LEGO® Education and LabVIEW: The Power of Hands-On Learning

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"When we provide children with tools that allow them to have a free-form approach to solving problems, without the restriction of having the ‘right answer,’ we eliminate inhibitions and promote creativity. This helps children develop the tenacity and adaptability that are so highly valued by businesses today, and that will be critical to the businesses of tomorrow."

- Stephan Turnipseed, LEGO Education

The Challenge:
According to the National Science Foundation’s Science and Engineering Indicators, only 10 percent of US students plan to pursue engineering in college, and fewer than half of those students will actually receive engineering degrees. The loss or lack of interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is happening long before these students ever reach a university classroom. When kids spend more time learning than doing, which is typical of STEM education today, they become disengaged or never have a chance to engage at all.

The Solution:
For nearly two decades, LEGO Education and National Instruments have worked together to improve how STEM concepts are taught. Through codeveloped, interactive technology that merges toys that kids love with professional-grade engineering tools, students as young as six are getting inspired and staying engaged by doing engineering and not just learning about it. By participating in hands-on projects, these students are learning the foundational STEM concepts that are critical to success as an engineer.

Author(s):
Stephan Turnipseed - LEGO Education
Randy Atkins - National Academy of Engineering
Pernille France - LEGO Education

The engineers of today and tomorrow must address the world’s most pressing challenges, from developing better medical diagnostic and treatment tools to finding renewable energy alternatives. According to Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, the total number of STEM jobs will grow 26 percent between 2010 and 2020, but filling these jobs could be challenging. In 2011, only 45 percent of US high school graduates were ready for college-level math and only 30 percent were ready for college-level science, according to the National Math and Science Initiative.

As society demands more from its engineers, the US STEM education crisis has reached a new level of urgency. We must not only fill STEM-related jobs today, but also foster a love of technology, science, and mathematics that inspires students to pursue STEM majors in college and then careers in engineering fields. We believe that the answer is STEM teaching solutions and methodologies that are both fun for students and easy for educators to teach core STEM concepts.

The Technology

NI equips engineers and scientists across nearly every industry with tools that accelerate productivity, innovation, and discovery. NI also provides educational tools based on its industry-standard LabVIEW system design software, which bridges the gap between theory and application in the classroom. This puts NI in a unique position to teach kids fundamental engineering concepts using industry-standard tools at a young age.

LEGO Education’s ultimate goal is to inspire and develop children to think creatively, reason systematically, and release their potential to shape their own future. When LEGO Education wanted a technology partner in the early 2000s to develop the software for its programmable robotics platform, NI was a natural fit. The partnership created the perfect combination of cutting-edge tools and STEM leadership. Pairing kids’ love of hands-on interaction with LEGO bricks and industry-relevant technology was revolutionary because it allowed this love to evolve into a literacy of STEM concepts. As a result, the companies have continued developing engaging teaching solutions for nearly a decade. They deliver robotics platforms that provide a framework for systematically and creatively solving problems.

One of the most important aspects of this partnership is the continuum of LabVIEW-based educational tools that scales from kindergarten to some of the most complex applications in the world. The graphical programming capabilities of LabVIEW offer an intuitive interface to users, which is ideal for introducing engineering concepts to young students. The continuity of the software along the spectrum from education to industry also allows students to stay focused on the original goals of each application without continually needing to learn new, more complex tools as they advance.

LEGO Education and NI offer students the opportunity to create, build, fail, and try again—a problem-solving approach traditional classrooms often do not provide. Perhaps more importantly, these platforms generate opportunities to engage students in learning the skills required to solve the grandest challenges for our society today and in the future.

Author Information:
Stephan Turnipseed
LEGO Education

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