Picture a LEGO School
If you’re envisioning a building made of tiny plastic bricks, you might be closer to imagining the student projects at the International School of Billund (ISB) than the school itself. Imagine instead a large playground space with a 40m long climbing structure, classrooms with large sliding doors to expand the learning space, and ergonomic desks. Picture a diverse group of students from 50 different countries focused on play and inquiry. Open up the floor to find secret cubbies of Lego hidden safely beneath the feet of energetic kindergarteners. Lego’s International School of Billund might not be made out of the company’s signature bricks, but it definitely reflects their love of play.
“We guide and stimulate children to become ambitious lifelong learners who achieve personal fulfilment and who will make positive contributions to our ever-changing world.”– ISB Mission Statement
The Capital of Children
Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, former CEO of the Lego group and chairman of the Lego Foundation, has long held the dream to make Billund the “capital of children”. Billund has been home to Lego since the very beginning, when Ole Kirk Kristiansen founded what is now the world’s 3rd largest manufacturer of play materials in 1932. In honour of his grandfather’s legacy and his love of his hometown, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen has funded a number of projects in the Billund, including theatres, libraries, and Denmark’s second largest airport. ISB is his most recent and highly ambitious project.
Opened in 2013, ISB has a current enrolment of about 320 students between ages 3-15, about half of whom are Danish, with the others coming from 50 different countries around the world. Class sizes are small, and the school typically has a long waitlist for admission.
And it’s no wonder that so many children and their families are interested in the school. Walking into the Kindergarten classroom, you’ll be greeted by a giant yellow twisty slide, an indoor treehouse, and a wall of dress-up clothes. Every division of the school has access to tinker tables, creator spaces, and innovation labs. The space looks and feels playful, and yes, there are a few places in the building where the walls are covered in Lego.
But are students just playing all day? Or actually learning?
The answer is both. ISB agrees with us that play is actually an amazing way to learn.
“Allowing time for creativity, play and getting into a state of flow is at the centre of Lego’s philosophy and we’ll be experimenting with this and other ideas in the timetabling.”– Richard Matthews, Head Teacher
Play-based learning is at the heart of the ISB model, but they also focus on rigorous academics to develop their young leaders. The curriculum is a combination of the International Baccalaureate World School programming (IB), standard Danish public education, and inquiry-based learning. Students take classes like math and English alongside Design and Technology and “units of inquiry” to encourage creativity, innovation, and to make space for play-based learning.
“In the UK you’re taught to pass exams. In Scandinavia you’re taught how to think.”– Prospective Parent
The skills that ISB is giving to their students are the kind of 21st Century Skills that we need more students to be building. Standard schooling is actually making students less creative, which is not going to help us to solve the new kinds of problems that seem to be coming at us faster than before. We need more schools that are willing to start an educational revolution and add some “units of inquiry” to their days.
Changing the State of Education
Kirk Kristiansen hopes that this school will not be the only one like it; he’s hoping that other schools focused on the blend of play and and formal programming like IB will open worldwide, as the success of the school becomes more clear. To make a case for this, the school’s participatory research program is designed to measure the impact of something that many educators are already confident about.
“[Play allows students to] try out ideas, test theories, experiment with symbol systems, explore social relations, take risks, and reimagine the world.”– Lego Pedagogy of Play Project
ISB has partnered with Project Zero for the Pedagogy of Play Project, to explore what it means to make play central to schooling, and has already generated 2 papers, 3 pictures of practice, and 17 booklets in the Pedagogy of Play Toolkit. These resources are available to any teacher, with the hope that the insights from ISB can be implemented in other schools and learning communities as they are being discovered. ISB has also partnered with leading institutions like Tufts University, Harvard, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study their outcomes and enhance the educational programming that they are offering to students. This is just part of Lego’s greater investment in researching play-based learning, which can also be seen in the PEDAL Centre at University of Cambridge that is funded by the Lego Foundation.
ISB could become a model for the classroom of the future, and if that means more of us get indoor treehouses and the freedom to explore big ideas, sign us up!