Does Lego Boost have a place in the classroom?
When I’m looking for a kit to recommend I have some strict criteria that it has to satisfy in order to be considered worthy of classroom use (in no particular order).
1) Is it easy to use straight out of the box?
2) Is it collaborative?
3) Is it gender balanced or age limited?
4) Does it foster creativity ? Beyond enabling a student follow instructions accurately…
5) Does it have longevity? (device agnostic)
6) Is it affordable?
7) Is it durable/classroom proof?
Looking at the list of criteria I am aware that I haven’t mentioned any curriculum mapping references, as a teacher working with the growing raft of technology, the skills I look to foster are of problem solving, resilience and communication. These are my three guiding practices.
For Lego devotees the pleasure has always been the build. Lego have introduced fantastic models with endless pieces of plastic which defy imagination or tap in to a particular brand, like Star Wars. Old favourites co-exist with the of the moment builds, keeping Lego fresh and relevant. Lego Boost is the latest offering from the engineering geniuses at Lego. For me it sits between Lego Dimensions and Lego Mindstorms. It is marketed for its coding capabilities and that’s my number one interest.
But, to be clear this is high quality fun.
Selflessly, in order to test out my classroom criteria, I enlisted the help of my 7 year old godson, AJ. My reasoning was I would see the sets true limitations and capture a sense of how it could work in the classroom. As this is a joint road test, I have included his opinions too.
Criteria 1: Easy to use? Out of the box-ability. 8/10
Download the app 10/10 LEGO® BOOST by LEGO System A/S
Multi touch and colourful, no disappointments here, but stages prior to preparing to build are required. You’ll need 6x AAA batteries from the outset. Once located it’s easy to assemble.
The packets of amazingly engineered colourful bits and blocks come in numbered bags 1-11, each matching a level of skill. As you progress through, the challenges ramp up.
Accessing the building instructions on the app is a matter of choosing the model you wish to build. AJ and I (…well mostly AJ) chose Vernie the rolling robot, by tapping on his image access the build instructions were revealed. Then the small matter of connecting the app to the motor took another few minutes and finally the firmware was installed. We were ready to build! This was the most stressful part of the build, I’ll return to this later …
Criteria 2 & 3 – is it collaborative, gender balanced or age limited? 8/10
The box states the recommended ages, but it does have applications beyond 12 years of age. It depends on the child’s experience with Lego too, AJ is a two handed Lego ninja so found the set compatible with his interests and skill level, he is only 7, the recommended age to start this kit. Gender wise it cleverly includes a robot pet, I personally can’t wait to dismantle Vernie to build the cat…
Is it collaborative? Well yes, the build experience can be a shared one. And no, the intricacies of the model lends itself to a one person build. In the classroom you could insist on taking turns but the level of focus required to ensure everything is assembled correctly is the reason for the high level of ownership & personal satisfaction felt once built.
Criteria 4 – Does it foster creativity? 9/10
Having unlocked each level through accurate building and practice, the build motivates the builder to continue to the next stage. There’s a perfect balance between building, coding and playing. Each numbered bag completed results in an inbuilt ‘treat’ – actually it’s a test that you’ve constructed the model properly – and how to apply the technology appropriately. My personal favourite was having only half constructed his body, Vernie spoke to ask for high- five and looked down with his captivating eyebrows and realising he had no hands asked the builder to continue to make them! Genius!
As far as collaborative features, the block coding is both simple and intuitive but multi layered. The initial block coding which is an intrinsic part of the build process, offers simplified instructions, although it becomes clear that these can be edited to deal with complexity during self discovery. For example, the programming of Vernie to play hockey…it comes with a mat which can be the start of a coding journey.
Criteria 5: Does it have longevity? 10/10
Most Lego is timeless and this is one such set…AJ and I would have happily continued to ‘play and code’ Vernie all day. In fact the four hours we worked together flew past. In the classroom this would have to be distilled into a club or lessons so could easily motivate a group of learners for a term, just scratching the surface of one models capabilities. Remember there are five to build in the set and each has various challenges to solve… there’s no chance of boredom. AJ’s commented that the experience was ” beyond amazing, fun and it’s on my birthday list! ”
The only limitations are the coding capabilities and with the addition of possibly using Swift in the future, the glass ceiling of coding would be smashed to pieces. Although compatible, presently only Mindstorms are available as an accessory/ additional playground in Swift playgrounds by Apple https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/swift-playgrounds/id908519492?mt=8 for iPad.
Lego Boost should be welcomed to the party in the August 2017 update to Swift.
Criteria 6: Is it affordable? 9/10
This set cost £150 direct from the Lego Store. It is not cheap, but the quality of the product holds up Lego’s reputation and it is considerably cheaper than Mindstorms. Perhaps a contribution from the PTA makes it ‘obtainable’ for school’s with limited budgets. It shouldn’t just be for the coding club either. Train up your TA! Or how about considering this as the subject of your next staff Inset day? It would be the best way to illustrate to staff the power of coding not just as a series of abstract tasks in lessons but as life long learners that you should never stop marvelling in the incredible possibilities! When you build with Lego you tap into the child within you and by reminding oneself of how that feels, it is liberating. Refreshing staff’s attitude to and the value of play.
Criteria 7: Is it classroom proof?
I began by saying to earn a place in my classroom it had to satisfy the three working practices of problem solving, resilience (an ability to work a problem through, debug and consider alternatives) and be an aide to communication. Lego Boost undoubtedly does this. 10/10 in that respect.
Realistically, for a class of 30+ you would need to have access to enough built models in order to utilise the excellent block coding. Once opened the numbered bags would have to be replaced with zip tied bags or similar… However, if you were forward thinking ( or if your budget allowed) & embraced technology then this is a must have. Remember earlier, I mentioned stress? The preparation process was a little more in depth than I had expected but it was absolutely necessary for me to go through this stage so that the experience moving forward was positive. Yes, you would have to be organised and ensure the set was updated prior to the lesson but it demands nothing new of the usual high level of teacher’s professionalism.
Lego Boost embodies why technology should be in the hands of our students. It would be a positive addition to the technology tool kit and could be incorporated into the classroom, as AJ reminded me young fertile open minds, given the opportunity to use the technology can excel and produce incredible results. Utopia should be now and a place for Lego Boost should be found in schools. Students are amazing!