Engaging Students Using LEGO® in Non-modular Forums

Florence NG Jia Yun
Ridge View Residential College

Florence shares her observations when she incorporated LEGO® Serious Play in her forum class activities to raise student engagement.

Photo courtesy of Florence NG

Ridge View Residential College (RVRC) offers non-modular experiential learning through a 12-hour module called Forums. It is a requirement for all second-year students to enrol and complete. The topics may or may not be related to students’ academic discipline. The purpose of non-modular (pass/fail) forums is to provide students at RVRC the opportunity to explore and learn other subjects without the fear of impacting their grade point average (GPA). Similar programmes offered by other Residential Colleges (RCs) include “Reading Group” and “Cognito Pods.”

While non-modular, pass/fail grading modules help reduce students’ anxiety and pressure towards exploring coursework outside their fields of study, one major challenge for such courses would be lower levels of student engagement compared to graded courses (Michaelides & Kirshner, 2005). Students might spend more time on their graded courses and de-emphasise their pass/fail courses (Michaelides & Kirshner, 2005; Weller, 1983).

As I explored new teaching strategies to improve students’ engagement, I learned about using LEGO® Serious Play (LSP) as a teaching method that combines both learning and play in the classroom (James, 2013). It is based on the theory of Constructionism, where learning occurs when people are engaged in constructing something external to themselves (Papert & Harel, 1991). Using LSP, students had to build LEGO® models based on a set of facilitator’s challenges or questions. After making sense of what they know about the task, students had to create a model using LEGO® bricks. They then developed a story covering the meaning of the model that they have built. This method draws heavily on the use of metaphor by representing an idea, concept, or value through LEGO® building (James, 2013). Every model represents different ideas, down to the minute difference in the choice of item or colour, or how it is placed (James, 2013). These stories are shared by the students. The facilitator then questions the students based on their own LEGO® model and have them reflect on concepts based on the model.

Figure 1. Example of a LEGO® figure built by a student for an ice-breaker activity.
Photo courtesy of Christine Koh

For the first time in my forum class activities, I had the opportunity to use LEGO® for ice-breaker activities as well as to clarify students’ existing knowledge of a concept. One noticeable difference was how the students were ready and willing to share their stories based on the LEGO® model. In the example shown in Figure 1, the student built the LEGO® figure as part of the ice-breaker activity to describe her personality. Unlike in a typical classroom setting, where a few students might dominate the discussion, this activity captured their full attention because everyone had to present his or her thoughts and ideas, ensuring maximum participation. Another process that showed increased engagement was students beginning to take over the task of asking questions. Quite often, I would ask probing questions only during the first part of the session. The clarification process would somehow be naturally handed over to the students when they also started asking questions based on their peers’ model after others had shared. These observations showed that the level of student engagement increased as compared to the usual classroom setting.

The application of LSP varies and is customisable for different purposes, so long as it involves a group of people with a common goal. As everyone is the subject matter expert of the model they built, this allows full engagement and participation, which may help transform the traditional way of knowledge transfer in the classroom. I will continue to use this teaching strategy in my class next semester, and will be experimenting with using LEGO® in the development and sharing of students’ reflections at the end of the module, a task which students usually find cumbersome. By innovating and experimenting with different variations of LEGO® in the classroom, I hope to achieve greater student engagement and motivation in every lesson.

Florence NG is a Lecturer at Ridge View Residential College (RVRC) where she teaches modules on social media, branding and sustainability. Her interests in education include Students-as-Partners (SaP), peer assessment, team teaching and interdisciplinary education. She is also a certified LEGO® Serious Play facilitator.

Florence can be reached at florence.ng@nus.edu.sg


James, A. R. (2013). LEGO® Serious Play: a three-dimensional approach to learning development. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (6). Retrieved from https://journal.aldinhe.ac.uk/index.php/jldhe/article/view/208.

Michaelides, M., & Kirshner, B. (2005). Graduate student attitudes toward grading systems. College Quarterly, 8(4), n4. Retrieved from http://collegequarterly.ca/2005-vol08-num04-fall/michaelides_kirshner.html.

Papert, S., & Harel, I. (1991). Situating constructionism. In I. Harel, & S. Papert (Eds), Constructionism (pp. 1-11). Retrieved from http://web.media.mit.edu/~calla/web_comunidad/Reading-En/situating_constructionism.pdf.

Weller, L. D. (1983). The grading nemesis: An historical overview and a current look at pass/fail grading. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 17(1), 39-45. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ288937.

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