LEGO® Wall Mania

Makerspaces are becoming more prevalent in our educational settings these days. Kevin Mowat shared with me Diana Rendina‘s current definition of a makerspace:

A makerspace is a place where students can gather to create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using a variety of tools and materials.

A great definition to be sure. The scope of the “place” is the issue for me, as it is for my colleagues as well. Schools shouldn’t just have A makerspace… Schools should BE a makerspace!  It’s more about mindset of the teaching staff!

The reality may be quite different. Schools are creating “places” of smaller scope; more centralized spaces that contain both resources  (consumables & permanent/ loanable items) and personnel that can be “borrowed”  for periods of time. The space itself can also be booked. Teachers and classes are trying out equipment and pedagogies that are more innovative, inquiry-, design-focused and challenged-based as well. This doesn’t mean that a makerspace mindset isn’t in place, just that it may only be present locationally or situationally.

But this makes sense initially. One space centralizes the materials and personnel, lowers the initial outlay of expenditures, decreases the amount of potential reconstruction within the building, lowers the stress of teachers as they learn to approach a new mindset and new tools and so on.

However, it can also “fix” the mindset of the a location-based makerspace into that space in similar fashion to the computer lab. The learning takes place at that location exclusively or primarily.

So what does all this have to do with the topic at hand? How does this connect with mounted, vertical Lego walls? Good questions…

One of the big ticket items that is often requested is a vertical Lego wall. Here are some of the often cited reasons for having such a wall:

  • Lego provides tools that develop lateral thinking in a fun environment
  • It teaches kids to think in three dimensions
  • It improves literacy as kids work with instructions
  • It develops problem-solving, organization, and planning by construction
  • It improves creativity
  • It enhances communication and critical thinking
  • It boosts kids motor development.

There is no dispute with the positive impact that working with Lego can have whether that happens to be on a horizontal or vertical plane. So let’s move forward with that assumption intact.

The issue for me with this item is configuration… Vertical, horizontal or modular. In my mind, it should be an obvious choice, but apparently it’s not. In many cases, I hear about initial requests for vertical, wall-mounted LEGO walls.

As I began looking into what  options there were for these kind of installations, I took a quick trip over to Google to do some searches. I tried “LEGO – makerspace – Pinterest” (not even LEGO WALL mind you) and an amazing number of VERTICALLY oriented wall-mounted LEGO boards were returned in the search.

Google Search Results - LEGO Makerspace Pinterest
Google Search Results – LEGO Makerspace Pinterest

It’s no wonder people want them in their rooms mounted in this fashion. It seems to be the status quo. Might even make sense, at first blush! They take up less space, promote art-like, isometric creations similar to those in the Minecraft environment (a popular creation/game) and still maintain the advantages of LEGO mentioned above. We’ve even modelled this type of installation in our Innovation Office.

But this installation bothers me greatly and for the same reasons that  wall-mounted Smartboards and projectors do (I wrote a post about this months ago). To explain why, I need to go over two concepts:

Let’s go back to the definition for maker spaces kindly provided by Kevin Mowat earlier:

A makerspace is a place where students can gather to create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using a variety of tools and materials.

Simple. Students need the tools & materials to explore and discover concepts at their fingertips wherever that may be.

Let’s further add to that the notion of mobile learning:

Mobile learning  is education via networks (Internet as well) using personal/provided mobile technologies, such as tablets & smartphones to support their learning through mobile apps, social interactions and online educational hubs through which they can leverage information sources. It is flexible, allowing students access to education anywhere, anytime.

Simple as well. Anytime, anywhere learning.

What are the ramification of two such ideas? Mark Osborne discusses multiple ways in which a school’s and classroom’s environment impacts learning (up to 16%, as much impact as many teachers): lighting, sound, workflow, spacing, spaces for focused , collaborative and dynamic learning – all play a factor in the creating a place that “embraces the makespace” mindset. What is required is a flexible learning environment.

When a LEGO wall is mounted or a projector is mounted, that “fixes” that space as either the “LEGO place” or the “front of the room”. That can’t be changed easily.

Fixed spaces are not aligned with the notion of either a makerspace, or a mobile learning environment.

So what to do…

As far as the LEGO Board or WALL is concerned, happily there are many options. I will outline a few here and you can let your mind go with possibilities. But keep this in mind, for any creative, makerspace keep things flexible and modular.

