Sometimes the Mind of a Child Solves Complex Problems, Part II

B picThanks to my wife, Tandy, the photos in this installment are a good reconstruction of how things went with the LEGOs. First, I emptied the 40+ LEGOs onto the coffee table in front of the living room sofa and asked for a volunteer to choose and arrange some of them into a “message.”

A high school boy named A.J. Sanders took the male and female figurines and draped the skinny and ridged tire around them. When I asked, “What is the message?” he replied, “Love.”


These were the only three LEGOs he chose, and I couldn’t have been more surprised since I had no preconceived notion of what anyone might construct, and certainly this was a delightful surprise.

After expressing my wonderment and enjoyment, I said, “Are they just out there alone with no setting or anything around them? What can you add to this to fill it out a little more?” Quickly he put up a house around them with some the blue blocks in front. I asked, “What have we got here?” and he said, “It’s a house on the beach.” This was really fun.


I also asked A.J., “Are they going to live on love?”  She might say, “Baby, I love you, but I’ve got to have some food.” So David went to work, and soon another item appeared.

“What is that?” I asked, and he replied, “It’s a concession stand.” Oh my, this had gone better than I had ever imagined.


The connection to writing from there was easy. “We all have lots of thought in our heads swirling around, and it’s tempting to think that we have to get them in order mentally before writing any of them down. But what if dumping out the LEGOs onto the table was like cutting the top of your head off and letting thoughts spill out onto paper? It doesn’t matter if they look like a mess.”

Some people do feel more comfortable making outlines first, but one of my professors, Dr. Ann Hawkins, provided an awakening moment one day when she said. “I find out what I want to write about as I’m writing.” Later, one of my mentors at the college, Taylor Carlisle, introduced me to free-writing, and it has cured writer’s block countless times.

The beauty of starting with free-writing is that no has to see it until you are ready. Until then, you can make any kind of mess while you look for energy and images that spark the revision stage. The revision stage is an exciting time of playing with the free-writing until it’s time to more formally group thoughts into a flow and connect and polish them.

Freewriting. grapes, pen, notebook, progress....

Freewriting. grapes, pen, notebook, progress…. (Photo credit: juliejordanscott)

It can also be helpful often to get ideas from others as the “message” develops. Questions and observations can stimulate smoother, clearer communication with lively images. Then comes the self-editing, which is followed hopefully by proofreading from someone able to help with grammar improvement.

Wally wanted me to give the students a writing assignment to be reviewed by the Challenge House ambassadors, in this case, Ellen and Nate Ragsdale. Ellen is a writing enthusiast and loved the presentation, and she took a lot of journalism courses in college.

Since the students had received their blank, new journal notebooks at the beginning of the “Attitude, Training, and Teamwork” week with the instructions to jot down notes from various sessions, I suggested doing a 400 word free-writing on thoughts and observations that stuck in their minds from their notes and handouts, to be followed by a revision and then editing to emphasize initially the correcting of fragments into complete sentences.

The sighs and groans were politely manifold. Ha ha, teachers expect that.

Screen Shot 2013-07-28 at 4.48.29 PMI haven’t heard back yet from Ellen, and it’s rare indeed to give a writing assignment that I don’t have to grade. Hopefully, despite any short term errors in how the assignment went down in the student journals, the concept of progressive stages in writing will connect to the happy halo of the LEGOs’ vignette.

The positive vibes for writing were also abundant since Wally is a vivid and clear writer himself; and he had invited, unbeknownst to me, our good friend, Dr. David Carter to observe. David just retired from a long career as a beloved speech professor at Hopkinsville Community College, and I bet his caller ID will be showing Wally’s name for some Challenge House projects.

This was a rich experience, and the LEGOs did it for me as well. Yep, I see more clearly now too.

pleasureteam note (from Karen): I’m visiting New York at the moment. I enjoyed Brian’s first installment of this story, and I had the privilege of previewing the post above.  As I was walking in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, I saw this poster in a storefront window. It certainly reminded me of Brian’s great idea to use LEGOs to help students get their feelings on paper.  To learn more about the exhibit and see some truly astonishing LEGO art, click here.

(The “Photos” section automatically changes to show different creations.)legoposter



2 comments on “Sometimes the Mind of a Child Solves Complex Problems, Part II

  1. Bill Rowlett says:

    Fascinating, Wally and Brian and thanks for sharing it with us. A mind is a wonderful thing and as you know, we learn 90% from visual perceptions rather than auditory ones. I think better with a pen and paper as ideas unfold and haven’t learned to translate them into words with ten fingers on a keyboard, or even worse, trying to express them using Dragon. My hat goes off to Brian in his Project. Small group learning with a teacher who considers you as an individual rather than just one more kid in the room calls for accountability. Dr.Bill

  2. Tks Dr. Rowlett for the warm and insightful comment, and I look forward to your writings!


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