Friday, March 28, 2014

LEGO Education StoryStarter: Creative New Language & Literacy Tool

Readers of this blog will know that I've written often about the benefits of play (HERE) and the role that story has in learning and life (HERE).

Play stimulates creativity and learning, language use, integration of many forms of learning, development of interpersonal skills, problem solving, collaboration with others, interest, engagement and challenge.

So I was more than a little bit interested when I heard that LEGO had developed a new product designed to use their materials as a tool for language and literacy. The new product is called StoryStarter (see materials below) and uses LEGO play as a basis and foundation for speaking, listening, reading and writing and it is linked to school curricula.

Above: My Duck!
In many ways the concept that underpins the program is demonstrated in an excellent marketing tool that they have used to promote the product. Six pieces of LEGO and the challenge to make a duck, show it to others, talk about it, take a photo of it, share it and so on. The new program offers 24 project-based activities that require its use to create, share, discuss, write about, photograph and share. Even the 6 pieces I used to make my duck could be used in countless ways to create a duck. I had great fun with my staff making ducks! This alone demonstrates the creative potential that LEGO has.

StoryStarter is designed for grades 2 – 6 and provides a fun and innovative way of teaching literacy, communication and collaboration skills to students. It is specifically designed to align with key curriculum documents in the countries where it has been released. LEGO has conducted its own internal research and has also commissioned Dr David Whitebread from Cambridge University to do further research (see more below). The product was released in Australia just this week (24th March). It was first introduced in the USA and Russia in 2012 and will be adapted for release in 10 other countries in the near future.  StoryStarter consists of 1,144 LEGO bricks and a number of LEGO plates with which students can work together, to build their own story in several sequences – the beginning, middle and ending (perhaps more than one). Once built these story sequences are input into the StoryVisualiser software, which uses images and words to tell and publish the story.

How it works

Step 1 - The children use project-based activities (24 topics in all) that relate to Australian Curriculum Achievement Standards. They work together to plan a sequence of story events manipulating Lego pieces as part of the story making.

Step 2 - They create scenes and images.

Step 3 - They use the Lego StoryVisualiser software by uploading their images and photos into the program to create a unique text by dragging and dropping.

Step 4 - Share the stories with others.

The StoryStarter kit costs $234.95 AUD (depending on what you include) and will be well received by children and teachers. A great feature of the kit appears to be the StoryVisualiser software that can be used on computers or via a special app for iPads. The software or app makes it easy for children to combine words and images. The app can be downloaded free from iTunes but you need a unique password provided when you purchase the product to use it. StoryVisualiser has a variety of layout templates that are applicable with varied written genres (narrative form, comic format, factual or fictional texts and so on). I can see some schools wanting more than one of these so that classes don't have to wait too long between topics.

StoryStarter has a positive impact on the way students interact and collaborate. As students work in teams to create their story sequences, they have to navigate team work to complete their task in an open, non-judgemental environment. LEGO's internal research suggests that StoryStarter helps the students learn about teamwork. I haven't seen the full research yet, but I hope to do a more detailed assessment in a future post. The developers and teachers who have trialled the product suggest that because there is no one judging them, StoryStarter helps students who are shy or struggle with reading and writing to take an active part.

As part of the release a number of teachers have been using the product. Cheryl Bellamy, Year 3 teacher at Hercules Road State School in Queensland, started using the innovative new LEGO Education StoryStarter learning tool at the beginning of the 2014 school year. She commented on the impact it has had on her students:

"What’s really interesting is how StoryStarter brings out the student interactions with one another. Walking around during the lesson you can certainly tell who the leaders are, making sure their group stays on task, as well as the ones who are more likely to sit back and let the others do the work"

As well, she found that:

"StoryStarter has really helped the students with their storytelling and verbalising narratives. When we started the students would describe their scenes with only two to three words, but in just a few months this has expanded to three to four sentences. It’s helping them to get used to writing more complex sentences."

Some Early Research Findings

David Whitebread, Senior Lecturer in Psychology & Education at University of Cambridge Faculty of Education has been doing his own research on the materials. He describes 5 clear areas in which StoryStarter offers unique educational support for children’s storytelling and related learning skills:

1. Identifying the main ideas in a text. A basic skill in developing narrative or story-telling skills is the ability to identify the main points or ideas in a text. StoryStarter supports early development of these skills, as it requires children to identify a number of key moments in a story and to represent them concretely in the medium of LEGO bricks.

2. Providing a concrete narrative structure. In order to tell or write a story well you need to keep a lot of information in your head, about what has previously been said, what will happen later, and so on, while you are saying or writing each part. As StoryStarter involves the construction of a concrete 3-D representation of the story, this provides an external memory aid which supports children’s ability to plan the structure of their story, to reflect upon it and to modify it until it is well structured and provides a clear narrative, with a beginning, a problem and a resolution.

3. Expressing ideas in different media. As using StoryStarter to construct narratives involves children in representing their ideas in various different media (i.e. in oral narrative or discussion, in 2-D drawings, in 3-D LEGO bricks, in 2-D photographs, through speech bubbles, in writing, and in a story book format combining pictures and text) it supports children’s developing expressive abilities, their metacognitive understandings of the roles of different modes of expression, their ability to think through ideas in their heads, and to make effective use of a repertoire of representational tools when tackling challenging tasks.

4. Language and thinking. Children’s metacognitive and self-regulatory abilities are key determinants of success at school and as learners. These abilities involve being aware of their own abilities, developing a repertoire of mental strategies for problem solving, and effectively using these mental resources when faced with novel tasks. Learning to use language to think and to reason is supported by these abilities. StoryStarter encourages children to talk about and justify their ideas, to listen to others’ ideas, and to work towards agreed solutions.

5. Play and learning. A playful approach has been shown to lead to more creative problem solving in a variety of areas of learning, including storytelling and writing. Learning to write stories using StoryStarter has several playful aspects to which children are very positively disposed, including the use of LEGO bricks and computer-based technologies. It enables a degree of hands-on, flexible and playful enactment of parts of the story, which is known to support the development of imagination and creativity, alongside social learning about human motivations, relationships and so on.

Note: I have received no incentives or benefits to write this post. The research referred to above is yet to be fully assessed as is the product but early indications are that this will be a very useful aid to learning. I hope to do a further post in the future once I have had a chance to assess the product more fully. I was able to interview Lisbeth Hattens, Educational Manager of LEGO based in Denmark, who offered some additional insights and information on the product and its development.

1 comment:

Coral said...

This looks good Trevor... and I'll be interested in your follow up blogs and views on the research. I'll be interested to see the software and apps too - may have to find a school that is using the 'StoryStarter'.
Thanks for sharing this - I always learn something from your blogs! Coral