LEGO bricks, the colorful interlocking plastic blocks that have been a staple of many kids’ toy collections for more than 50 years, have long been associated with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education as they inspire children to build things.
But LEGO Education, the arm of the company that focuses on building solutions for schools, hopes to use the fun and imagination its bricks inspire in children to transform reading and writing with its StoryStarter product.
The StoryStarter LEGO set comes packaged with the StoryVisualizer software, which allows students to draft and create digital stories to go along with their hands-on learning experiences. There's also a package for teachers that offers curriculum guidance on integrating StoryStarter in the classroom.
Created for second through fifth graders, StoryStarter teaches children the basics of writing structured stories and makes the experience fun by allowing them to translate the stories into fun templates like a comic book or a medieval scroll.
StoryStarter, which was released over a year ago and has been built to meet Common Core Standards, represents the company’s first shift into the language arts arena of education, but it’s a move the company made based on strong feedback from educators.
Teachers were struggling with getting students to engage with paper-based books and traditional approaches to teaching reading and writing, says Leshia Hoot, senior segment manager for preschool and elementary at LEGO Education.
“A lot of the elementary educators involved in our research, they needed that game-changer for their writing activities,” she says.
With the national discussion about how boys, who tend to have higher energy levels than girls, can be better engaged in school, taking a hands-on approach to reading and writing could be a helpful step forward. By recreating or interpreting the stories they're reading with LEGO bricks, students can feel more invested in mastering reading and writing skills without event realizing it.
“It's actually true across genders that children, when they're building with their hands, are engaging different parts of their mind, so it often helps them relate better to material or focus better and retain that information more effectively,” Hoot says.
To coincide with Digital Learning Day on Feb. 5, the company is releasing the mobile app version of StoryVisualizer on iOS. An Android version will follow, and the company is evaluating developing a version for Chromebooks. PC and Mac versions of the software are currently available.