Balloons, Classic Rock, and Education Financing: Highlights from the LEGO Idea Conference

April 29, 2015Kavita Hatipoglu

Earlier this month, I attended the 2015 LEGO Idea Conference in Billund, Denmark, alongside my R4D Education colleagues Nicholas Burnett and Michelle Neuman. We went expecting fun, interactive learning, and we were not disappointed. The LEGO Foundation delivered an inspiring and activity-filled two days for participants to meet, engage and learn from one another in support of the conference theme: “Overcoming Barriers to Playful Learning.”

In addition to traditional conference plenaries, 300 participants comprising education implementers, researchers, and funders were invited to explore the LEGO Multihouse conference center which had been split up into five barrier areas:

  • Attitudes and Mindsets
  • Informal Learning
  • Formal Learning
  • Financing
  • Measurement

Each participant selected a barrier area and sought to identify solutions to the barrier issue through playful co-creation and group dialogue. The LEGO Foundation used props and big, bold quotes to encourage participants to think outside the box. For example, the 'Informal Learning' barrier workshop was transformed into a mini-supermarket to illustrate how common household products could be part of a child's learning experience. Meanwhile, in the 'Financing' barrier workshop, participants were asked to use Lego Bricks to demonstrate how they would invest Ministry dollars across different education levels (Hippocampus Learning Centre’s CEO, Umesh Malhotra, eagerly allocated his investments to pre-primary! Image at right).

Notably, to provide context for the workshop themes, five leading education experts, including Nick took part in a panel titled 'Understanding the Barriers to Advance Learning through Play'. You can watch the video recording of that session here.

Following presentations and group discussions, small groups continued to 'play' out their plans to overcome each barrier. Using boxes, balloons, feathers, tin foil, pipe cleaners we illustrated solutions to the barrier area challenges, and the five best ideas were presented at the closing plenary. What struck me about this interactive format was that the participants were very engaged and eager to act on the solutions they had co-created. So much so, that I anticipate some of the ideas will have come to fruition by the time the next Idea Conference rolls around in 2016.

In addition to taking part in workshops, I also had the opportunity to attend a pre-meeting with the Ashoka Changemakers. The day-long event brought together all of the Champions of Play* from the recent Re-Imagine Learning Challenge and 8 Ashoka Fellows. It was wonderful to learn about the exciting and diverse work they are pursuing – from hygiene efforts to teacher training – as well as the challenges they face convincing external audiences of the creative, cognitive, and social benefits of making learning enjoyable and active.

This conference recap would not be complete without recognizing the inspiring plenary speakers. We were spurred to action by Andrew Bollington’s audience-shoe-scaffolding exercise to demonstrate what LEGO means when they talk about learning through play and then back on our feet (wearing our shoes this time) for Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” led by Little Kids Rock’s David Wish.  The rock session also featured the LEGO Foundation’s Sarah Wolman on pipes and the audience guiding the beat with boomwhackers. A young education activist, Nikhil Goyal, threw the shades up on the challenges ahead for education reform to truly realize playful learning while Wendy Kopp of Teach for All, spoke to the progress that has been achieved in its 36 partner organizations.  Finally, Carla Rinaldi, President of Reggio Children, was awarded the LEGO Idea Prize in recognition of her 44-year career and unflagging commitment to child-centered learning.

The 'big idea' behind the LEGO Idea Conference is that “When we put things together, take them apart, then put them together again in different ways, we are not only creating, but also evaluating, reflecting, and re-creating to achieve new possibilities.” After attending this year's meeting, I couldn't agree more.

*Three of the Champions are already profiled on CEI: Dream a Dream, Lively Minds, and Design for Change. Look for the rest of the 10 Champions in the coming weeks!

Kavita Hatipoglu is a Senior Program Associate for the Global Education team at the Results for Development Institute (R4D).

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