Building Lego Walls

This is another great guest post by Cathy Iverson – our amazing library tech.  She wrote this for other library techs who wanted information on how to build a Lego Wall

The name ‘LEGO’ is an abbreviation of the two Danish words “leg godt”, meaning “play well”.  Lego has been around since 1932 and has inspired several generations to create, build and has also been used in the classroom for years as a tool for teaching math and science and can be especially useful in grades grades 1, 3 and 5 here in Ontario where, Structures and Mechanisms are such a big part of the science curriculum. It is also a great opportunity for educators to make this a part of their differentiated classroom.

At its most basic level, differentiating instruction means “shaking up”what goes on in the classroom so that students have multiple options for taking in information, making sense of ideas, and expressing what they learn. In other words, a differentiated classroom provides different avenues to acquiring content, to processing or making sense of ideas, and to developing products so that each student can learn effectively. Carol Ann Tomlinson, How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms, 2nd ed. (2001), p. 1

The idea of Lego walls and Lego tables was first introduced to the Library Techs in our Board a few years ago by Donna Presz, former Supervisor of Library Services. I remember reading the emails thinking, Lego what?? The point Donna was trying to make was that it was time to think outside the box.

The new Learning Commons model was causing a ripple effect across North America. A shift in thinking required some creativity to make our spaces viable again and realign us with 21st century Learning. With this shift came smarter technology as we saw the introduction of SmartBoards, eResources, Netbooks, Chomebooks Ipads, Wifi, flexible furniture, brightly coloured walls and of course, empty Computer Labs. Many of us were inspired to do some interesting things with that empty space but none inspired me as much as the idea of the Maker Space and building a brightly coloured Lego Wall.

The Lego wall, being a fixed station in our Maker Space here at St-Anthony, can be used at any time and is often a collaborative activity especially among the primary grades. The structure itself is made of recycled particleboard, which our very creative custodian salvaged from an old tech cart. We purchased some Lego plates and he carefully measured out the surface and then glued them to the wall using carpenter’s glue. After letting the glue dry overnight he then screwed the corners of each plate with very small screws. Another screw was added to the middle of each plate for extra support.

Buckets of Lego and Duplo blocks were salvaged from dusty basements, classrooms, math room, and a few were even purchased to complete the project. We now have a busy Lego Wall which, at any one time, can be home to a medieval castle, a vertical marble maze, a battleship or a simple greeting for guests.

 

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I am in no way an expert on Cognitive Development or a technological wiz but I do know that the students here at St-Anthony get very excited about their hands-on learning in the Maker Space. Whether we run a High Tech station (Designing a house using Minecraft to teach area and perimeter) to a Low Tech station (using Littlebits to build a hypnotizing wheel) to a No Tech station (Lego Wall), the students are using their imaginations, fine-motor skills, and creative energy.

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“Spatial thinking is useful in everyday life but also useful in science and math,” says Nora Newcombe, an expert in cognitive development. “It launches children on a good trajectory. But it can also be improved in adults; so, if someone gets interested in engineering, say, in late high school, they needn’t say, ‘I could never do that’. Instead, they can change course.”

Nora S. Newcombe, Ph.D., is a psychology professor at Temple University and principal investigator of theSpatial Intelligence and Learning Center (SILC), headquartered at Temple.

 

I have received many emails from other Library techs requesting information on how we built our Lego wall. If I can offer you one valuable piece of advice it is this; “don’t get caught up the the weeds”. It’s not how your Lego wall is built or what materials you use to build it that makes this a successful part of your Maker Space, FabLab, HackerSpace or whatever you choose to call it, it’s how you will use it. Be creative and let the students have as much input as possible. It’s not a book that is “For Reference Only”…it’s meant to be used.

Keys points on teacher collaboration between schools

 
I am a strong believer in teacher collaboration.  I truly believe that teacher inquiry is one of the best ways for teachers to receive effective PD.  Simply put – they are given control of their own learning, something we want our students to do.  Here are some of my thoughts on how to set up a system of teacher collaboration between schools.  This works especially well for small schools where there may only be one teacher per grade.
 
First, you need principals who truly believe in teacher empowerment.
 
The basic idea is to put teachers in charge of their own PD.  the feedback I received from teachers  is that this was the most effective PD  they received all year.  This is backed up by a number of articles in the Ontario Ministry of Education Capacity Building Series, Fullan and other authors.
 
The process has a number of key steps:
 
1.  Bonding is essential – the first time we did this we had several wine and cheese socials just to get teachers to know each other.  We did this after school and we invited our Superintendent to the first one – always a good idea..  I recommend that this be done before the end of September.   Food is the key so we try to do potlucks to keep expenses down.
 
2.  Patience is the key!  It can take up to a year before teacher groups really click and real inquiry happens.  The most important point for principals is to stick with it.
 
3.  Throw in a little PD each time teachers get together.  We started by explaining the whole process and what we were trying to achieve.  We moved on to explaining the inquiry process – the School Improvement Plan (SIP) is a perfect template for teacher inquiry.  We had to reteach this because many teachers struggled with writing inquiry questions and what monitoring looked like.
 
4.  Let teachers choose their own teams.  Generally, teachers form in grade-level groups, FSL teachers work together as do resource.  We do not determine the groupings and they can change over time.
 
5.  While we have an umbrella question (digital media), the teachers come up with their own inquiry.  This needs to be determined during the first pd session.  We usually split the staff so that only half the teachers are out at any time.
 
6.  Teachers are given one half day to use at their discretion.  They usually determine that date on the first day.  At the first PD day we set a final date when the inquiry needs to be done.  We try to use Board PD days if possible to cut down on using our PD budget.  During this day, groups can report on some aspect of their inquiry and use the extra time to plan a second inquiry.  Usually, we can get two inquiries during a school year.  This is usually a very busy day – some groups decide on completely new inquiries, some decide to advance and refine their first inquiry.
 
 
7.  Reporting is very important.  Principals develop a Google form or doc that must be completed before the first PD session is over.  We start by making this easy, the questions below are usually used.
 
I) What is your inquiry question (using proper format)
 
II) When and where does your group plan to meet and what is the purpose of the meeting (it is really great to have the ‘host’ principal visit with the team when they are at their school).  We then put all these dates on a special Google calendar that is shared with all staff.  We also put together a Google + Page so groups can share their material – this usually takes some time to catch on.
 
III)  How do they plan to monitor their students to extract some sort of data.
 
IV) We include space for observations and conclusions, but these sections can’t be filled out yet.
 
Really important – the principals review the reporting and comment where necessary.  The inquiry question for each group is then transferred to the SIP document.  Adding to the SIP continues all year.
 
The reporting gets much better over time, but this can take some time and some editing by the principal group.
 
Basically, that’s it.  This system works best for small schools where there may only be one teacher per grade.  The other essential ingredient is the principal who is responsible for keeping the process going throughout the year.