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The Future World of Imagination: Is Lego Showing the Way to More or Less?

December 23, 2012

Every time a new technology comes along people start to worry that it will have a bad impact on the way we learn. Consider first the death of oratory. Roman senators used to deliver long speeches from memory. Oratory was a prized accomplishment and it could help someone go far. They developed the Method of Loci, a kind of personal memory store where you could place all the items to be remembered for a speech. The first step in the process was to take a physical location (such as a famous temple) and commit it to memory with rigorous practice. The student would then be able to remember every statue, portico and room in the table and walk through the temple in his imagination following a fixed path (and this was an important part of the method) from one statue to the next. Once the temple was fixed in memory it became a mnemonic (an aid to memory), a set of highly imageable and remembered items that new (to be remembered) items could be associated with. Imagine if one were to use the method of loci to remember a shopping list. Entering the temple you might see the statue of Jupiter so you would place the bananas on his broad shoulders so that they would give him energy and strength. Next would come the bread and you would place it in the arms of Mercury so that he could deliver it quickly to your home. Just to strengthen the association you might store an additional image of Mercury getting into a bread van. And for Venus the goddess of beauty, well you can give her the milk and you can figure out where you’d like to put that. The nice thing about the Method of Loci is that you can run the trip through the temple forwards or backwards, so once you have remembered the items for the speech you can remember them back to front if you want. An excellent description of the Method of Loci can be found in the classic book “Art of Memory” by Francis Yates.

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The widespread availability of books put an end to large scale oratory. It is no longer part of the typical school curriculum. Today you tend to communicate by sending people the memo or the report, or giving your talk using a slide show. No need to remember all the points that you want to make, since you get your memory cues from the slides. There are still some orators today who remember their speeches from memory, but they are comparatively few. Bill Clinton comes to mind. But it is hard to tell with people like him if they are speaking extemporaneously or actually speaking according to a prepared plan. I had the privilege of hearing Bill Clinton give a speech a year ago, and whatever you might think of his politics or private life, he certainly is a gifted speaker.

Fast forward a couple of thousand years from the Ancient Romans and we have entered the information age. Technological change is coming thick and fast, and it is impacting every aspect of learning, from toys, to schooling, and beyond. Toys in particular have changed very fast and in very many ways. Everything is electronic these days. When I was a kid the big construction toy was meccano. You would use wrenches and screwdrivers to build bits of metal into vehicles and buildings. And if you had wanted figurines, well you could have repurposed your set of Robin Hood and his Merry Men action figures. Then came lego blocks. They were modular and didn’t require tools for assembly. The blocks tended to all be the same rectanguloid shape, but there were different sizes and colors and one could make a lot of different structures.

Meanwhile, Lego was not the only toy and game manufacturer of course. Games like chess and scrabble encouraged different kinds of mental activity. But with the onset of video games the interaction moved from the physical world to a conceptual world, one created by the designer of the game rather than the player. Creation was replaced by discovery and use. I can vividly remember the first time I saw a video game. It was some time in the 1970s and it was a version of Pong on set up as a kind of table with the players seated at either end with the display between them. There it was in a recreation centre near the airport, and the personal computing and gaming revolution announced its arrival in Christchurch New Zealand. Video games have come a long way in the intervening years, but it was comforting that kids could play with Lego and with other construction toys and learn to create as well as watch and use. Yesterday I saw a couple of people playing an arcade type game on an iPad placed between them. Each player operated his set of controls on his side of the iPad. Conceptually it was much like the arcade game of Pong that I used to play all those years ago, but here it was on a tablet that one of the players carried around with him. We take this stuff for granted now, but there is still part of me, that remembers the old things, and thinks “Wow!” every time it sees new twists on technology interaction like that one.

Somewhere along the way Lego changed from buckets of generic and modular bricks. . Instead of selling the big buckets of blocks and letting the creative imagination of a child do the rest, blocks came in special sets. Sets would build specific things and were generally built around some theme. Recently big Lego themes have included Harry Potter, Star Wars, Ninjago, and Lord of the Rings. Last Christmas we got my son Garmadon’s Dark Fortress. This Christmas he wanted the Ninjago Fire Temple. But I didn’t want to shell out $200 with tax and shipping (I couldn’t find it in the nearby stores). So I got the Echo Base on the ice planet of Hoth (Star Wars). Are these new Lego kits (with their detailed instructions on how to make a specific thing) going to make my six year old son (turning seven years old in a couple of weeks) less creative?

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I don’t think so, and here’s why. Take Garmadon’s Dark Fortress.

