‘Old MacDonald had a Farm’: Applying LEGO SERIOUS Play® in Kindergarten and Early Primary Classrooms

With endless passive forms of entertainment, children rarely ever have a chance to step foot into the desert of boredom; relief only being found in the oasis of the imagination.  If the imagination is left under-developed, our students will not be prepared to meet the challenges of tomorrow.  LEGO SERIOUS Play®, a technique designed to unlock creativity and expression, can transform any primary class.

Now, more than ever, the imagination is a skill set that must be nurtured through engaging activities, explicit instruction and scaffolded challenges.  To read more about this process, check out my article on How to Remediate Creativity.  LEGO® is a perfect fit for this task; a simple brick can become a place holder of meaning used to represent physical objects, emotions and even relationships (see: The Power of Metaphor and the Brick).  This powerful form of communication is a skill set that can be taught explicitly, giving students greater freedom to express thinking more efficiently and effectively.

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What better place to unlock this potential than in the kindergarten room.  Teachers Ms. Cooper and Ms. McLeod were looking for alternative ways for students to communicate their ideas, within a play-based learning environment.  Not only this, but they wanted to design a task where students were challenged to develop communication, decision making and problem-solving skills. Together, a series of simple mini-sessions were developed and executed over the course of a week and a half.  Take a look at how each was structured with very particular goals.  Although the task appears simple, much higher order thinking and behavioural processes were targeted.  As each session progresses, building supplies will be limited leading to increased collaboration and teamwork opportunities.

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Teacher Ms. McLeod listens to a team explain their model. At first glance, this jumble of bricks lacks meaning. However, this build depicts the Christmas Story; Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus are in the centre, shepherds with sheep off to the right and the wise men travelling by camel in the foreground.

Session One:  It can be More than a Simple Brick – the Farm

I always begin any LEGO® Metaphor Speak workshop with participants brainstorming what a simple 2 by 4 green LEGO brick could represent.  Kindergarten is no different!  Students likely will connect it to anything that is green; feel free to push beyond colour representations and towards other representations like animals, houses, and the like.  Like a magician, I hide the brick behind my back and it magically reappears as a completely different object (yes, the trick is lame, but the kindergartens get quite excited by it and can’t wait for the chance to perform some magic on their own).

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A student who is very proud of her work.

Students then had an opportunity to build animals on the farm.  For this task, we provided unlimited 2 by 2 stud bricks and a base plate for each student so that they could focus solely on building representations, using words to explain what the model does not show (e.g. “the cow has a tail here, even though my model doesn’t show it”).  It is important that every student has the opportunity to share their creation with each other and potentially the class.  The building is actually the shortest part of any LEGO SERIOUS Play® build, student sharing allows for the cross-pollination of ideas.  A natural consequence with this form of building is storytelling; characters, conflict and relationships naturally begin to emerge: farmers get names, animals get into trouble and crops are being harvested.  I am always amazed at how kindergarten students are quick to narrate very simple builds with rich storytelling and complex ideas.  Yet another example of how we can learn a lot from these little geniuses.

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A variety of animals gather around this apple tree looking for a snack and some shade.

Session Two:  Time to Build Another Farm!

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A simple build that comes alive as the students discuss what each model represents. Although the form may be limited, students are quick to create whole stories with all of the animals in this barn.

When the students have a firm grasp on creating a variety of representations using 2 by 2 bricks and words, we then added layers of complexity to the task.  Students were asked to build anything living out of white and anything non-living as blue.  Further to this, students were only given one base plate to build their models together.  Before beginning the task, we asked them to brainstorm, as a team, all of the living and non-living parts of a farm.  Students were also tasked with the building as many different types of animals and objects on the farm.  A little story explaining that the more there is to look at on the farm, the more interesting it will be.  This prompt really got the discussion going.

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Teacher Ms. Cooper and a student share an “A-HA!” moment during the team build.

Then came the crucial part, they had to decide who was going to build each part.  With favourite animals, structures and machines at stake, disagreements arose.  This intentionally designed child-sized crisis set the stage for many teachable moments as the exercise unfolded.  Compromise and teacher-modeled talk all helped the students to overcome the collaborative obstacles present.

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Early Child Educator Ms. Delorme works with a team of students who will run out of bricks once the fenced farm is completed. “I wonder” questions help the team to set goals and to decide what should be built first.

Session Three:  Reinforce with… Another Farm

Another session, another new set of limitations!  Concerned that they may be bored with building so many farms, Ms. McLeod reassured me that kindergarten students could build farms all year long if given the permission to.  Today, each team was only given a small bowl of LEGO®.  The challenge was the same, the discussion prompts were the same.  Teams were now tasked with using the fewest bricks possible to represent a variety of animals and objects. The students had to distribute enough bricks between members so they could complete their models.  More opportunities arose to mediate disagreements between members, and discuss how best a team could achieve the task goal together.  As this build progressed, it was really fascinating to observe how play brought out new narratives between the team members.  This powerful form of co-creative collaboration illustrated how a few simple bricks will ensure our students are ready for the future.

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This team of students completes a number of large scale animals. They quickly realized that they could build more animals with fewer bricks.

Session Four:  Putting it all Together

Each session was designed for students to expand the idea of representation using simple bricks, using explanation when the model lacked key physical properties.  Students were also encouraged to create stories out of their farms.  Finally, each task introduced limiting factors that would increasingly force students into child-sized collaborative crisis moments, allowing students to work through the problems with teacher modelling and guidance.  As the students progressed through the exercises, there were marked improvements on all three fronts.

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This fascinating build depicts the three wise men to the left, Shepards to the right, the manger in the centre with Mary, Joseph and some animals on either side.

To bring this learning journey to an end, we wanted the students to apply their learning using a topic the students had been studying: the Nativity of Jesus.  As Christmas approached, Katherine shared many picture books with the class, each book discussing the variety of figures, perspectives and challenges faced by Mary, Joseph and the little baby Jesus.  The hope was that students could build a representation of the Nativity, using newly developed collaborative strategies.  Also, we wanted students to use the insights gained from the picture books to better explain all of the elements of their build, and most importantly, how the main figures felt, their thoughts or observations.

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Here, we see baby Jesus resting in His Creche, with Mary and Joseph alongside.

Although the build time was relatively short, students were better able to communicate their thinking, make decisions and build representations with fewer bricks and more explanation.  This form of rapid prototyping gives students concrete models that they can speak directly to.  By taking the time to explicitly remediate collaborative and decision-making skills, more time is devoted to the task; making the learning more effective and efficient as students co-create.

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Early Childhood Educator Mrs. Froom talks through a disagreement that arose with this team. By modelling conflict resolution skills and positive talk, these students are learning skills that will be applicable far beyond the classroom.

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