Primary schools have been known to use Lego in the classroom for years and yet, coinciding with the introduction of a ‘tougher’ national curriculum for Maths, the household brand name has just claimed its first official customer of their Lego Education product ‘MoreToMaths’.
The product specifically developed to help teach maths to key stage 1 (which includes ready-made lesson plans, software, teaching guides and of course a collection of those infamous building bricks) may sound like a dream come true for both student and teacher. However, after my initial excitement came some creeping cynicism sparking the questions: do toys really have an appropriate place in the maths classroom? Can an informal, playtime-style teaching approach benefit pupils or will it only encourage distraction?
I can still remember the overwhelming, childish, giddiness I used to feel when my Primary School teachers would place an intriguing object in the centre of our tables; the subject for the lesson. Be it some poster paints, animal figurines or even just a tub of salt. I remember thinking these lessons were the most interesting at school, but now I wonder, from an adult perspective, if this approach is subject sensitive. For instance, we can learn a lot as a child about science in the physical world by actually engaging with it – holding a weight in our hands or dissolving salt into water – but how productive can kinetic learning be with subjects predominantly tackled on paper or screen in the real world, for instance, using maths for calculations in an accounting job.
At hearing the price of one ‘MoreToMaths’ kit for a class of 30, £750, I do wonder whether Lego are genuinely producing this product for the good of today’s young minds, or whether they are actually just gunning for world domination. They aren’t satisfied with being a hazardous obstacle course for all parents at home; they now want to invade classrooms as well. Pupils have been learning maths without it for years, so does it really add any value or is it just a commercial fad? In The Guardian, some teachers have voiced their concerns that the time spent building with the blocks, and tidying them up, could take away from valuable time which could be spent learning.
However, there are benefits to making learning fun. Physically engaging with a topic is a great way for some people to learn; it gets children away from the ever encroaching computer screens and the familiarity of textbooks. It mixes up the classroom dynamic so that not every day is the same, and it’s great to see children really enjoying subjects at school.
Experiential learning can offer children the chance to link their learning with things they do at home by interacting with the world around them. This type of teaching which brings familiar items into the classroom is often incredibly beneficial and encourages a peer-to-peer approach, engaging pupils and allowing them to share ideas around a common and well-known subject. This approach can also be more accessible for children with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities who may struggle with pencil and paper. The approach is already used, to some extent, in the early years foundation stage (EYFS), where play and learning go hand-in-hand.
The students at Burchfield school certainly seem to love this new addition to their maths lessons. Also, Lego Education already have existing products in the fields of literacy, science and computing, so they seem to be a trustworthy company in terms of the education sector.
There are two sides to this debate. Will Lego’s strategy build a bright future for the classroom or will it end more like a game of Jenga? Is their new product an innovative essential in teaching the new maths curriculum, or are the exercises something that pupils could do at home with their parents?