Only nerds actually like school, of course, but spending a portion of your class time working with Lego blocks has an appeal to it that even kids who don’t always grasp the beauty of education can understand. That’s part of the idea behind Lego Education, and its StoryStarter program. The program, developed in conjunction with teachers, is an interactive tool for kids in grades two to five, designed to help with language and literacy by boosting students’ storytelling confidence. Lego recently announced a new iOS version of its StoryVisualizer software.
While it makes a certain amount of sense to use Lego blocks to teach students about, say, engineering or other disciplines that more closely resemble the act of building tangible structure, the idea that language arts and storytelling skills can be taught with Lego is a bit less intuitive. But based on what the company has learned from the students who’ve been through the program, it’s clear that there’s something to this approach.
Leshia Hoot, segment manager for Lego Education’s preschool and elementary divisions, has observed the way that Legos have given students who struggle with abstract concepts like storytelling tools to work with. “One elementary student reflected that building helped the stories become real,” she says. “For this student, a physical artifact prompted the creative process, and helped the storyline and character development flow.”
What that looks like with the Lego Education StoryStarter Curriculum is 1,144 Lego blocks–characters, animals, bricks, accessories, and a spinner that helps provide guidance, at random, to students as they create a scene with the bricks. Here’s what students who’ve used the program have learned about storytelling.
“It’s okay to use aids to help that spark happen,” Hoot says–and indeed, much of what StoryStarter does is just a fancier way of creating a writing prompt. Giving the students a hands-on way of building that prompt, meanwhile, engages even kids for whom storytelling doesn’t come naturally, and requires them to invest in the process even before they start writing.
Even grown professionals with a tendency toward procrastination understand this part of the process: a blank screen is harder to work with than one that already has some words on it, and getting past that is a challenge even seasoned writers face. And kids can relate.
“Sometimes you just have to get started,” Hoot explains. “Often the first sentence is the most difficult. A third grader told us that he learned from his teacher to just start–get those first words on paper or on screen, leave the starting gate, and see what happens. Time after time, we’ve seen students come up with the most courageous, insightful, and funny stories.”
In the professional world, if you create something that people don’t like, all you have to face is the mockery of your peers on Twitter. Kids, though, face a lunchroom and a schoolyard process that offers direct and immediate feedback–the Ur-Twitter, if you will.
Hoot found that the StoryStarter curriculum helps students overcome their shyness. “One second grade student, who’s on the autism spectrum, had brilliant ideas–but he really struggled to communicate anything to his classmates or his peers,” she recalls. “Building his story with StoryStarter seemed to give him a new language to express his thoughts. The bricks became the tool to unlock his ability to communicate.”
Hoot says that the student’s teacher told her that the positive reinforcement from his stories helped open him up to the classroom more broadly–“He went from very little or no communication, to sharing regularly with the class,” she says–which is a benefit to storytelling even when Legos aren’t involved. When people discover their own creativity, it becomes a lot easier to want to share it.