Thursday 27 December 2012

LEGO for Learning

Auren is five years old.
He has been playing with Lego for quite a long time now.
I remember when he started out with his first blocks.
There was a lot of fumbling and frustration, but within a week of play,
his dexterity caught up to his will.

His bin of parts has been lightly added to over the last year.
We found that more choice of parts made him less inventive.
But lately he has shown more prowess.
In a constant bid to impress us, the creations have become more intricate
and compelling.
It was time to step up the game.

In a bid to get him working on numeracy and literacy,
we have kept our eye open for tasks that allow us to sneak lessons into to something that is just plain fun.
And although Lego doesn't really fit that bill well, there is an abundance of developmental exercises and typical subjects involved that could be focused on as part of a learning program.
Project based learning allows a child to work through a challenge and emerge with new skills at the end.
Lego happens to encompass some valuable lessons and we will be capitalizing on Auren's love of Lego play to encourage new skills.

A contemporary argument against Lego is that the new kits preclude creativity by structuring the play excessively as well as by associating with popular films and characters.
I must admit my aversion to movie themed Lego, but the other argument assumes that parents leave kits intact.
Our method is simple.
Build it according to the instructions first, then modify it, then break it down to add to the selection of parts intended for free play and creation.
That way, there is the benefit of folllowing instruction, as well as breaking the mold in favour of creativity.

For Christmas, we bought Auren a massive and complicated kit.
The goal is the buiding and not the completion.
Within the kit there are complex geared mechanisms, an electric motor, pneumatically controlled cylinders, and over 2000 parts.
This build will be slow and methodical.
There will be discussion involving mathematics, size, shape, electricity, physics, pneumatics, gear ratios, problem solving, and whatever else crops up during the process.
It is also Daddy time which little boys need to stay focused and motivated.

We started with a little kit first as a warm up.
Auren will be doing all of the building;
I am facilitating.
(Perhaps also building the kit vicariously for the sake of the little boy inside the man.)
He was able to complete the little truck without much trouble, carefully following the instructions.
Once time and space availed to us, it was time to open the big box.

Organizational skill is key to a mechanical project like this.
If you keep everything straight, the job is as simple as 1,2,3.
The challenge is staying focused and persevering to the end.
But like I said, the journey is the fun and the final project will likely only stay in one piece for a day or maybe two.
Having built it, Auren will be armed with new insight on developing whatever creations his mind can conjure.
In fact, this product line lends itself very well to modification as well as upping the ante with robotics and additional power options.
There is even a line of renewable energy projects.
All of which contribute to an innovative mind.

The attention span of little boys is notoriously short.
But that's not because there isn't the capacity.
They simply need the motivation;
the most powerful being one-on-one time with someone they love.
Using toys for educating works great, but not simply because something is deemed educational.
It's important to tap into a natural inclination and make the best of established interests.

I am excited about this build for many reasons.
To spend time with Auren.
To watch him learn and grow before my eyes.
To help build a really awesome Lego kit.
But I am even more excited and curious to see what gets built after it's all done,
when he gets to build his own creations.


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