Playing with LEGO


Primary school De Kubus in Amersfoort, part of the KPOA school umbrella organisation, was the first primary school in the Netherlands to start a LEGO studio last year. All schools in the municipality are allowed to use it to as this enhances the student’s learning experience like most modified educational games do. “We see enthusiastic children who are absorbed in their play and at the same time learn a lot.”

Windows covered with Lego bricks and Lego figures, bright red benches, a large competition table with a beautiful lunar landscape above it and a display cabinet full of Lego buildings. The LEGO Education Innovation Studio, as the LEGO room of The Cube is officially called, looks colorful and cheerful. In the studio, students from grades five to eight of De Kubus, but also from other schools in Amersfoort, can experiment with LEGO Education, the educational curriculum of LEGO.

“Our goal is to let as many children as possible benefit from our studio. For example, they build moving and luminous animals, program robots to cover an entire course and run a mill. In this way they discover the world of science and technology in a playful way,” says one of the initiators William van Barneveld. He is a teacher at primary school De Kubus and specializes in working with LEGO Education.

Lego Studio Plan

The idea to start the LEGO studio originated two years ago. “A parent who works in the tech sector was very excited about LEGO Education. Together with her and with René van den Broek, policy officer Science, Technology and ICT at the KPOA school umbrella organisation, we investigated the possibilities. We took a look at secondary schools that already worked with LEGO and thought about our goals and the design of a studio. We wanted to create an attractive, spacious place, all about LEGO, so that children would not be distracted by other things in the classroom. There also had to be enough storage space.”

Funding through sponsorship

In order to be able to finance the design of the studio and new materials, René van den Broek submitted a plan to the AFAS Foundation on behalf of KPOA. This foundation supports inspiring social, care and educational initiatives with a major impact. “Our application was granted because AFAS found the project very beautiful and it fits in with the idea of letting all children come into contact with new developments. We therefore received 46,000 euros. Great of course,” says René. “For this amount we have beautifully decorated and decorated the studio. If new learning resources are needed or materials are lost, our school umbrella organisation will pay for it. We budget about 2,000 to 3,000 euros on an annual basis for this.”

Vision of KPOA

KPOA saw the studio as a nice addition to the lesson boxes around programming that schools already used. René: “We have eighty lesson boxes, filled with LEGO and other learning materials, which we lend to schools within the foundation. We started this because we think it is important that all students have the opportunity to get in touch with science and technology. Society requires an increasing amount of knowledge in this area. Even for non-technical professions, you need technical skills. In addition, there are also technical follow-up schools, which students do not choose if they have never experienced whether they like it,” he explains.

“With the LEGO studio, we give the lessons about science and technology a structural character and provide even more depth. The building sets and teaching modules are cross-curricular. The lessons combine technology and science with arithmetic, biology, space and aviation, creating stories, sustainable energy and spatial planning. Through the playful and investigative way of learning, students also develop digital literacy and 21st century skills such as collaboration and problem solving.”


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Learning lines and learning resources

In his two-hour lessons at primary school De Kubus, William mainly uses LEGO WeDo and Mindstorms. “LEGO WeDo consists of an app with digital lessons on a variety of themes, in combination with building kits. From group five, children can work on this in pairs. On the LEGO website you will find the corresponding learning lines, the lesson plans and the intermediate and final goals for each age category,” he says.

“With LEGO WeDo, children learn to analyze research questions and problems together step by step. The lessons are made up of the four steps of inquiry-based and design-based learning: exploration, building, testing and sharing. They use ICT, computers and programming to find, create and test solutions to complex problems. This skill is called computational thinking.”

On an iPad, William shows an example: videos in which the Lego dolls Max and Mia explain a biology lesson. The intention is that students look for the answer to the question: how does a tadpole turn into a frog? “They can follow the lessons independently, but I always give extra explanations. The texts and questions are somewhat complicated. Once the command is clear, they look up relevant information on the iPad itself, in this case about the characteristics of a tadpole and an adult frog. Then, on the basis of a construction drawing, they make a tadpole that moves with the help of a motor and sensors. By putting legs under it, they finally transform it into a jumping frog. They present their results to each other.”

Experimenting with robots

In addition to LEGO WeDo, William also uses the “Simple Machines” building kits to introduce young children to the technology behind gears, levers and pulleys. With eighth-graders, he goes one step further. They use Mindstorms to design, build and program a robot themselves. “The robot can drive a course and lift, throw and push things over. You program it by putting several icons one after the other. They represent an action, such as turning, driving and stopping. You can also indicate how long the robot has to perform an action and with what force.”

The Mindstorms robots also play a big role in the FIRST LEGO League competition, which group eight of The Cube participated in for the first time last year. In this international LEGO competition, schools compete against each other as a team. “On the basis of various assignments, students investigate the social role of technology and science. They are trying to solve a problem that scientists and engineers are dealing with in this day and age,” william explains. “Every year there is a different theme, like last year ‘City Shaper’. On the basis of construction drawings, our students designed their own city in the studio on the competition table, in which they let the robots take a course. They thought that the city should also have a special playground equipment, made for disabled and healthy children to play in together. On the competition day they presented their design. We didn’t win, but just participating was a great adventure.”

Cooperation with other schools

School umbrella organisation KPOA deliberately chose primary school De Kubus to house the LEGO studio. “The Soesterkwartier is a varied neighborhood where children live who do not have LEGO toys at home, because it is too expensive. Because of our studio, they still get the chance to come into contact with it,” explains René. “We do hope that all schools from inside and outside the foundation feel welcome. For KPOA schools, William’s lessons are free. We ask schools outside the foundation for an hourly allowance, because they use our school, teacher and our material.”

In the past year, an average of two groups visited each week. “It would be nice if that becomes something more. Fortunately, we notice that schools that have been once like to come back, but we also understand that practical objections, such as transport, play a role. That’s why I arrange attractive combinations: half a day to the escape room in the library and half a day of lessons in the LEGO studio, for example. Then it really becomes a day out around science and technology.”

Lego Studio Learning Outcomes

William tries to connect with the world of students with his lessons. “I give them plenty of room to experiment and we have a lot of fun. As a result, the teaching material sticks well,” he says. “When a new group comes into the studio, I discuss with the teacher in advance which learning objectives and subjects we are going to work on. We are almost always working across disciplines. During the lesson I automatically notice what the students need to get started. Because I know the material so well, I can make every lesson easier or harder. Some students find the reconstruction of construction drawings fun and challenging enough. Others let their imagination run wild and come up with the most creative solutions themselves.”

According to William, both boys and girls go ‘completely wild’ in the studio. “LEGO appeals to everyone’s imagination. The great thing is that all students are proud of the end result anyway. As a result, their self-confidence grows. Unconsciously, they also develop many skills while playing, such as collaboration, solution-oriented and critical thinking, self-regulation and creativity. I regularly hear from teachers that students in the studio suddenly behave very differently or show hidden talents. This also applies to children with learning or behavioural problems and from special education. I notice that playful learning has a positive effect on them.”

Teacher training

If teachers from other KPOA schools want to delve more deeply into LEGO Education, they can register for workshops at KPOA’s academy. René: “We offer two-hour workshops on WeDo and Mindstorms. We hope that teachers will then be enthusiastic and come to the studio with their group. They can of course also alternate these studio lessons with lessons at their own school. William likes to visit other schools to help teachers get started.”