• Julia Reeve

Lego in Lockdown

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

This blog post reflects on my experiences as an emphatically analogue learner and teacher during lockdown.

Hello everyone, this post considers the past few strange and scary weeks from the teaching perspective of someone whose usual modus operandi consists of face to face, hands-on workshops involving physical objects such as paper, play-doh and mainly, Lego bricks.

Lego in Lockdown

My teaching is based on the notion of ‘Thinking with the hands’, and playful, tactile learning to develop self-awareness and connection with others is what I do.

How then, to go forward with my practice without the learning sparks created by physical, tangible methodologies such as Lego Serious Play? I have always resisted online versions of this type of teaching, citing the importance of “having ideas through the process of making.” put forward by David Gauntlett.

Making is Connecting by David Gauntlett

At first, I found that anxiety completely destroyed my ability to do anything creative at all: concentration was very difficult, and even my trusty Lego bricks, which I usually find so useful in helping to clarify muddled thoughts, were not coming up with the goods.

I had lots of vague ideas: should I do a podcast? Create some worksheets? Maybe a stop-motion animation? But couldn’t focus on anything, including the actual teaching I was timetabled to do later in the month.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one grappling with questions about playful learning in the current circumstances: was it even ok to be playful right now?

Alison James dealt with some of these questions in her webinar on Easter Monday: Play as Survival. Connecting with Alison and other like-minded friends from around the globe was in itself a very welcome ray of playful sunshine. We were initially asked to re-contextualise play during the pandemic using Brian Sutton-Smith’s seven “rhetorics” of play : considering play as progress, fate, power, identity, imaginary, the self or frivolity.

Alison also required us to actually do stuff: of course, this was the best part for a tactile learner like me. It was so enjoyable to be the learner rather than the teacher, and just to (playfully) carry out tasks rather than trying to puzzle out how to teach.

Making Cut-out Dolls: my childhood memory of play

One exercise took us back to memories of play as a child, and I remembered the joy of a brand-new drawing book on a Saturday, and creating cut-out dolls and outfits out of paper (see sketch). We were also asked to set out our own 'playful intention': how might playful activities become survival skills to help us through a time of crisis? So, for me, some daily drawing is my aim. A thoroughly thought-provoking webinar, and essentially, although delivered online, still tactile.

Just a few days later, I attended a webinar with around 80 fellow Lego Serious Play (LSP) facilitators from around the globe delivered by LSP training consultants Inthrface. The focus was on the development and adaptation of the LSP tool in a changing environment. It was interesting to consider the different possibilities: posting out Lego kits to participants to work with at home then sharing and connecting models via a bespoke google document was the proposed method here.

Inthrface: Adapting Lego Serious Play for an online environment

But what to do if, as in HE, delivering kits to learners isn’t an option? My DMU colleague and PhD researcher Gosia Plotka might just have the answer…

I found my enthusiasm for playful learning returning, despite the limits of the screen, when I co-facilitated some “LSP” online workshops with Gosia. She adapted the LSP principles with her Computer Science students in Gdansk, by first using images to introduce metaphor, then asking learners to build in response to a question about good software design by using any materials they had available. The responses were hugely inventive, and included cutlery, books, insects and even a sandwich! Some learners did also use Lego. Images of the models were shared via a Padlet, and key words and connecting lines were then added.

Gosia Plotka's creative development of LSP: various models shared on a Padlet

It was refreshing to see the playful, tactile possibilities that can be developed by adopting the fresh approaches of my colleagues. I was able to try this out in a small way during some recent online induction sessions. These would have previously been face to face LSP workshops, where new students would use exercises with Lego bricks to explore their hopes for the future and get to know one another in an informal environment. Not so easy to replicate this online!

With one group I took inspiration from an exercise with Lego animals first used by Alison James. The idea is that students choose an animal that they relate to, then explain the reasons for their choice. This can serve two purposes: first as an accessible way to bring about introductions, and second as a way of explaining the metaphorical possibilities of LSP. My plan was to use photos of Lego animals on a PowerPoint slide with my remote students: as is often the way with online learning, there was a hitch, and in the end, I just read out a list of animals.

Lego animals: introducing metaphor

Quite surprisingly, although learners were not able to hold or even see the animals, they were still able to use the concept, both to introduce themselves and also to think in a metaphorical way about the attributes of their chosen animal. Crucially, there was still a human connection and a creative spark: an element of joy and humour.

I’m still very much a kinaesthetic learner and teacher, and am still finding the move to online learning goes very much against the tactile grain. There is a glimmer of light though, garnered through my learning experiences in these past weeks, in terms of the creative teaching possibilities that may lay out there to be discovered in this new, complex and challenging world.


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© 2020 by Julia Reeve