The LEGO Shop sells the LEGO Base Plates in multiple sizes and colours, so once these two decisions have been made you can begin to determine the dimensions of the “wall” that will be created. With nine green, 32cm x 32cm board (10″ x 10″) base plates, a modular 9 piece, almost 3′ x 3′ board space could be created. This could service 9 individuals or 9 pairs of students with using the modular individual base plates or on the combined LEGO wall many students.

LEGO Green Base Plate
LEGO Green Base Plate

Mounting each base plate on it’s own wooden backing keeps the LEGO wall modular. This is important as classrooms are mobile learning environments and this modular configuration allows teachers to group their LEGO tinkering students in flexible groups or individuals depending on needs. It also allows for projects like “whole to part or part to whole art creation”; where each student is given part of a larger image to create/copy, only seeing the whole when all the pieces are combined.

Piece by Piece Art
Piece by Piece Art
Modular LEGO Base Plate Configurations
Modular LEGO Base Plate Configurations

The trick now is how to combine these modules in a secure enough manner that they can be lifted vertically. The image below makes a number of suggestions about how this might be accomplished. The most reliable is creating a box that fits the modular pieces snuggly. Pins could be used to secure the pieces as they are placed into the box. Then this box can be place on an old Smartboard stand or Flip chart stand.

But other ideas abound, as the diagram points  out.

Alternate LEGO "Wall" Configurations
Alternate LEGO “Wall” Configurations

What’s important to remember when considering anything for a mobile learning or makerspace environment is to consider being flexible. Flexible for the students, respectful of the fact that learning happens in unexpected locations and in unexpected ways, and cognizant that fixing things permanently to the walls of a classroom can sometimes “fix” the room in ways that yield unexpected results for the learners that the environments are being created to support.

Just found this article on ScoopIt! this morning. Thought it might provide some other options as well. Keep in mind the notions of mobile learning and flexible spaces though.

Moving Beyond Lego Walls:

Moving Beyond Lego Walls

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3 thoughts on “LEGO® Wall Mania”

  1. Diana Rendina responds via Twitter:

    I wanted to respond to your LEGO Wall Mania post here. I definitely agree with your concerns about wanting ALL of the school to be a makerspace. This is my long term goal for my school, but the reality is that not all of my teachers have embraced the concept yet. I am working to help more and more of them bring makerspaces into their classrooms and I loan out a lot of our materials to teachers, helping to combat the notion that makerspace activities can only happen in one place.

    I also agree that LEGO walls don’t need to always be vertical or fixed. That was a conscious decision for my space based on student input. We wanted it to be the focal point of our space and set the tone of creativity. We had a LEGO table but the students didn’t really use it. I love seeing a variety of LEGO configurations that work well for the individual school. I collected quite a few in this post here:

    One small criticism – in your screenshot from Pinterest, 9 of the images are of my one LEGO wall. I share my content on Pinterest and deliberately create Pinterest friendly images, so they tend to be higher up in search results. A lot of people who’ve created a great variety of LEGO walls and tables don’t share on Pinterest – I think you would find that there is a great deal more variety than what you see on there.

    All that being said, I love your idea of having a modular LEGO wall. I always advocate that a makerspace should reflect the school and the students. If that means a large, wall mounted LEGO wall, awesome. If that means a flexible, modular LEGO table/wall setup, awesome. It’s always about what works best for the school and students.

    1. You are completely right about teacher not completely being ready or prepared for this maker space, mobile learning change – and this is not necessarily their fault. Training and carefully scaffolded support is most definitely needed.

      My point in the article, was not that vertical walls are wrong or bad, just more prevalent, almost the status quo online really – easily found most anywhere you look. When they are “mounted”, they are fixed depending on the mount and this can have less than desirable impacts on long term space issues in the class. However, temporary vertical mounts for specific purposes are absolutely required for many projects! Our Division has a tendency to fixate on trends and I was trying to provide options.

      I actually had no idea that 9 of the shots were from your room which looks great I have to say! There is no doubt more variety than what I saw in my initial search. That said, most people, when scouring the Net for resources, do not do exhaustive searches, tend to use generic search terms and stick to favourite sites like Pinterest or Twitter.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and hope to hear more from you!

      1. Diana Rendina responds via Twitter:

        I definitely agree that the vertical walls do seem to be more and more common and I like the idea of creating ones with more flexibility. Flexibility and modularity are two of my top priorities when it comes to redesigning spaces. And yes, I’ve definitely seen that many people tend to do a limited amount of research. There’s SO much more makerspace information out there than there was when I first started – it can be very time-consuming to sift through it all and not everyone is blogging and sharing their ideas.

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