Mindstorms – Developing engaging learning experiences, powerful ideas, and play in schools

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I have long been a fan of Seymour Papert’s Constructionist Learning Theory, which states that we construct knowledge most effectively when we are consciously building something – whether practical or theoretical. As education has developed, computers, robotics and STEM activities have proven to provide ideal platforms to enable children to construct elements of the world around them.

Papert’s seminal work, Mindstorms – Children, Computers and Powerful ideas, strongly advocated that children need to be creators and that this is best facilitated through playful exploration. Papert believed that children can take control of their own learning by using the materials around them and fostering their independence and curiosity. Without learners being in control, students will be relying heavily on answers from textbooks and/or teachers and, consequently, they would not be developing key skills such as problem solving, developing independence, or building on their prior knowledge.

Papert’s vision went on to influence countless educators, embed itself in classrooms around the world, and launch a range of large scale global initiatives. A little known associated fact is that the LEGO® Mindstorms robotics kit we see in many Schools today, actually took its name and many of its concepts from Papert’s work. Inline with Papert’s vision, they allow for a range of learning activities which allow children to give their many learning concepts real and authentic meaning.

Much research has been done on learning with computers, and robots are becoming increasingly popular in many countries around the globe. Supported by a broad range of recent research, the LEGO® Education teaching and learning approach builds on several guiding principles about what makes teaching productive and learning effective:

  1. Learning happens most effectively when learners are motivated to engage with the learning.
  2. Learners should be given opportunities and resources for hands-on exploration and first-hand experiences with the learning content.
  3. Learning becomes deeper when learners are facilitated to engage in reflection concerned with the explorations and experiences they have had.
  4. Learners continue their learning trajectory when they feel they have mastered and own the learned knowledge and skills.
  5. Learners learn more when they are involved in a playful approach to learning.
  6. Learning is enhanced through collaborative experiences.
  7. Learning and creativity are linked strongly to each other – especially when learning is looked at from a future perspective.

These attributes are clearly evident when using LEGO® Mindstorms in the classroom and each stage of learning develops a complete range of skills via engaging and enjoyable activities.

At Windlesham, we introduced Robotics (LEGO® Mindstorms EV3) as an extra-curricular activity for our students and immediately found that they were learning and developing all of the mentioned skills, also provided the opportunity to do something they were passionate about, and starting to talk about careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Exactly in line with the vision set out in Papert’s Mindstorms, the children took control of their own learning and via the playful nature of the learning, were able to construct meaning of the different concepts.

As the Robotics Club became more popular, we decided to take the experience to the next level and joined the First Lego League, an international competition which challenges children to think like Scientists and Engineers and complete a range of STEM Activities. As part of the competition, the teams are required to compete in the following areas:


  1. Research Project: Each season, FLL chooses a theme, such as Food Safety or Natural Disasters. The teams must identity a problem, a community affected by a problem, and develop a solution by researching and consulting with experts. The results must be shared in a presentation before a panel of judges.
  2. Core Values:  The FLL prides itself on its Core Values. The group must learn to work smoothly as a team, solve problems with a gracious and professional attitude, and demonstrate good sportsmanship and a passion for discovery. Teams are assessed by a presentation on how they have worked and grown together.
  3. The Robot Game: The only purely objective aspect of FLL competitions, teams work through the season to program and operate their robot to tackle a number of obstacles on the official season field. At competition, this robot is then set loose to conquer as many obstacles as possible in a time period of two minutes and thirty seconds. A minimum ranking is required in the Robot Game in order for teams to qualify for advancement.
  4. Programming and Robot Design: In a judging area separate from the Robot Game, team members must be able to demonstrate their robot’s function and speak clearly and intelligently about their program development before adult professionals.

Participation in the event was a hugely enriching experience for our students and the different categories enabled those involved to develop a wide array of skills and learner attributes. We were absolutely thrilled to win the Core Values category and it has been fascinating the see the popularity of the activity increase.

Given the success of these initiatives, the next logical step has been to develop opportunities to integrate similar learning experiences into our curriculum.  This has been facilitated across a number of year groups and subject areas using LEGO® Mindstorms EV3 and We Do 2.0. These activities are helping to develop critical thinking, students’ creativity and mastery of curriculum objectives across a range of subject areas.

There has been lots of genuine excitement and enthusiasm from the students when using the LEGO® kits and they have approached the devices with a great deal of confidence and a desire to play with the learning. Furthermore, developing the ability to think outside of the box, something LEGO® encourages, is vitality important as children in schools now will grow up to have jobs that do not currently exist.

In today’s educational landscape, we are surrounded by new technologies, which all offer the promise of developing our students’ knowledge and understanding. Many of them do exactly that and add value to the many learning experiences which occur everyday. However, when it comes to allowing children to be the ultimate creators who are engaged in the playful process of learning, LEGO® ticks all of the boxes and Papert’s legacy is allowed to live on.



Further Reading

Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas – Seymour Papert

Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer – Seymour Papert

Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom – Sylvia Libow Martinez

Why LEGO Education® approach to teaching and learning works – Research based argumentation, aggregated by LEGO® Education Competence Center, 2014

By Christopher Roche - Head of ICT|2018-04-27T13:54:54+00:00April 27th, 2018|Design & Technology, ICT|0 Comments

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