My 4 year old and I eagerly opened a crisp new box of LEGO Disney Princess Rapunzel’s Creativity Tower. As we began, I ran into a series of unexpected choices.
- Should we use the instruction manual?
- How important was the picture on the box to my daughter?
- Should I dump all the bags of materials out at the same time and let her fish them out, or should we go bag by bag?
- Should I have her go step by step, or should I have her decide whether she wanted to go in order?
- The box says “Ages 6-12.” How much stock should I take in that?
- How much should I intervene in general when she gets frustrated with pushing difficult pieces together, or pulling things apart?
Honestly, it wasn’t long before I started drawing mental parallels to various modern approaches to learning. Many questions remain unanswered–on both Rapunzel’s LEGO tower, and the varied viewpoints on 21st century learning–but I found that as I organized the latter in LEGO terms, I can begin to better sort out the bottom-line question:
How do you want to build with your students?
- Instruction Manuals (curricula)
- The picture on the box (final outcome(s))
- Legos (school materials)
- Construction process (scope and sequence)
- Age Recommendations (how age is organized)
- Instruction Manuals: Teachers of each age group possess the instruction manuals, which are handed down from a variety of organizations. The sequence of all the steps is usually executed without deviation.
- The picture on the box: Students who have learned the instruction manual, at least in multiple choice format.
- The LEGO materials: Teachers regulate when, where, how, and why all materials are used.
- Construction process: Depending on the step the collective class is on, the teacher photocopies a page from the instruction manual for each student to work on. They do this for a variety of boxes (subjects) throughout the day, but each box is done during separate times of the day.
- Age Recommendations: Generally, very strict adherence to age is practiced.
Problem/Project Based Learning:
- Instruction Manuals: Teachers design projects or questions with specific learning goals in mind, based on the mandated curricula.
- The picture on the box: Students who can monitor their time and are intrinsically motivated to pursue new ideas.
- The LEGO materials: Teachers try to provide students with the materials they need to build their learning. This can be inhibited by limited school budgets.
- Construction process: Students may spend a day or weeks in investigation. They typically work in groups with the teacher as the tutor or “guide on the side.”
- Age Recommendations: Can be applied in any environment, but often done in high school classes.
- Instruction Manuals: Generally same as in the traditional classroom.
- The picture on the box: Students who come to class ready for lively discussion, experimentation, and investigation based on the instructional input already received at home for homework.
- The LEGO materials: Videos–either made by teachers themselves, or found on websites like Khan Academy or LearnZillion–that are assigned as homework.
- Construction process: Teachers seek to take better advantage of classroom time by removing all lectures to homework via videos.
- Age Recommendations: Often done in high school settings, but in-class flips are known in elementary classrooms as well.
Sugata Mitra’s SOLE’s, or self-organized learning environment:
- Instruction Manuals: Mitra has created a SOLE toolkit for educators and parents alike. This explains how to set up a SOLE, lists examples of “Big questions” the teacher might ask students to research, and cites troubleshooting challenges. The teacher presents the questions.
- The picture on the box: Students who can unlock inborn curiosity with collaborative research time–able to find answers to questions without adult instructional input.
- The LEGO materials: 1 computer per 4 children, paper and pens, and maybe a nametag for the peer helper student.
- Construction process: The teacher poses a question and then students investigate it in groups of 4. They can change groups, get ideas from other groups, and move around. A peer helper manages behavior.
- Age Recommendations: Ages 8-12 is the current framework for the SOLE toolkit.
Instruction Manuals: Known as “Whole Child Education” in which priority is placed on exploring all learning styles.
- The picture on the box: Students who have developed values of creativity, self-control, problem solving, social skills, and physical coordination.
- The LEGO materials: Teachers are trained to carefully set up learning environments that involve work centers by subject. High priority is placed on aesthetic and order.
- Construction process: Students are given large blocks of uninterrupted time to experiment with the materials. Much of the time is self-directed by individual students, although they are also encouraged at times to work in groups.
- Age Recommendations: Blended ages of young children, often in age groups of 2-3, 3-6, and 6-9.
- Instruction Manuals: Teachers are familiar with manuals, but share only when called upon by students.
- The picture on the box: None–It’s probably been incinerated.
- The LEGO materials: Available as students and staff vote on school funding according to values on democracy.
- Construction process: Entirely student-directed at all times. Visitors often notice the prevalence of play throughout the school.
- Age Recommendations: None. 14 year olds and 4 year olds may choose to engage in the same activities.
- Instruction Manuals: None, except those pursued by the learner.
- The picture on the box: Hopefully, learners who can trust themselves and identify their personal needs to live happy lives. This is not forced however–if a learner shows no interest in this picture, it will not be forced upon him or her.
- The LEGO materials: Chosen by each individual learner.
- Construction process: Students learn at home on his or her own terms. Parents offer support and encouragement, but do not force any learning on the child.
- Age Recommendations: None.