Can LEGO® be the building blocks of a better education?

Three pupils, one alligator. Charlie Manning, Isabelle Whatling and Grace Beckett at Claydon Primary

Three pupils, one alligator. Charlie Manning, Isabelle Whatling and Grace Beckett at Claydon Primary School with the fully-functioning 'Jerry' they built and coded Picture: STEVEN RUSSELL - Credit: Archant

How can you help your local school triumph in our £10,000 LEGO® Education competition? All the details are here

Lots of teamwork. Lots of endeavour. And it works Picture: STEVEN RUSSELL

Lots of teamwork. Lots of endeavour. And it works Picture: STEVEN RUSSELL - Credit: Archant

I’m back in a primary school 45 years since I last sat at a little desk and I’m as baffled as ever. Fortunately, the three Year Six pupils in front of me know exactly what they’re doing, so all I have to do is watch and try to look halfway competent.

When I was their age, the band Mud was top of the charts with Tiger Feet and a computer filled a whole room. Now all the popular tunes seem to involve Calvin Harris and the average mobile phone appears to pack enough computing power to switch off the sun.

How I wish I could start again, afresh. Classrooms look much more fun nowadays. But I’m only a temporary visitor to Claydon Primary School, outside Ipswich – here to witness LEGO® Education in action.

There’s a box of LEGO® pieces and Grace Beckett, Isabelle Whatling and Charlie Manning have their gameplan: they’re going to create Jerry the alligator (the name they’ve given him) and make his jaws chomp.

Meet Jerry! Picture: STEVEN RUSSELL

Meet Jerry! Picture: STEVEN RUSSELL - Credit: Archant

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The emphasis is on teamwork and problem-solving. Grace is today’s designated “instructor”. With her colleagues unable to see the screen, she opens up a LEGO® program on a laptop. It will guide the trio through the process of making Jerry, step by step.

Grace describes the components needed, Charlie (the “delivery person”) has to work out which pieces they are and supply them to Isabelle. As “the builder”, Isabelle has to figure out how it all fits together.

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The talk goes something like this: “I need four green circles and four flat, green pieces with eight circles on them… Turn the feet the other way… I need two longer red bits with holes in the side… Get the ‘red earrings’...”

There are a lot of box-tickable positives bubbling away here: collaborative working, questioning, problem-solving and the testing of theories. Imaginative use of language, too, to communicate.

Lots of teamwork. Lots of endeavour. And it works Picture: STEVEN RUSSELL

Lots of teamwork. Lots of endeavour. And it works Picture: STEVEN RUSSELL - Credit: Archant

Before long, Jerry is complete. A lead connects him to the laptop and then the trio use a “drag and drop” LEGO® coding program to write a series of instructions to make his jaws open.

More skills being honed… including sequencing, patience and persistence, and logic; along with trying something, adapting and refining. All vital talents for life in general, as well as computing.

Once “Team Jerry” have organised some coding to make him open his mouth (and experimented to get the right munching sound-effects) they begin working out how they can now get the jaws to close.

Again, lots of questions being asked, lots of ideas advanced, and lots of discussions. “Can we change that timer thing now, because we’ve realised how to do it?” And then there’s the challenge of organising it all on a loop, so the pattern repeats. (Which they achieve.)

The LEGO® family is an established educational aide in the school. Younger children often use DUPLO building bricks, which develop fine motor skills (good for pencil control) and nurture imagination, because they can build all sorts of things.

The use of LEGO® for computing tends to happen in key stage two (“juniors”, in my language).

Teacher Lisa Marshall, who has lead responsibility for computing, says: “Where it starts to get creative is when they go ‘Now I know how to make a crocodile mouth move, can I use that in a different model?’ Or ‘Can I change the movement so it does something different? Do I have to change the motors? What code do I have to change?’”

Coding “teaches them about logic and loops, and sequencing things. They realise that computers do only what you tell them to do. A lot of it is about debugging and working out what the problems are”.

As well as the alligator, this particular LEGO® Education kit lets youngsters make little birds, a set of legs that can kick a ball, an aeroplane that tilts, and more.

Pupils generally do a lot of on-screen coding work at school, using a program called Scratch, “but when you use the LEGO® it ‘brings it out’ of the computer and you’ve got a model (like Jerry), which makes it hands-on and practical.

And it’s such fun, because you’re making something that actually works and does something!”

The pupils agree. “It’s fun,” says Grace. “You learn how to solve problems. And it’s not too difficult – but it’s a challenge.”

Charlie says it’s good, and enjoyable, working as a team. And Isabelle’s verdict: “You can sit there for ages doing it. It’s really relaxing – not too stressful.”

Don’t miss out!

Following the success of our Sports Equipment and Books For Schools campaigns in 2018, a new partnership with CreativeHUT allows us to provide LEGO® Education resources to local schools.

Primary schools have the chance to share in £10,000-worth of LEGO® Education resources, courtesy of CreativeHUT, and enjoy discounts on workshops.

Schools simply need to register their interest and then encourage parents, guardians, grandparents etc to collect tokens from our newspapers.

EVERY school that collects a minimum of 1,000 tokens will receive £50-worth of LEGO® whilst the top three will win £1,000-worth each. (Prizes will be awarded according to pupil numbers versus tokens collected – i.e. 50 pupils collecting 6,000 tokens is the same as 100 pupils collecting 12,000 tokens.)

LEGO® Education provides the hands-on experiences students need to explore core “STEM” concepts and link them to everyday life scenarios in science, technology, engineering and maths. See for details.

Where do tokens appear?

Every day there will be tokens in the East Anglian Daily Times (two on Saturdays) and in the Ipswich Star. Watch out for bonus token days!

How schools register

Email with your school name, address, postcode, email, contact name, phone number and number of pupils. We will send you a token collection box, posters and leaflets to engage parents.

Start collecting

Tokens appear from today, with the final token on Friday, May 3, 2019. The three schools with the most tokens (based on number of pupils versus tokens collected) will win, meaning all schools have a chance.

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