For the past two years, I have been using Lego® WeDo software, Lego® bricks and the educational programming language, Scratch, to help young students learn to create with computers, rather than to consume. I have realized that these materials work well because they are almost immediately accessible and they allow for a lot of creativity, which fuels motivation.
And, unfortunately for most schools, the creativity part is key. According to Daniel Pink, the key to motivation is three things: autonomy, mastery and a sense of purpose. In his book, Drive, Pink relies on current research to show what motivates adults in the workplace, but I think we can look at his work and apply that to learning and education. After all, Dr. Montessori did that over 100 years ago by carefully observing the children in her care.
She found that they have an overwhelming desire to learn new things and that the only detriment to their progress was a lack of helpful materials. She remedied this by providing self-correcting materials that taught the children – without having to have an adult intervene. Once they mastered the concept, they were free to use these materials in a different way. They were encouraged to be creative with the materials and discover new things. Could you build a pink tower upside down – starting with the smallest block on the bottom? Why not?
It’s my professional opinion that the Lego® WeDo software provides the same sort of scaffolding. They provide lots of mini-lessons on how the software works, as well as instructional builds for those kids who want to make something “real” – at least in the beginning. I have found that once they know how to use the software, all of my students are itching to make their own robots. And, quite frankly, 99% of them want to do this at the very beginning!
And, so I try and accommodate their natural desire to learn. I give them choices – and try to adapt so that each child feels comfortable with their learning path. I feel technological advances – online courses and affordable entry materials – can offer the same paths to autonomy, mastery and a sense of purpose. Scratch, created by MIT, has always encouraged teachers and students to use it in a creative way. The designers purposely created a “teaching” curriculum that was open-ended. I have tried to honor this vision of creativity by creating online videos that teach scaffolding skills, but suggest problems to be solved – in a creative way.
I am not endorsed by the Lego® Corporation, nor do I believe this is the only way kids can (or should) learn. Nonetheless, I value the creative problem-solving that comes as result of these learning tools. And, that’s a transferable skill that I can endorse.