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Wednesday 18 March 2015

Could lego help YOU reference?

There’s a lot of theory surrounding good teaching practice, and how best to help students engage and learn. Good teaching is no accident, but instead is often designed in response to a problem or to address a certain issue in a new way. In other words, the concept comes first, and the learning design comes afterwards.

I know all this. I have letters after my name that somehow prove it. And yet … and yet … I somehow managed to subvert all of this one day by deciding that that I really, really wanted to teach something – anything – with Lego.

And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love Lego? No one I’ve ever met, that’s for sure. But what could I teach with it? I decided on referencing – things get put together to make a reference, and things get put together to make a house, or a shark, or a dog on wheels. What could be easier?


I soon realised the potential was much greater. I gave the students 10 minutes to construct a creature, real, mythical or cyborg (some students like these kind of specifics), taking a certain number of pieces from at least three different pots of Lego, from the eight available.

At the end of this time we admired the finished products and, it may go without saying, the students from the explicitly creative courses would invariably get their phones out for a photo at this point.

Then I carried on with the class, teaching them the mechanics of the reference – what goes where, what if there is no author, can you reference an exhibition? – before returning to their creations.

I chose one and picked it up. ‘This piece here’, I said, pointing to a fairly boring, yet central, piece. ‘Where does it come from?’ The student was perplexed, and didn’t know. So I took the piece out. The class gasped as the creature was broken – such wanton destruction!


The second person I approached gulped, nervously. ‘I don’t know, just take it!’ she cried, thrusting her giraffe at me.

They quickly, and emotionally, got the idea. If they couldn’t tell me where the piece was from, they couldn’t use it in their animal. And so they, somewhat brutally, learnt that in order to incorporate something into their essay – words, an idea, an image – they had to be able to say where it was from.

They loved the class, and most importantly they remembered the lesson: as you would! Over the last year I’ve refined the pedagogical and theoretical ideas enough that an article on this activity has been accepted for publication in the journal Teaching in Higher Education.

Not bad for a bit of idle musing and childhood nostalgia.