Monday, April 6, 2009

Legos are Learning that K’NEX our Knowledge

Legos for learning? You bet! K’NEX for knowledge? You know it! I have always thought these fun little bricks and sticks had the capacity to be tools of knowledge. I set out in search of facts to support my theory and was not disappointed. A multitude of resources confirm the idea that we can and should use “toys” like Legos and K’NEX to teach and nurture our children’s imaginations and understanding of the world around them.

As I searched the web, I found universities from coast to coast boasting of their successful programs implemented with Legos and K’NEX. Oregon State University is investing their four-year pursuits with knowledge based in the functions of Legos. They are awarding degrees in all areas of the Engineering fields by laying a foundation in Lego construction both with traditional sets as well as with Mindstorm sets. Students attest to the great depth this offers to their understanding in their given fields of pursuit.


Across the country, students at MIT are brainstorming with Lego Mindstorms. The concepts learned through undergraduate programs at MIT are broadening horizons in hands-on education. Associate Professor of Research in Education Mitchel Resnick says, “Young children have always learned about the world through direct manipulation and exploration.” (1997) Golden common sense from higher education! We can certainly concur with that.


Universities and professionals the nation wide agree that the fundamentals of science and engineering begin with using Legos and K’NEX. These toyish tools of learning facilitate concepts such as: problem solving in the physical world, active learning, logical stimulation, imagination, spatial reasoning, balance, and for those younger kiddos; manipulation of an object, hand-eye coordination, and sensory development (best done with Duplos if the child still puts objects in their mouth).


So what now? Well, if you don’t have these handy “tools” around the house, you might start by investing in some. When we first began homeschooling, I ordered the K’NEX Education sets.
They come with instruction books on everything from simple machines to gears and levers. They currently run around $30 each at http://www.amazon.com/. They also make great birthday and holiday gifts! They have provided hours of endless exploration and educational opportunity for my children



Lego sells similar “Education” sets but they cost more. I personally recommend just investing in regular Lego sets. They come with directions and parts that will help children learn how to construct objects that bend and move or stand and balance. We have been collecting Legos of all kinds for many years and the ideas never seem to end!

You can also visit my article “Playing is Learning with Legos” for inspiration and information on activities for Lego and K’NEX based curricular development. Remember, the idea is for your child to gather the problem solving skills and logic that learning (playing) with Legos affords all on its own. Too much adult intervention and direction will stifle this learning process. It is best to stand back, observe, and only offer help when asked or when a child becomes frustrated. Only help until they ‘get the idea’ and then stand back again.

One last note on the educational benefits of Lego and K’NEX toys: directions. Reading and following directions is a critical skill that ALL people need to possess. Showing your child how to follow the directions that come with a building set will open a new door to a world of possibilities. It is almost magical to them to take that booklet and follow along as each little piece is put together to make something bigger, workable, and understandable. It is like a puzzle in 3-D… what wonder!

… Don’t forget, if you have a Visual/Spatial learner, especially one with ADD/ADHD, Dyslexia, or any Auditory Processing Disorder, hands-on activities are the best way to teach and learn!

Resources:
Moser, Jennifer. “OSU ENGINEERS LEARN BY "PLAYING" WITH LEGOS, ROBOTS”. 2005. OSU News and Communication Services. Oregon State University. <
http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ncs/newsarch/2005/May05/tekbots.htm>

LaCroix, Debbie. “Parenting tips: construction toys as learning tools”. 2002. eSSORTMENT-information and advice you want to know. <
http://www.essortment.com/family/parentingtipsc_sizw.htm>

“MIT develops new generation of learning tools for kids”. 1997. massachusetts institute of technology. November 20, 1997. <
http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/1997/lego.html>

Pinkus, Ari. “Engineering class uses toys as learning tools”. 2001. The Daily Collegian Online. Penn State. Thursday, Feb. 15, 2001. <>

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