Alternative Teaching Methods · Information Literacy · Training Courses

Lego for Library Teaching Workshop

‘That’s not learning, that’s playing…isn’t it?’

By Lucy Bearder (SLS Librarian)

Lego 1Photo by bdesham

When I told my husband I was off to Manchester to attend a ‘Lego for library teaching’ workshop, he laughed, my colleagues raised their eyebrows questioningly, but my favourite reaction was from my 5 year old who asked “Can I come.  I like Lego”.  It is our universal love of the colourful little plastic bricks that I hoped to utilize to make my library lessons more interactive, and if possible ‘fun’.

I’ve struggled over the years to deliver information literacy sessions that engage all students, especially students who have difficulties with their reading, learning and focus.  As an SEN librarian, I am keen to access any new teaching tools that will help my students enjoy their time in the library and retain the information I am teaching.

Thanks to Alan, who gave the team a great summary of a conference workshop he had attended in 2015, I had been introduced to a variety of ‘alternative’ library teaching aids.  These included model making & story cubes.  Although we all thought the exercises were lots of fun, it was difficult to build them practically into our information literacy and reader development programmes.  I was really hoping that Andrew Walsh’s full day Lego workshop would help me to turn ‘a nice idea’ into an effective and valuable teaching device.

There were ten attendees at the workshop in January and most were from an academic library background, many were librarians; some were working in literacy support, others in IT.  Regardless of our working environment, we were all hoping to gather tips for greater creativity and fun in our information literacy sessions.  We certainly had fun unpacking our Serious Play Lego sets and attempting to create models that made our fellow attendees gasp in admiration. Everyone was very kind and supportive, their expressions never veering from a look that said ‘well done for trying your best’.

The first exercise was to create a duck using 6 Lego pieces in one minute.

Lego Ducks

Although everyone used the same 6 blocks, no two ducks were identical. This simple and literal exercise was a perfect ice breaker, and one that I intend to use at the start of creative writing sessions to highlight that we all interpret things differently to others.  We see, feel and react to our experiences and challenges in our own unique way which shows we all have a different story to tell and write.  Such an exercise could also be used to highlight the importance of research skills, particularly how keyword selection can have a massive impact on the quality and quantity of information during project work; that each of us will interpret the challenge of a project in a different way.

We were able to use anything from our Lego set for the second exercise.  The only restriction was that we had to create an animal.  We were given 3 minutes to complete this fun task.  I decided to build a ‘rather glamorous’ horse.

Lego 2

To make our model making more challenging, Andrew then asked us to add a few items to our animal to introduce a metaphorical layer to our creations and this is the point that I started to struggle.  By nature, I take things literally, and while I perfectly understand metaphorical meaning, I do not have innate narrative skills.  Consequently, I felt my ‘pitch’ for my creations were a bit dull and as my primary aim for attending the workshop was to discover a way to encourage reluctant or struggling students, I question whether many of my students would experience the same difficulties that I did.  I recognise that autistic students may have difficulty with metaphorical activities.

A few more exercises followed that required metaphorical models, for example, build your ideal boss and build a model that represents the challenges you will face when introducing Lego into info lit sessions.

Lego 4Lego 3

The group then spent a great deal of time discussing the background of Lego Serious Play with reference to the theories of Constructivism Learning and Embodied Cognition. Constructivism Learning Theory is based on the theory that we learn by using what you already know and building on your current knowledge and Embodied Cognition suggests that we think with our entire body, not just our head.  Our body influences our thoughts and this means that the opportunity to play makes people feel more comfortable and therefore more creative and experimental.

We then discussed the 4 core steps of Lego Serious Play;

  1. Ask a question
  2. Ask group to build a model based on the question
  3. Ask group to tell a story about their individual models
  4. Ask group to build a model representing the solution to the problem

During the afternoon, the attendees shared some exciting app based initiatives e.g. Ipad & Coffee, 12 apps of Christmas, Elf yourself.  This information was really interesting and has given me lots to discuss with my colleagues.   We also had a discussion about using alternative teaching aids for SEN students.  I suggested that play dough would be an ideal material for kids with sensory issues and a fellow attendee highlighted that essential oils could be added to modelling clay.  I think this is a fantastic idea as my primary SEN school uses scent to create a calm learning environment.  I would like to do more research into the use of scent in schools, not just for SEN but also mainstream children.

Towards the end of the workshop, Andrew gave us a basic example of an info lit lesson which asked the students to build models to represent the following;

  1. Their assignment experience.
  2. What they would like to do next time.
  3. An ideal way of approaching the assignment.

I can definitely see the value of this session for small groups of about 6 students.  As many class sizes are over 20, this would mean that 4 sessions for each class would need to be scheduled at the end of a research project.  I anticipate this may be difficult for schools to squeeze into their timetables.

Other useful tips and session suggestions were as follows;

  • Emphasise to the students that ‘whatever you say it is, it is’. It doesn’t matter if the model in no way resembles what it is meant to.
  • Give a small time limit for the activities.
  • Advise people not to ‘overthink’.
  • The ‘duck’ exercise is a good way of getting students to think about searching. Everyone can start with the same but get a very different result.
  • Getting students involved in evaluating library space by setting the task of building a model of their ideal library, a model to represent how they currently use the space, a model to show what they would like to see changed. This is useful if a library is due to a revamp or rebuild.
  • Writing on Lego bricks to illustrate the idea of building up a search and the importance of extracting keywords from an assignment title. An alternative, but similar suggestion was to use ‘mod’ stickers by Brick Stick.
  • Another keyword exercise uses Scrabble tiles to make keywords. Further keywords with similar meaning could then be made.
  • Sticklebricks, collage using magazines, story cubes and creativity pages were all mentioned.
  • Asking the students to evaluate teaching with models to represent what they will take away from the session. Andrew felt this was an ideal way to finish a creative session.

Lego 5

In conclusion, I really enjoyed Andrews’s workshop but was disappointed that I didn’t gain a few ‘tried & tested’ step by step lesson plans.  However, writing this blog has made me realise that I have come away with more then I initially realised.  I am very fortunate to work with a great team of librarians, teachers and kids who are all happy to try alternative teaching and learning practices.  Perhaps the best course of action is just to go for it.   Lego has such great appeal that at the very least, the students would have a fun hour.  If they associate the word ‘fun’ with the library, I am a happy librarian.

Note – Serious Play packs as well as ‘pick a brick’ items are available to buy at The Lego Shop online.




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