Progressive Learning Approaches in LEGO Terms

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.


  • Rapunzel TowerShould 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?

Components:

  • 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)

Traditional Schooling:

  • 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.
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Bill Ferriter

Flipped Learning:

  • 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.

Montessori

  • Valilouve
    Valilouve

    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.

Sudbury Schooling

  • 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.

Unschooling

  • 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.

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Mary Wade

I taught 5th grade at a PYP International Baccalaureate school in Utah for 4 years, and am currently on extended parental leave until my kids start school. In between the roller-coaster adventures of motherhood, I enjoy educational blogging so I can stay in the loop and keep learning! Snapshot favorites: Student voice & choice. Twix bars. Global classrooms. Calvin & Hobbes. Outlandish sewing projects. Teachers learning from teachers. Modeling daring to students.

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