How coding with 3-D objects helps students incorporate engineering with creativity and social skills
A student comes running over holding a set of small plastic beakers. “Let him use these” she excitedly shouts putting them under the LEGO gorilla’s drumming arms. Today’s group has decided to make a zoo. Using an intricate system of LEGO’s block based coding, LEGO bricks, gears, motors, and sensors they have built a lion laying in wait that uses a motion detector to rise up when it detects someone walk by, a pair of birds that flap and dance, an alligator that can detect things falling in its mouth to chomp on them, and the musical gorilla that can drum different rhythms based on the orientation of its gears. They made their zoo complete by building an array of cages, carts, an admission ticket booth, and even a gift shop.
Yesterday’s group decided to build their own carnival complete with competing spinning ferris wheel—one which rotated so quickly it was deemed the “Ferris Wheel of Death”—and even a “Carnival Jail” which had such high security it used sensors to sound an alarm every time movement was detected.
While it may not seem like it, these students have really been learning how to program and creating complex machines with gears, motors and sensors.
Too often, coding can seem so daunting. We think it involves intricate, abstract skills or it is an isolated activity done behind a computer screen. Coding with 3-D, LEGO-constructed objects helps students experience the tangibility of coding, connecting it with creativity and imagination.
Getting Started in a Familiar Way When you’re using something familiar, like LEGO bricks, it becomes one less hurdle to overcome. Many coding systems start with the abstract, requiring students to make something virtual on a screen. This often means learning how to illustrate on the computer, upload images, and/or use the stock images provided by block-based coding programs.
We have discovered that it is much easier for students to create with LEGOs and add the motors and sensors to their creation, then quickly and easily make further modifications to their LEGO creation. It can be easy to add on to your physical robot, but often a frustrating step to modify a virtual creation before even coding it to do something. When kids are working with something they can see touch, feel and experience, they want to keep adding on to it, taking it apart, building something else, and trying again, rather than a virtual system.
Using 3-D Structures Helps Kids Develop Complex Engineering Skills When coding a LEGO-based system, rather than seeing an icon on the screen move, you actually see your own robot move. Students aren’t just learning to code, but they are learning different engineering concepts. To build, they need to experience different types of gears and recognize how they distribute power, learn how motors work, and how sensors read information.
Incorporating Creativity, Imagination, and Social Skills Though learning how to code and memorizing different coding commands is becoming an essential, marketable skill in this digital age, it is quickly becoming outsourced to individuals in other countries that can do it quicker, longer and for less pay.
What is truly important about knowing how to code is developing unique applications of that code, being creative and inventive. As educators we should be using code to boost creativity and innovation in our children.
With our programs, students are learning the elements of coding and engineering, then we push them a step further to determine “Now that I know this, what can I do with it”?
Using the LEGO system, they are not stuck behind the computer screen, but they are working collaboratively to invent their own worlds. Besides the zoo and carnival, we have seen groups of students work together to build moving objects to with deep storylines creating the Island Prison from the Disney Descendants films, a magical village based on Hogwarts, and their own futuristic world and cars.