Learning Bricks From Our Childhood

exploring: LEGO® Discovery Centre at Potsdamer Platz
engaging: building bricks for our new learning culture
learning: it’s not rocket science, but a soapbox derby

12. September 2011 by Basti Hirsch

Late summer in Berlin, our playDUcation posse grows and becomes a real pick 'n' mix of different skills and experiences: We are artists, teachers, game designers, ex-consultants, an education activist, office assistant, business psychologist, and American.

When you study where good ideas come from, it’s clear as soup that such diversity plays a lead role in creating breakthrough innovation. But by which mechanism? You can simply throw a diverse team together, heat things up, stir and sizzle; hoping you’ll get tasty startup soup. We, however, swear by a different recipe: Your allstar team gets even better by inspiring itself through sharing outer-ordinary playDUcative experiences.

Staying true to our Mach das mal mantra, we are off to create those experiences. Last month, we began exploring Berlin's most playDUcative places with a visit to the Computer Games Museum. Now we're stepping things up and walk further back in our childhood. Find the giraffe at Potsdamer Platz and enter the LEGO® Discovery Centre.

playDUcation posse pleasantly prospects playDUcation places

First Impressions

There are a few families around, but our field research soon uncovers that the real target audience of this place are coltish adults with a token child. With our youngest playDU-er Susann being 24, even she doesn't go by. Our cover is blown: We're going to stand out as unsupervised adults in a child-centered environment. To be frank, we really feel a bit lost at first. Arriving in the main hall downstairs, we keep safe proximity to the elevator. Arms folded, thumbs twiddling, we're unsure what to do.

LEGO®-fied classroom

A few feet away, a familiar sight: A fairly traditional classroom setting with guided instruction. What I take to be a certified LEGO® teacher stands in front of a class and gives them a rundown of the official LEGO® nomenclature. No more calling it the clippy bit, what a bummer! The parent-kiddo pairs sit and listen while we stand in the back, observing. Soon the teacher asks: “Would the oldish children like to join?” Shaking our heads we slowly back out of his class. We didn’t come here for learning the old way.

LEGO® factory entrance

Exploring The Factory

Soon we find ourselves standing in front of closed doors. Above them this sign: LEGO® factory. A monitor with a countdown: Five minutes left! Tick tock. Then the doors swing open, revealing a room about as big as our office. Instead of EasyFlip foils full of ideas, here you find plenty of weird devices covering the walls. Their purpose? Mysterious.

When the doors finally open, we're welcomed by a cheerful guide in a white lab coat. Pretending to be a LEGO® factory technician, he's about to reveal how these famed bricks are made. Leading our little learning group clockwise around the room, he talks us through the entire process and explains what each of these odd machines is for.

Basti can now bake LEGO® bricks

Linear Learning Model

Let me reveal their trade secret: The process starts by taking LEGO® granule—nontoxic he remarks—and stirring it. You warm it up til it becomes all gooey LEGO® and finally melts into LEGO® liquid. Cool it down in a LEGO® form to make-and-bake the LEGO® brick you desire. You may even slam a LEGO® sticker on it. Bäääm!

Viewed through our teacher lens: Even though the instructor picks one of us to push a satisfyingly large button at each station, there's no real interaction here. Much like in German Ostereierpädagogik (easter-egg pedagogy) we cannot stray off his pre-ordained path. Le sigh. Up to this point it's all been a bit disappointing: We entered the LEGO® Discovery Centre and seem to have found a linear learning factory. Time to move on…

Peter engineering his soapbox car

Now They Get To Us

Two huge ramps are the next attraction. There's a slew of children buzzing around them, running back and forth between ramps and workbench. Each kid is building, testing, perfecting their little LEGO® racer and engages in cheerful competition. The first ramp invites to a simple soapbox derby: Press a button and up to four carts roll down an inclined plane. Picking up speed they go down the hill, first through the gate is the winner.

Karin gets ready to launch

Crossing The Chasm

Second ramp is a whole other thrill: Steep downhill slope, jump table, chasm, second jump table. Woah! I found my mekka. It's fun to see the kids try and fail, feeling fiero. We enter the fray, secretly feeling: “Sure I can build a better car than those children!” Heh smartypants, what little you know. From observing others it doesn't appear to be rocket science, but man what a killjoy when your car breaks apart.

Fiero, our favorite kind of fun!

Your Brain Runs On Fun!

All in all, this was a real trip back to our childhood: First feeling frustrated in the classroom setting, then strolling around til we found what we love. Most learning didn't happen where there was most teaching, rather when we were free to play.

Go back

blog comments powered by Disqus