Sunday 17 December 2017

How Lego made learning fun in the classroom

Children build up their own knowlege as pilot scheme proves a hit

Rene Tristan Lydikse, managing director Lego Education Europe, with Leona Price (7), Calvin Ryan (8) and Conor Joyce (7) from St Michael’s Infant School, CBS, Limerick.
Rene Tristan Lydikse, managing director Lego Education Europe, with Leona Price (7), Calvin Ryan (8) and Conor Joyce (7) from St Michael’s Infant School, CBS, Limerick.

Graham Clifford

When nine-year-old Karolina Szrockma was asked to build her own invention using plastic bricks and software, provided by the Lego Education programme, she knew immediately what she needed to design.

The third-class pupil at the Presentation Primary School, Sexton Street, Limerick, devised an ingenious tool which would make daily life easier for the pupils in her school.

"Well, the boys in the CBS next-door always kick the ball over the wall into our yard. Then they come over to try and get it, it happens all the time.

So I decided to design a 'kick-over' machine which would automatically kick the ball back to them so they wouldn't be bothering us."

The 'prototype' was built with Lego bricks and used motors and pulleys to come to life.

"It was great, the kick-over machine worked – maybe one day we can have a real life-size one," Karolina explains with an excited expression spread across her face.

She is just one of hundreds of pupils from eight different primary schools in the Shannon region who have participated in an eight-week pilot scheme where trainee teachers brought the Lego software into their classrooms for the first time. At the Mary Immaculate teacher training college (popularly known as Mary I) in Limerick, some students from the participating schools gather to explain why using Lego has helped them learn.

A Lego Innovation Studio, the first of its kind in Europe, will allow trainee teachers at Mary I the chance to take the training module as part of their course in the years ahead.

Darragh O'Connell, from Kilmihill in Clare, was one of those trainee teachers who took the Lego programme into a classroom and explained how it worked.

"I was training with 5th class at Scoil Chriost Rí, Cloughleigh, Ennis. The children took to the project almost straight away.

"Building with the bricks was just one part. Then they could connect a motor or pulley to the laptop which had Lego education software on it and thereby make their invention move and come to life.

"We found it worked very well because it's not on its own – it fits into the existing curriculum – across maths, science and so on.

"Discovery learning is so important now and if a problem arises the Lego programme won't tell you how to fix it – the children have the think 'right how can I make this work'."

At one table I find a group of excited boys building and designing with their colourful Lego bricks while another works on a plan to make their invention move.

"Oh my God, I love Lego" says Scoots Hughes, a 4th class pupil from the CBS on Sexton Street in the Treaty city.

He enthusiastically explains: "When our teacher said she was going to bring in Lego for us to work with we were so delighted. I spent an hour building my own robot."

Another boy, Daniel Yermak, built a model of the Twin Towers taking out a brick in one of the structures to cleverly show the impact of the 9/11 attacks.

"The boys just excelled with this programme," explains their teacher Deirdre O'Brien. "It helped them in every way, fine motor, tactile and computer skills and maths. We're hoping to buy the pack for next year, now that I've seen it in action I've seen how beneficial it can be to them – especially those who need additional assistance."

Each pack, including software and bricks, costs around €150.

ICT lecturer Rory McGann was instrumental in bringing the Lego education module to MIC and he believes the new teaching method works well in the classroom.

"It marries technological advances with one of the world's most popular toys, it engages children and is also important for the teachers to connect with their students.

"There are benefits in terms of spatial awareness, maths and design but also they use team work, collaboration, problem-solving and analytical thinking – but it's fun and they don't realise how much they are learning along the way."

Rory contacted Lego education via their distributor in Ireland – Learn it Solutions – and next month some staff members will travel to the home of Lego in Bilund, Denmark to become 'Certified Lego Trainers'.

"We hope to develop a dedicated innovative physical space here in the college which will use all this technology to research, develop and showcase how technology and concrete materials can be implemented across primary education. It will become an important part of our training curriculum for teachers."

As we speak, a robotic car built of Lego blocks whizzes between my legs. Elsewhere the arms of windmills twirl around at pace while plastic monsters plod menacingly along tables.

Sarah Cantillon (9), also from the local Presentation school, is busy forging bricks together and giving me a crash course in the Lego programme.

"You have sound effects as well, don't forget them."

So build it, hook the motor or pulley on, then click on the screen and make it move in whatever direction you want. To be honest, it's easy when you know how.

Irish Independent

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