Tools for Learning to Learn

7. January 2016 10:26 by Steve Leigh in Technology News  //  Tags: , , , ,   //   Comments (0)

It's a lot easier to teach kids if learning is fun; these tools and toys are helping kids learn math and programming.

1 + 1 = Fun

Math and LEGOs are two things you might not expect to find together in the average classroom. One is an area of study that many people find intimidating; the other, a beloved children's toy. This 3rd grade teacher found a fruitful way of bringing the two together in her classroom.

LEGOs and fractions
Image via Scholastic.

Alycia Zimmerman admits that she wasn't fond of LEGOs as a child. The blocks' rigid design never appealed to her. Her opinion of LEGOs changed, however, when she discovered how effective they could be in teaching mathematical concepts to her students. "As a third grade teacher, I've spent hours and hours drawing arrays, modeling how to skip-count with arrays, deconstructing arrays, and building arrays with a myriad of tiny things," Zimmerman says. "Having a collection of LEGO pieces on hand during multiplication lessons is so useful. I whip a few out to reinforce the area model, to demonstrate square numbers, and to remind my students about the commutative property of multiplication."

Preschool Programmers

There's no disputing that computer code has become the most important language of the Digital Age. The question is when students should learn to code. If you ask the folks at Fisher-Price, the answer is, right away. Students could get started with coding as soon as preschool.

Code-a-Pillar
Image via Gizmodo.

At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, the renowned toy maker debuted the Code-a-Pillar. This adorable little app-assisted device was designed to teach young children the fundamentals of coding. Although the full specs won't be revealed until the 2016 Toy Fair in February, Fisher-Price promises that the device will help develop students' thinking and problem-solving skills, and get them started in some fundamentals of sequencing.

Familiar Lessons

This being an election year, the successes and shortcomings of current educational techniques are likely to be mentioned often. What should never be forgotten is the students' eagerness to learn. The tools of study evolve, but the goal of passing on information remains ever the same.

Building your own LEGO Land

For more than sixty years, LEGOs have allowed children all over the world to create worlds of their own. Although most sets come with a predetermined set of specs to follow, much of the fun lies in veering away from those designs. You might start out making a fire station and wind up constructing a small fortress. Or you might begin with a mansion and then add on propellers. The appeal of LEGOs has always been that the possibilities are endless. What begins as a simple pile of bricks can easily turn into a complex work of art. Wouldn't it be great if you could create life-size things with LEGOs? It used to be a dream, but now it's one step closer to becoming reality. The following stories are about how professionals use LEGOs and 3D printing to create real-world designs.

Building a City

Many factors have to be considered in urban planning: location, population, environmental concerns, potential growth. In addition to those factors, planners must consider the design area. Architects want their buildings to be aesthetically pleasing in addition to being functional. The difficulty lies in getting a clear idea of the visuals from a static set of blueprints. That's where LEGO comes in.

lego city
Image via City Lab

At the world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a new public display allows Boston residents to shape a city as they see fit. MIT's display features a 3D projection of the city laid out on an interactive board. Citizens then use LEGO pieces to shape an area of the city, to which the projection automatically adjusts itself. This allows Boston citizens to see very quickly how construction proposals would positively or negatively affect the city.

According to Chris Zegras, professor of Transportation and Urban Planning at MIT, the purpose of the project is to bridge the gap between city planners and the average citizen. "Our ultimate objective is this idea of co-creation," explains Zegras. "Having producers and consumers work intimately together in the production of a good creates a better good. We would like that to happen in how we produce 21st-century transit systems."

Happy Camper

When kids create LEGO automobiles, they're usually variations of the cars their parents drive or re-creations of vehicles from films and television shows they've watched. Whatever the design, both parents and kids wish they could build their own vehicle and take it for a test drive. At the recent Motorhome and Caravan Show in the United Kingdom, one such vehicle really was taken out on the road.

lego camper
Image via Guinness World Records

One of the highlights of the show was the display of life-sized caravan camper built from 215,158 LEGO pieces, setting a Guinness World Record for the largest caravan built with interlocking bricks. The camper was built over 12 weeks, and required more than a thousand man hours. As impressive as it is in design, what really sets the camper apart is that it's fully functional. It features a sink with running water, a working refrigerator, and even a bed, among other amenities. The camper will next be shown alongside its real-life counterpart at BRICK, a British LEGO fan event, in late October, before being displayed in London in early December.

Did you play with LEGOs as a kid? How about as an adult? Share your stories in the comments below!

Month List