Building Meaning With LEGO’s

ENGIN 21 09 18 #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

 Using LEGO’s™* to discover hidden ‘micro moments’.*

One of the biggest challenges a teacher can face remains student apathy. One apathetic student out of 20 might not seem like much, until you realize that apathy is contagious and can destroy good group dynamics.  Indifference and a lack of emotional connection to a subject are the two key symptoms of student apathy. A very good read on the subject comes from Charles A. Tita PhD at this link.   Tita points to the (still) current achievement testing mania in the United States as a root cause of this apathy.  Here in Mexico, which does not have large scale performance testing, but does have a centralized and scripted educational system thanks to the Secretaria de Educacion Publica, apathy among students appears also t be on the rise here, too.  I base this information on interviews and discussions with teachers from all levels of Mexican education.  The aforementioned scripted and prescribed educational system, combined with an entire generation´s addiction to smart devices have, in my opinion, led to an acceleration in student apathy.  Indeed, it all appears to be very bad.  Students I have now seem incapable of doing what used to be simple tasks for students just three or four years ago.  My cat has a longer attention span than my students do, and I have had students physically resist me taking their smartphones).  These things aren’t just happening to me, they are occurring in all the classrooms and, my colleagues indicate the behavior seems to worsening.

After some reflection and research, I decided to see if there was a way to get students to open up about what might be a source of their apathy.  I was looking for the answer to the question: “What moment or moments do you feel were the best in your experience at this school so far?” It was hoped that by focusing on more positive aspects of their educational career so far, insights might be gained that would prove useful in dealing with the issue.  I chose to use LEGO’s™ and the techniques gleaned from learning about LEGO Serious Play™.*  I needed students to be relaxed enough with what they were doing to get what I felt were objective answers.  Rather than a direct approach to the issue at hand that might seem negative, I chose an indirect approach that emphasized positive feelings.  The LEGO workshop I designed was conducted in four advanced level English classes at the Universidad Panamericana in Guadalajara Mexico.  The following description comes from two classes at the Advanced 1 level.

Students were divided into two groups and given a box of LEGO’s to work with. Students were told they were about to build things with LEGO’s and that since LEGO’s don’t come in perfect or personalized shapes, students would have to agree that a students object was personal and important and details were not to be questioned. The workshop then began with a short introductory build or construction project which included the following prompt:  If you could be any animal what would it be, and why?  Students were told to build their animal using only six bricks, but also to think about why they chose that animal.  Each group was monitored and encouraged to use their imagination.  At the end of the assigned build time, 5-7 minutes, students presented their animals and why the were chosen.  “I don’t know why I chose this animal” was considered an acceptable (though not very helpful) answer.  Other answers dealt with childhood memories or long-time fascination for the animal.  The follow-up question was designed to get students to think more about the target  question concept.

After students reported to each other they were asked to imagine that animal’s perfect day. Students were given the task of imagining for two minutes before reaching for more LEGOS  Even though students were dealing with their animal avatars, anthropomorphic ideals slipped in, ideals such as being well-fed, companionship, and family all came to the fore in student reporting.  The follow up question with a bit more imagination time added was, “What do you imagine your perfect day to be?”. Students were allowed to use unlimited bricks for their descriptions.  Reporting times increased as students spoke with a bit more detail and answered classmates instructions.  Students were prompted to answer whether or not their ideal day or time might be considered the best moment they could imagine.  The reason for this was to prepare the student for the final question which was to describe their perfect or best moment within their career at Universidad Panamericana.  Students were given the same amount of time to ‘ imagineer’  their thoughts, though many only took a few moments to reflect. The results were fascinating.

The majority of students in (let’s call it Class A) had moments they considered to be their finest and made very detailed brick models to illustrate their stories.  The other students also had moments they thought were good, though in many cases weren’t up to the ‘best moment’ designation, at least not yet.  Those who had yet to have what they would consider a best moment mostly added to their previous models and explained what they hoped their best moment might be.

In Class B, the majority of the students didn’t have a best or proudest moment from their time of study.  The reasons boiled down to being either disappointed with their classes and/or career up to this point, or that they were still in their first or second semesters, and lacked experience.  The elaboration of their models which lacked detail or complexity may be correlated to their mediocre experiences.

Now, the English classes at my university are only two hours long, and in comparison to many LEGO Serious Play™ workshops that seem to go for hours if not for a whole day, we had to skip a few steps to get where we were going.  Yes, the purists and the really (too) expensive business consultancy companies who run LEGO™ workshops would probably poo-poo my method, though, I can say the results led to a much larger area of exploration.  Anyway, back to the workshop.

So it broke down that:  More complex models generally revealed a greater experience.  Less complex, or those that lacked any detail reflected a lesser experience to this point in the student’s careers.  Similarly, with less to talk about, those with mediocre experiences expressed themselves for less time than those with better experiences.  A muted response in other words.  Those with good or even great experiences  were ebullient and sought to explain to others in rich detail what made their experiences so rewarding.  It turns out that the things the students find to be their best or perfect moments don’t come at the end of their studies or courses, they come at times after they have accomplished something difficult, such as studying hard and finally passing a test, or building something that has taken a long time and now works perfectly.  They are moments when they see their hard work or effort pay off. Those moments, I would call micro moments. Now, marketing people have already taken that phrase and it has different meaning depending on the moment being ‘exploited’.

Micromoments:  This is a term that comes from marketing…see this link

Consumer behavior has changed forever. Today’s battle for hearts, minds, and dollars is won (or lost) in micro-moments—intent-driven moments of decision-making and preference-shaping that occur throughout the entire consumer journey. 

Since the original concept for the workshop was to get to the roots of student apathy, one cause might be a lack of micro moments, those times when students feel they have accomplished something, or that they can apply in a ‘real’ way what they have learned.  Our consumers, those studying English, especially those students who are required to take the course, are lacking those moments.  How can we, as teachers of English create those micro moments that will encourage students to see the use of  English as a lifetime proposition rather than a finite objective?  The next time I use the bricks for a workshop, I think that will be concept we will look for and maybe discover.

*™There is an entire cottage industry run principally by business training groups that specializes in using LEGO’s™ for a thing they and LEGO call “Serious Play”™  More on that cottage industry in a moment. I should also mention that like almost everything that LEGO does, there is a trademark and LEGO and LEGO Serious Play are both trademarks of LEGO and other interested parties.

Leave a Reply