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He’s had it for a year and it’s no longer standing. It long ago got cannibalized (just like ancient monuments sometimes got pulled apart for building materials). There are bits of Garmadon’s Dark Fortress all over the place. For instance, my son got very interested in plants versus zombies for a while. He used to play the game while watching Plants vs. Zombies tutorials on Youtube. He studied Plants vs. Zombies very thoroughly as if it was some massive home work assignment until he mastered it, except he would never put so much effort into actual homework. Crucially for this discussion, he decided to build a Plants vs. Zombies set. But Lego didn’t make one (that I knew about, and if I did I probably wouldn’t have wanted to spend the money on it), so my son searched through all his other sets (yes, he’s spoiled) found the parts he wanted, and created his own Plants vs. Zombies set. The Plants vs. Zombies set was built and continuously evolved for a couple of weeks before being pulled apart with the pieces being used for other projects. But here are a couple of views of the plants vs. Zombies set at one point in time during it’s evolving existence.

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So what’s the bottom line? In my view inherently creative people are going to find a way to be creative no matter what we throw at them. Being creative is what they are programed to do. Maybe we can make people a bit more creative by giving them good educational experiences and things to play with, but overall I think that creative people are more likely to be born rather than made. What I worry about are the people who need a bit more stimulation to think about the world in different ways. I worry about whether they are learning to be clever and savvy users, operators, and consumers, rather than creators. But maybe it was always this way. Some people just naturally tend to create and others tend to use. So I don’t think that Lego’s packaged single theme sets are growing to stunt the next generation of engineers and stymie further technological advancement. The next generation of engineers (I know what you’re thinking, my son is just as likely to turn into an artist as an engineer, and yes, you are probably right, but I’m allowed to have my preferences) will find a way to repurpose the toys and tools they are given to do interesting things.

So for those of you who take Lego to task for selling out (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/sunday-review/has-lego-sold-out.html) maybe it’s not as bad as it looks. .

A study recently published in The Journal of Pediatrics (http://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(12)01202-4/abstract), found evidence to suggest that when small children play with physical blocks, like traditional Legos, they are doing more to stimulate the release of chemicals in their brains associated with learning than when the children watch videos.

Clifford Nass, a sociology professor at Stanford University is one of those people who doesn’t like the way that Lego is moving with its toy design. He studies how people relate to the physical world versus the virtual world, and he says that some essential qualities were lost when Lego became more like other toys. In his view, Lego used to be about the child doing the work, but now Lego is saying to the child “You sit back and we will do the work”.

Barney

What’s that you said Barney?

Posted in: General | Tags: , , , , ,

Perfect Holiday Ready Gifts From Lego

December 12, 2012

SHOP Lego

It’s not too late to get your holiday shopping done! Check out Lego for creative gift ideas for kids. Don’t forget that the last standard shipping date for guaranteed Christmas Delivery is December 18, 2012.

Lego

Lego also has special edition Lord of the Rings sets. Build the dark army of Saruman at the Orc Forge!
Hobbit

Posted in: Seasonal Gifts | Tags:

How High Can a Pile of Lego Blocks Go

December 4, 2012

Recently there has been a lot of interest in this question, believe it or not, as people start building high towers made of lego blocks (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20578627)

The tower built in Prague (shown below) was over 30 metres tall

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It’s hard to build lego tires and there is always the danger that they’ll buckle if not built absolutely straight. So the engineers at the Open University Engineering Department in the UK have used machines to put lego blocks under stress and see how much load they can actually take. Once you know the load you can then calculate how many blocks, in principle, could be supported by a single block. The basic idea is to squeeze the lego block by placing steadily increasing forces on it and then see when it breaks.

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Breaks is not really the right word since lego blocks are from plastic and the melt or deform under very high pressure.

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It turns out that a lego block can support over 4000 newtons or about 375,000 lego blocks. That’s a lot of blocks and if stacked straight up they would tower over 3000 metres high. While it would be impossible to build such a high tower of blocks and keep it straight enough to stand, there seems to be a lot of potential for creating towers of at least 50 metres or more. We await with breathless anticipation the coming wave of lego super-towers!

Posted in: Events | Tags:

Lego Holiday Shop Now Open and More Special Offers

November 3, 2012

SHOP Lego

Receive a FREE reusable LEGO tote bag with any LEGO DUPLO purchase. Valid 10.1.12 - 10.31.12

During the month of November, Lego will be offering FREE Shipping on all orders of $99 or more! This offer will continue through the last ship date for standard delivery, December 18th. Lego has also extended the free TC-14 & LEGO tote bag promotions through the end of the year.

Plus the LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar (9509) has also been marked down 20%! And last but not least, the Lego Holiday Gift Shop is now available and is a great service for gift givers who aren’t quite sure what to buy for the LEGO fan on their shopping list. Help is available for both Ultimate Gifts and Stocking Stuffers.

Find Ultimate and Stocking Stuffer LEGO Gifts at shop.LEGO.com!

