideas or concepts with less fear of having to demonstrate some type of advanced ability. LEGO can be less risky, for example, than drawing or even writing as manipulating the blocks lessens the need for an outright, complex set of skills. This leaves room for play and abstract thinking, providing students some freedom from the pressures of performance to focus on the learning journey.

The participants at our first run of the LEGO workshop hailed from different disciplines. We purposefully included different styles of teaching and learning using LEGO, to demonstrate its flexibility. Faculty from Business and AMPD worked together on problem solving and communication exercises, generously suspending any sense of cynicism or self-consciousness to engage enthusiastically with the activities. At times they seemed to surprise themselves with their creative solutions and were fully absorbed in the tasks. As well as demonstrating a number of different pedagogic approaches, we considered practical issues involved in using LEGO with large numbers of students, how to store the materials, and general housekeeping concerns.

We will be hosting a second Using LEGO in the Classroom workshop in January to continue and broaden these conversations. We hope you will be able to join us on Tuesday, January 23 from 9-11am. Additional details and a link to register for the session can be found on the Teaching Commons website.

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