Building A Better Learning Model With LEGO Education

By Derek Newton
Reposted from Forbes, with permission.

LEGO Education, which may be the most potent brand in education, unveiled a new product last week.

And because they are who they are, that’s news. But the news about their new product line – LEGO Education SPIKE Essential – is a bit bigger than the new offering itself.

SPIKE Essential is designed for elementary level learning with, like many of their other classroom and curriculum products, a focus on STEAM learning.

“It covers all the grades in elementary and brings hands-on STEAM solutions, with really narrative based learning experiences,” Esben Staerk, President of LEGO Education told me. “All by itself, it brings a strong proposition to elementary schools,” he said.

Esben Staerk, President of LEGO Education

If that was the whole story, that would be great. LEGO’s products are transformative and enlightening, as nearly anyone who’s picked a LEGO up will tell you. When they become purpose-built and streamlined teaching tools, they can be powerful learning engines. So, getting more LEGO-based STEAM modules and programs into more early learning environments is – will be – inherently beneficial.

But the recent debut is not the whole story. With Essential, LEGO Education has closed the learning loop, ushered an entire, creative STEAM learning pathway into the marketplace. Now, a student in early grades can start with LEGO Education’s hands-on learning and stay in the same system, using many of the same physical pieces and learning concepts, all the way to and through high school.

“With SPIKE Essential,” Staerk said, “now we have not just a continuum but a system of products and components, in classrooms, at a district level to build programs that evolve and touch many core classes and subjects such as science, engineering, and extract math, and language arts skills at the same time.”

Imagine if LEGO Education could set up its own school – not just one school but a complete education system from kindergarten through high school graduation. Imagine if that school held the promise of instilling key learning traits and skills like creativity and collaboration while also teaching math and engineering – all by LEGO, the creative building people.

Such a school would probably be radically different and immensely popular. And, with this new product, creating a LEGO Education learning bubble is more or less what LEGO Education has done. Minus the actual school, of course.

“Learning is part of our mission,” Staerk said. “Enabling every student to succeed, to learn through purposeful play. Imagine that learning is seen as being personally meaningful – and that you’re actually engaged in social and iterative problem solving as part of that simultaneous play and learning. That’s what we want to bring into the classroom – the same feeling of joy from your childhood.”  

Offering a bet he would win, Staerk said, “I’d wager that most adults don’t remember their childhood school like that.” True. They probably don’t. “But,” he said, “we have the opportunity to turn classrooms into that, to have places where students are actually engaged, where they learn more and we help establish a broader set of skills and do that with personal agency and a strong love of learning. If there is a dream, we want to take what LEGO is in the living room and have that in the classroom as well.”

The new LEGO system checks all the boxes, as you’d expect. The company says the lessons are aligned to learning standards, linked to computer skills and core science learning objectives. They say Essential and the connected pathways are designed to build confidence in students and instructors alike – easy to start, easy to succeed, inviting to continue. “What makes LEGO magical is that it’s as simple as three bricks or complex as building the Taj Mahal,” Staerk said, “going from simple to complex, that it’s easy to enter but you can say the ceiling is high.”  

Key to all of it is that the new system – like LEGO itself – is designed to build on its own success, importing and leveraging learning blocks from past activities. Educators call that scaffolding. But LEGOing may be a better term. It’s more fun and no less accurate.

Unsurprisingly, Staerk says there’s already high demand for SPIKE Essential, for integrating it into the LEGO learning ladder. “The idea that we’re getting a platform with longevity and compatibility is incredibly exciting to many people,” he said.

“As much as I’m in love with our products and bricks and what we do,” Staerk said, “it’s a need that’s out there and urgent but also a fantastic opportunity to think about how and why we teach. My hope is that in 15 or 20 years the conversation will be, ‘remember how great school was?’”  

That’s a great goal. If anyone can build it – or, more accurately, if anyone can help us build it ourselves – LEGO can.