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Building Blocks

I used to think all you could build with blocks was structures. That was until I first opened a bag of Keva blocks with a group of four students. I challenged them to build a tower as tall as they could. At first, they just sat looking at the blocks, but before long they began building. I started listening and captured their comments.

"This is a fun challenge.

"I’m going to finish.”

“Help me make it.”

“This is hard.”

“Let’s do this!

"Oh, cool!

"This is really fun!"

"I’m trying.”

“I’m not losing on this.”

“I have a new idea.”

It turns out building with blocks also builds teamwork, persistence, creativity, and critical thinking. This lesson also built more than towers. It built the foundation for a relationship with students that taught me some important lessons about learning. I began to realize some of the critical components necessary for learning and developed a theory of play, practice and purpose.

Play is the foundation for learning. Play is not just an activity; it is an attitude. It opens our minds to new ideas and to learning. Through play we can test out ideas and develop skills. But play by itself is not enough. We need to build on this foundation and practice the newly found skills. As we practice skills, habits, and attitudes through repetition, they become permanent. The piece that connects both play and practice is purpose. When we have a purpose for our activity, we are more engaged and motivated to focus our play and practice toward that goal.

It was just a simple lesson with blocks, but it built the foundation for a story. It turned me into an author. It built relationships with students and other teachers. It changed what and how I taught. Today when I teach with blocks, I know I’m not just teaching a lesson. I’m building the foundation for students to play, to practice skills, and to realize their purpose for learning.

These past few weeks, I have been using the Keva blocks again with students. Students were challenged to build a bridge to span an 8.5-inch distances without any blocks touching the water using as few blocks as possible. In their first attempts students used well over 50 blocks as they learned about balance, cantilever, and weights. As they continued to explore, they managed to build a bridge using just 7 blocks. Then they began challenging themselves to build stronger bridges and ended up being able to build a bridge that held about 10 lbs. If you peaked into my classroom, it might seem like there isn’t much learning going on. After all, the kids are just playing. But if you really look and listen, you will notice they are learning about balance. Not just balancing blocks but balancing with each other. It is difficult to know how to work with another person and communicate your ideas and not get upset when they do something different or accidently knock down your tower. They are also learning about the economics of supply and demand. There are only so many blocks available and often students need to share or change their design ideas due to lack of supply. It’s also interesting to watch students realize what it is like to build something in the physical world. Many of them have built countless towers and bridges in virtual worlds and games but have now understanding of the how it works in the real world.

Blocks may just be one of my all-time favorite teaching tools. Building blocks build more than just structures. They build skills, relationships, and understandings. What can you build with blocks? For more information about building with Keva blocks, check out the Keva website to purchase blocks and to get free teaching resources:

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