French engineer Max Castéra has been bringing fun and learning to some of the poorest children in India – with a little help from LEGO® bricks.
Max has recently returned from Delhi where he spent a week teaching science, culture and engineering in conjunction with Tara, a non-profit organisation providing residential services and education for children from some of India’s most vulnerable families.
Max is the founder of Brickscientist which runs education workshops focusing on art, science and engineering using LEGO bricks. Brickscientist is based in the Netherlands, but Max wanted to take the workshops to youngsters in developing countries.
“A friend of mine, Maria Kharitonova, moved to Delhi a year ago from the Netherlands and she has been actively involved in community engagement ever since. We discussed the project together and Maria did all the ground work, meeting different Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to finally select Tara as the best candidate, given their focus on a limited group of children and their high interest in the educational side of child development.”
Maria carried out evaluations and Max joined her for the workshops in March which were aimed at culture (geography, historical monuments and Indian animals) and science (space engineering and robotics).
On the map
In the culture workshop, Max prepared a map of India made of LEGO bricks, adding special points of interests, such as main cities, animal populations and famous landmarks.
“I used this map to capture the attention of the children and challenge their knowledge and interest of their own fascinating country,” says Max. “We continued with a monument building session where kids could inspire themselves from a book of Indian landmarks, while we would ask them to tell us as much as they knew about it. We would then fill in the gaps together.”
Max says that using LEGO bricks allowed them to challenge the children with concepts of symmetry, balance and architecture.
In the science workshops, Max discussed space engineering with the children, talking about rockets, satellite and astronomy and asking them to build and explain their rockets and satellites. Concepts such as orbit, solar energy, gravity were then explained, with special course materials built out of LEGO resources.
Along with LEGO System bricks, Max also used a LEGO® Education WeDo set to explain programming, which he says was a big hit with the six to nine-year-olds.
“They responded really well to the workshops, showing great interest in both the science and culture sessions. The concept of the WeDo user programming interface also caught their attention, and it ended up being very much about self-learning. Soon they could reprogram the purpose-built plane, with me barely having to explain the concept.
“These sessions allowed us to identify special abilities and interests in some of these children. It was a great fun and learning experience and we were able to pass on our findings to the educators at Tara, who could further develop some newly-found skills.”
The second group was composed of 11 to 15-year-olds and he said the sessions about space and science were very good, however, LEGO bricks were more of a hit with the younger boys.
Max and Maria are now looking at a concept around renewable energy, possibly using dedicated LEGO Education sets. “The aim is to teach the kids in developing countries and in this case in India, to become responsible adults too,” says Max.
Max hopes to expand his workshop sessions to other developing countries around the world and welcomes contact from educators and Non-Governmental Organisations which want to discuss the concept.
He will be writing about his experience more fully in the blog www.geekdad.com. More information can be found at http://www.brickscientist.com/delhi-project/. Find out more about Tara here.