21 March, 2022 | Posted by Marguerita Magennis

FIRST® LEGO® League Discover Supporting STEAM Concepts and the Language of STEAM in Early Education

FIRST® LEGO® League Discover Supporting STEAM Concepts and the Language of STEAM in Early Education

For many people, the thought of STEM/STEAM is quite a daunting concept, talk of science, technology, engineering, and maths can be off-putting as those initial concepts have never fully been embedded for some of us. Therefore we find them somewhat difficult to relate to.  

Research shows that LEGO® products are perfect resources for supporting children who need a little more time to grasp certain concepts, not only because children see this as play and through play, there is less fear of failure (Isaacs); but also because children are provided with the opportunity to explore and experiment using LEGO®, to create new things, and solve problems independently while they recall prior experiences (Vygotsky), and explore new and exciting possibilities.

At Portobello Institute, we believe that LEGO® allows these concepts to be introduced in a fun and creative way, allowing children to learn through play.

At the same time, they experiment, explore and investigate their way through emerging concepts that help develop the skills of the future.  

LEGO® Builds on the Child’s Natural Curiosity

Introducing the concept of spatial awareness and raising the child's understanding of the language we engage with on a daily basis and the underpinning concepts behind that language.

LEGO® also helps children build vocabulary, and with the teacher's support, new and emerging concepts can be explored and extended. For example, concepts of size, bigger, smaller, heavy, and light; or concepts of colour Red, blue, green; Robotics introducing the concept of left, right, under, over, similar different, etc.  

Children learn from investigating, attaching wheels/cogs, and checking out movement and speed. They can study force and movement, and motion when engaging with LEGO®. There are numerous opportunities for children to explore, transport, amusement parks, or even airports and planes or trains and boats. Adding in a slope and experimenting to see which goes faster or slower, and why? This all opens up opportunities to introduce and develop new and valuable language and develop and support creativity and innovation in young children.   

Through this exploration, the child draws on previously stored memories and recalls this experience to reinforce it through their play with theLEGO® resources provided. The more the child retrieves a memory explores the experience, the stronger the concept becomes for them (Vygotsky). 

Encourages Children to Use Their Imagination

The adult's role in this is crucial. Children should be allowed to explore and investigate without interruption or criticism.

Questions like "What are you building?" "Tell me more about your design" allow for discussion and collaborative extended learning to take place.

At the same time, the adult skillfully reinforces the emerging concepts with which the child has engaged. Tall towers – "why do you think that fell over" allowing the child to think, inferring and predicting different situations, and giving consideration to why a particular situation might occur.

Providing such activities allows for the children to examine the situation and to engage with possible resolutions before the actual incident occurs, for example asking a child "what do you think will happen next?" when they start to place a larger block on top of a tower of smaller ones, encouraging the child to stop, think about the size, shape, and weight of the block they are placing – enables them to not only predict the outcome if they continue, but to resolve the situation, and reach for a smaller block – therefore reinforcing the concept of size, weight, etc.. and reinforcing the emerging concepts of not only Math but also Science and Engineering.  

Engaging in these types of activities, using LEGO®, encourages the child not only to follow the directions and design on the box or picture provided but also to consider new and innovative designs of their own, strengthening their imaginations and encouraging them to become creative, exploring endless possibilities.  

Peer Interactions and Collaboration

Children working together, sharing ideas resolving problems in a supportive and collaborative way helps build social skills and encourages peer interactions, where children can share new ideas, come up with new creations, and explore avenues into which they might not venture alone.

This all works towards building confidence so that these young children learn new and innovative ways to play with LEGO®!   

Through observation, the practitioner will note roleplay. Children working together on a LEGO® activity take on many roles; we see the child who considers how well the structure being created is fitting in with the original picture provided (the designer, the engineer); or the child who sorts and gathers the relevant resources, so that everything runs to plan (the organiser or supplier); the child who carefully pieces the bricks together, placing great consideration into the planning and structuring of each individual part (the builder), while others explore and experiment with the different sizes, shapes, possibilities (and we see the scientist and mathematicians).   

And further, still, we see aspects of imagination and creativity are evident,  as the child becomes the pilot of that plane they have just created, or the train driver, fireman or sailor – and along with this exploration and engagement, comes the reinforcement of other concepts, and the language to support the learning taking place.   

Discussions about transport, holidays, places they have visited, and how they got there all emerge as children re-live experiences and make sense of how the ship doesn't sink, or why the plane can stay in the sky – thus LEGO® encourages children to create, explore and investigate early Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths, helping to develop their understanding and providing transferable skills.

Building Spatial Awareness

It is also important to remember that as children explore and experiment with LEGO® bricks, other areas of development are evolving.

For example, spatial awareness emerges as the child begins to imagine the finished product – similarly to the prediction and inference we discussed previously, these opportunities help children develop spatial awareness, as the child begins to imagine the finished object and eventually starts to plan and engage with three-dimensional objects.

When children become more aware of the size, space, objects, and possibilities, they will begin to expand on their creations and take greater risks with the resources, experimenting with the bricks to see what will happen if they try something new.

The confidence they have gained above and the concepts that have been reinforced allow for children to begin to think outside the box.

Spatial awareness is a skill often associated with science, technology, engineering, and maths; therefore, even at this early age, it is vital that children are provided with opportunities to help develop these critical skills further.  

LEGO® has been a resource in early education for as long as I remember, with children engaging and exploring different creations, but in recent years, the focus has become STEAM, and with FIRST LEGO® League Discover, we find resources that provide endless opportunities for children to engage with the underpinning concepts of STEAM.

The thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to explore this concept. It is fun, it is play, and it is designed to allow the children to create new and innovative designs, helping them to expand and explore new concepts relating to STEAM and develop the language to support this further.

When children enjoy the experience, they will venture further and try new things, and as a result, the emerging concepts will be reinforced.  

Read more: FIRST® LEGO® League Discover: Supporting the Language of STEAM in Early Education

About the Author

Marguerita Magennis Ph.D. MA. BA Hons, Course Coordinator Masters in Early Childhood Studies & Lead Lecturer BA Hons degree Early Childhood Studies at Portobello Institute. Read more on Dr M's Thought's blog here.

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