LEGO Education Launches Teacher Training Initiative

By Derek Newton
Reposted from Forbes, with permission.

LEGO may be one of the best education brands in the world, which makes their work through LEGO Education highly relevant and potentially consequential.  That is to say, it’s wise to keep an eye on what LEGO Education is up to because they move with purpose and reason.

It’s therefore noteworthy that, as of today, LEGO Education has joined the notoriously sticky wicket of professional teacher development – creating and opening a free, online, competency-based training program and certification pathway for teaching in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) subjects.

Professional development, teaching teachers, may be the one spot on the complex flowchart of education where, in theory, impact can be relatively quick, exponential and lasting. It’s why so many well-meaning districts and entrepreneurs and foundations invest in it so much and so often. Frankly, much of that development work is quick-hit, distracting, agenda-driven garbage that does more harm than good. Which is why, in turn, so much investment moves the needle so little.   

7th grade students from the Carl-Friedrich-Gauß Gymnasium in Frankfurt (Oder), take part in the First Lego League regional competition.
18 November 2019, Brandenburg, Eisenhüttenstadt: Robin (l-r), Nick, Ansgar and Ricardo, pupils of a 7th grade from the Carl-Friedrich-Gauß Gymnasium in Frankfurt (Oder), take part in the First Lego League regional competition. On this day, 13 teams competed in the combined research and robot competition First Lego League in Eisenhüttenstadt. The teams from the region had built, programmed and tested their own robot based on Lego Mindstorms for around twelve weeks. With him they should then solve as many tasks as possible. Photo: Patrick Pleul/dpa-Zentralbild/ZB (Photo by Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Unlike most of those development programs though, LEGO Education spent years developing this one. They partnered with the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education Outreach (CEEO), the smart people who actually study how to teach these things. Their teams did real research on how to teach teachers how to teach this stuff.

“We developed our comprehensive professional development platform to better support educators to teach in this playful, hands-on way,” said Sherry Preiss, Global Head of Professional Development and Training at LEGO Education. They did that, Preiss says, by starting with student learning outcomes. From there, they “worked backwards to identify the core competencies educators need to create these desired outcomes for their students.”  

“An analogy we often use is teachers are to learning as doctors are to medicine,” said Merredith Portsmore, Director of CEEO at Tufts. “Like doctors diagnosing and treating patients, teachers work to understand their students’ thinking and customize instruction and experiences that will advance their students’ learning. As researchers, we create and study teacher learning environments so we can understand the mechanics of how teachers develop content and pedagogy knowledge and how technology can be a tool to support their learning,” Portsmore said.

Having seen more than a few self-paced, online, credential-offering professional development and teacher training programs, no one does that. They should. They just don’t.

The result of LEGO Education and Tufts doing the hard work up front is what they are calling a new “framework for educators” which addresses core concepts, classroom management, skills development and pedagogy.

“As we built the program, we consistently aligned with insights and real-world experiences from educators. We also heard teachers find value in learning from other teachers, particularly by observing each other, yet for many practical reasons this isn’t easy or even possible. Therefore, we filmed hours and hours of real teachers to create videos that bring this observational experience to any teacher, anywhere and anytime,” Preiss said.

LEGO Education says their new program includes a full day of facilitated learning led by certified LEGO Education trainers including peer and expert feedback and that participants can earn micro-credentials as recognition for mastery of the competency trainings.

Little about the idea of teaching STEAM subjects to early and middle-course learners is new. Nothing is revolutionary about using hands-on, play-style lessons to do that. But LEGO Education’s foray into the space through teacher training is. After all, they are one of the original “learn through play” people. If anyone has the DNA to get that right, as well as the brand and reach to make it stick, it’s LEGO.  

And, sure, teaching teachers to teach with your products is business building. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. And the import of getting the best teaching tools and techniques in the right hands is considerably high.

“If we want to create the next generation of innovators, we have to give them practice innovating,” Portsmore said. “When students do engaging hands-on learning, it looks different from a traditional classroom where everyone is working toward a single answer on a worksheet – hence, teachers need to be prepared to follow all kinds of different ideas and pathways.”

“Playful hands-on learning builds the 21st century skills, like creativity, critical thinking and resilience, that students will need,” Preiss added. “With so much at stake, it becomes even more critical to equip teachers with the skills and strategies they need now to develop the future leaders, innovators, and problem-solvers of tomorrow.”

They’re both right, of course. STEAM learning has never really been about making future engineers; that’s always been a pleasant byproduct. Engineering and learn-by-play initiatives, the good ones anyway, were always about pushing kids to think and create and solve. Those things are worth taking the time and investing the money to building right, which is something LEGO and LEGO Education have spent 70 years putting together.

Originally posted on Forbes on March 16, 2021.