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November 10, 2004
Lego in the middle of the intersecting circles

I think a lot of the success of Lego is that when you read a report like this you don't only think: blatant marketing.

SINGAPORE : Southeast Asia's first Lego education centre opened in Singapore on Thursday.

It features not only a galore of Lego blocks to teach basic physical science to pre-schoolers, but also a Mindstorms programme which allows students to build robots - using the principles of mechanics.

The centre will cater to students from pre-school to teens and has tied up with local education provider Crestar to offer seven different curriculums ranging from design to physics.

So far, an estimated 800 students have signed up for classes which begin next month.

Four more centres are expected to be launched by 2007. CAN

It is blatant marketing. Get them young, build brand loyalty, get them addicted. Yet despite all the obvious commercial calculation, this is not like getting kids addicted to potato crisps or hamburgers or rap music videos. Here, you feel, is a case where commerce and education, as claimed, really do go hand in hand. They really might be teaching some real design and some real physics here.

CirclesS.gifAs I ruminate upon education, I find myself attracted by a topographical model of education involving intersecting circles, like those diagrams they use to explain how the different colours come together to make TV work. There are three circles. These denote: the interests of the child, the interests of the child's parents, the interests of the child's teachers. When a proposed item of education occupies none of the circles, no worries, it just doesn't happen. When it occupies only one of the circles, there is conflict. When it occupies two, the third party tends to get bullied into line. The child has to do it, the parents have to put up with it, or a teacher is found who will provide it. Best is when all three areas overlap.

This Lego thing has the feel of being in all three circles. Your first reaction might be: this is only in a completely irrelevent fourth circle occupied by those dubious individuals who hover on the outside of education looking to further their own interests but to make nothing but trouble for children, parents and teachers. Junk food salesmen, sex fiends, etc. But here is a hoverer who has parachuted himself right into the middle of the intersecting circles.

Which of course makes it very clever marketing.


I found this Lego picture here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:20 PM
Category: Education theoryThe private sector

Why isn't there one in Britain, I want one! I WANT ONE!

(From Natalie's son.)

Comment by: Natalie Solent on November 10, 2004 08:44 PM

That picture features a toddler in a clean, tidy room with unbroken fragile objects. I therefore conclude it is either fake, or was taken less than ten seconds after the toddler entered the room

Comment by: Alan Little on November 11, 2004 11:25 AM


That was kind of my point, actually. The picture reeks, as you say, of parental approval, not to say parental faking and staging. Lego is obviously something they very much WANT him ("Steff") to do.

Comment by: Brian Micklethwait on November 11, 2004 11:43 AM

Thinking over the intersecting circles of education made me wonder where the top down instructional model, mandated curriculum fit in. With so much emphasis on test scores many districts including my own have taken the top down approach. Everyone will use the same curriculum, the same way at the same time of the day. With the circles in mind, I have always bucked the top down approach to the point of ignoring curriculum guides in favor merging the curriculum and the needs and interests of my students in my own way, creating my own curriculum. This would be virtually impossible for me to do today, but for the fact that I have left elementary school for a junior high where I teach elective classes in computer applications, video editing and photography. Since there are no real standards yet, there are no curriculum guides, so I'm free to create my own. In view of the circles, the top down instructional model could represent a fourth circle that intersects none of the others. In my view a complete disaster.

Comment by: Gary Janosz on November 11, 2004 08:37 PM

The kid in the picture looks about two - or at any rate, a bit older than mine. Mine is just coming up to eighteen months, and the kind of lego in the picture is still too difficult for him. He enjoys emptying it out of its bucket - loudly - but then can't get the bits together, so he gets frustrated and throws them around. There is, though, an even simpler sort with just one big attachment bobble per brick - he's just learned to work those in the last couple of weeks, and he loves them. Doesn't need any encouragement from me.

General education observation from all this: toddlers hate feeling so bloody *helpless* compared to the adults around them. Mine loved it when he learned to do things like switching on lights, pressing buttons on the tv remote, sticking a fork into his own dinner (works about one attempt in six) (sneaking up on dad's laptop and pressing delete when dad is try to read his email) - because he can see himself finally being able to have an effect on the world. Getting two lego bricks to stick together comes under the same heading.

Now, does the way we teach kids in school help them to feel like they are "having an effect on the world" ... ???

Comment by: Alan Little on November 12, 2004 08:34 AM
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