Posted in: Seasonal Gifts | Tags: , ,

Lego Launche's Their First Haunted House

August 30, 2012

SHOP Lego

Beginning September 1st, shop.LEGO.com will begin selling the first ever official LEGO Haunted House. Perfect for Halloween or any spook enthusiasts, the set is beautifully designed and contains over two thousand LEGO bricks and elements!

FREE Exclusive Monster Fighters set with purchase of $75 or more. Valid 9.1.12 - 9.30.12

Posted in: Canadian Deals, Longer Term Deals, US Deals | Tags:

FREE Exclusive LEGO Birthday Cake!

August 1, 2012

SHOP Lego

In honor of The LEGO Group’s 80th birthday, shop.LEGO.com will be giving away and exclusive birthday cake LEGO set with every purchase of $50 or more August 1st – 10th.

FREE Exclusive LEGO Birthday Cake with orders of $50 or more. Valid 8.1.12 - 8.10.12

LEGO Shop has also launched over 50 new products for the second half of 2012. A few of the most notable sets include: 9516 – Jabba’s Palace (from Return of the Jedi); 9450 – Epic Dragon Battle (contains Ninjago’s Green Ninja); 4207 CiTY Garage (Hard to Find set).

Jabba’s Palace – $119.99 USD>

City Garage – $119.99 USD

Posted in: Longer Term Deals, US Deals | Tags:

Lego Fan Festival and Expo; Brickfête

July 10, 2012

LEGO Sale!  Buy One, Get One 25% Off!

Brickfête is an all ages event for Lego fans young and old happening this weekend, July 14-15 at 5875 Airport Road in Mississauga. Come out and be marvelled by 10,000 square feet of LEGO creations built by hobbyists from across Canada and the United States. Fans will have the chance to meet with Lego builders and shop for unique Lego and related items. There will also be a Look What I MADE area perfect for Lego builders to exhibit their own Lego creations made in this activity area. The Lego Fan Festival and Expo is the perfect family event to attend this weekend to inspire creativity and imagination.

LEGO Sale!  Buy One, Get One 25% Off!

Source: http://www.brickfete.com/

Posted in: Events | Tags: , ,

Shop Lego's Exclusive June Offer

May 30, 2012

SHOP Lego

This month LEGO Shop will be offering FREE Shipping until June 15 and an exclusive Gift with purchase, the mini sopwith camel, a smaller version of the brand new LEGO Exclusive. This offer ends June 30, 2012. Recreate your very own piece of aviation history with the historic Sopwith Camel. This detailed replica of one of the most recognizable British single-seat biplanes ever to have graced the skies. Features include a realistic rotating propeller and engine cylinders, hinged tail rudder, realistic tension wires, functioning wing ailerons and tail flaps that can be controlled from the cockpit just like the real plane!

FREE Shipping on all LEGO Shop orders of $75 or more! Valid through 6.15.12

Posted in: Longer Term Deals, US Deals | Tags:

Free Limited Edition Lego City Poster & New Star Wars Sets

February 7, 2012

SHOP Lego

This month LEGO Shop will be offering a FREE Limited Edition LEGO CiTY Poster so you can follow all the exciting adventures of the LEGO City crooks! This offer will be valid through Feb 29th or while supplies last. Once your order reaches $35 the FREE City poster will be automatically added to your bag!

Plus, don’t forget to check out the brand new Lego Star Wars sets that are now available for 2012! These new sets include some of the most iconic Star Wars ships such as the X-Wing Starfighter & TIE Fighter. Other sets include: 9495 – Gold Leader’s Y-Wing Starfighter, 9490 – Droid Escape, 9494 – Anakin’s Jedi Interceptor, and 9491 Geonosian Cannon.

Gold Leader’s Y-Wing Starfighter - $64.99 CDN

TIE Fighter - $69.99 CDN

X-Wing Starfighter - $74.99 CDN

Posted in: Longer Term Deals, US Deals | Tags:

Free Limited Edition Lego City Poster & New Star Wars Sets

February 7, 2012

SHOP Lego

FREE LEGO CiTY Poster with a purchase of $35 or more!This month LEGO Shop will be offering a FREE Limited Edition LEGO CiTY Poster so you can follow all the exciting adventures of the LEGO City crooks! This offer will be valid through Feb 29th or while supplies last. Once your order reaches $35 the FREE City poster will be automatically added to your bag!

Plus, don’t forget to check out the brand new Lego Star Wars sets that are now available for 2012! These new sets include some of the most iconic Star Wars ships such as the X-Wing Starfighter & TIE Fighter. Other sets include: 9495 – Gold Leader’s Y-Wing Starfighter, 9490 – Droid Escape, 9494 – Anakin’s Jedi Interceptor, and 9491 Geonosian Cannon.

Gold Leader’s Y-Wing Starfighter - $64.99 CDN

TIE Fighter - $69.99 CDN

X-Wing Starfighter - $74.99 CDN

Posted in: Canadian Deals, Longer Term Deals | Tags: