Imtropy and Legogogy: Why Introducing Lego Robotics May Be The Biggest Thing I’ve Done as a Teacher

‘Imtropy’: The Primeval Tinkering Instinct

There is something about Lego which fascinates us all. I think it calls to some shared primeval tinkering instinct. Leave a pile of Lego near any group of people, and within the hour, someone would have started squeezing them together. Leave loose Lego in any suitably sized container, give it a shake or two, and it almost begins to build itself.

I honestly believe there is a heretofore undiscovered law of the universe that opposes entropy – the same thing that causes galaxies to form, perhaps – a tendency for things to want to come together. I call it imtropy. Lego is imtropy.

Somewhere in my teens, Lego became ‘uncool’ and I packed it all up into my top cupboard. I don’t have kids myself, but I am relatively certain that if I did, I would by now have bought them a cache of Lego so big they would probably have needed a separate room for it. I do think that some people have kids just so that they can play Lego again.

But I digress.

Earlier in the year, I bought some basic Lego bricks and used them to teach landforms, urban land-use zones and even contour patterns. Then, at a conference I met Philip and Danie from Hands-On-Technologies. I was blown away! I have decided that, come what may, I have to get a Lego Robotics club up and running immediately.

Here’s why:

Legogogy: Tinkering, Creativity, Problem-Solving and Consequential Thinking

If Lego wasn’t called Lego, it would be called something like TinkerBricks. What we all love about Lego is the seemingly endless possible combinations you can make from the variously sized and shaped components. Yet those combinations do have limitations. And this is exactly the beauty of it, and it is the same thing that drives people gaga about Minecraft. You can do almost anything with Lego… within the confines of the dimensions of the pieces you have at your disposal. This encourages you to try divergent combinations, to experiment and to refine – developing ever more efficient combinations. There is nothing more satisfying than finding creating an elegant Lego replica out of carefully chosen and strangely combined pieces.

What all of this speaks to is the urgent need we have in our education systems to encourage kids to see learning like they see building Lego. If we could encourage them to think laterally and creatively about how they learn, we would truly make the shift towards a more hands-on and engaging pedagogy. I call it the Lego pedagogy – legogogy.

Imagine kids tinkering with knowledge and the process of learning like they do with Lego – being irresistibly drawn to it, grabbing it with both hands, linking it up in strange ways, trying several creative solutions, not being afraid to fail and try again, collaborating and creating… with their imaginations fully engaged.

Legoneers: Grit, Consequential Thinking and Elevating Aspirations

When you combine Lego with a small computer, multiple sensors and some basic coding software, you have a robotics kit that multiplies the possibilities of Legogogy. Now, kids can create moving Lego, which is able to negotiate terrains, complete complex tasks with a level of autonomy and do some absolutely amazing things like solve Rubik’s cubes and Soduku puzzles.

Every year, there are numerous national and international Lego challenges and competitions – usually in the form of an engineering, navigational or task-oriented problem to be solved. Legoneers have to create novel and elegant solutions to these problems using their Lego Robots and programming software. But it is really about the young minds behind the robots and computers.
  1. Alongside helping kids to learn the ‘Twenty-First Century Super-Power’ (learning to code), Lego Robotics can also help kids to…
  2. Learn the value of team work and collaboration in dealing with time constraints and high pressure situations.
  3. Understand the value of consequential thinking. (Predicting the future consequences of present actions by learn to spot patterns and extrapolating future outcomes – in much the same way as a good chess player does.)
  4. Solve problems in 4-dimensional space, thus honing their spatial intelligence.
  5. Acquire a sense of determination / grit in overcoming problems and set-backs.
  6. Embrace the joy of invention.
  7. Interaction with like-minded legoneers from a range of backgrounds and cultures.
  8. Learn by experimentation and from their peers.
  9. Adopt a focussed, reflective, and almost meditative mind-set while building and programming. (Building and programming a Lego robot is a remarkably effective strategy for remediating students with learning problems.)
  10. Embrace their inner geek. Let’s be honest – the world needs more of us!
  11. Elevate their aspirations. Why not make something from scratch and get it to do something amazing? Why not take up the challenge of trying to conquer a difficult problem. Why not aim to compete internationally? Why not try for a career in engineering, design, science or computer programming?

And so on.

The Last Brick

To raise funds to buy a new robot, I recently held a Lego ‘Build-a-Thon’ (with prizes generously sponsored by Hands-On Technologies). Students were tasked with building a mechanism to launch a chess piece one meter, using nothing but basic Lego, a few rubber bands and a coffee stirrer or two. I was astonished by the results! The top groups had created slingshots, ramps and even a fully geared car. All without instructions or information of any kind.

I am now more convinced than ever that Lego robotics is an essential component of a young person’s learning journey. It may take me a while to spread the word, but just wait until we win our first competition and NASA comes knocking!

GTG. Our robots have arrived!





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