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Jan. 14, 2020
Since its creation in 1932, Lego has become one of the world’s most recognizable toy brands. Jennifer Jones sees Legos as more than toys, though – she believes in their power as educational tools.
“One of the great things about Legos is that they’re multisensory,” Jones said. “So you can touch the bumps on the top, you can choose the colors that you want … you’re using your hands and your fine motor skills to put the bricks together. And if you’ve ever tried to take a Lego thing apart, that takes even more fine motor coordination.”
Jones is looking to harness the educational potential of Legos with her new company, Stacked. Using the iconic bricks, Jones has created “pop-up labs” to bring to local businesses and events such as birthday parties to teach kids about STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math.
Jones has a background in teaching and has worked for nonprofits such as ACT to improve the education system for the past 20 years. After seeing a gap in STEM-related learning in South Dakota, she wanted to focus her efforts on providing more STEM opportunities for children in the region.
“I was aware of the gap in STEM interests with students versus what their aptitude was,” she said. “I knew there was a gap in STEM learning. And I also felt as though, you know, kids in rural areas, kids just even in Sioux Falls, they might get an hour or two of real applied STEM learning a week and don’t necessarily get enough time to engage both sides of their brain in learning STEM principles.”
She decided to use Legos because of their universal brand equity and appeal to younger kids, she explained.
“I decided on Legos specifically because it’s the most recognized and loved brand in the world,” she said.
“It’s one of those things that even if a child cannot read the name of the logo, they see the bricks and they say, ‘I want to play with that.’ And so it seemed like a great way to teach kids about things like, you know, what is a lever? What is a pulley? How do those things work? And give them some real understanding of some STEM concepts that might seem abstract or may be difficult to access.”
Jones plans to switch the theme of her pop-up labs every two weeks, covering topics such as winter weather and plastic trash in oceans. Jones builds her themes by first visiting the Next Generation Science Standards’ website to find example units and peer-review notes. She then looks at visuals to brainstorm how to adapt these curricula to Lego builds.
The Lego-compatible “Cubelets” in the video below are an example of an activity offered by Stacked.
While Jones has done private work on her own with Legos in an educational sense, Stacked is making its official debut Jan. 29 at The Frank building, 324 E. Eighth St. Jones will be set up in an artist’s space on the first floor between Queen City Bakery and R Wine Bar from 3 to 6 p.m. Children age 4-14 can be registered for the pop-up here.
As Stacked starts to establish a foothold in the community, Jones said she will continue to keep her business portable to any location that she is booked at. She hopes to someday have a permanent location for Stacked and provide curated kits that parents can buy and bring home for their kids, making it easier to fulfill her goal of administering more STEM education in the community.
“I think that the best thing that we can do is really provide parents the opportunity to not just have to drop off their kid at a place where they may not be fully confident that they’re going to learn something that day,” she said.
“And so this was really an opportunity to extend that out to help parents to bring kids into a point where they’re really enriched with STEM. So I think I’d like to maybe go into some day cares, go into some after-school programs and start developing this and building our reach.”
A new business will offer pop-up Lego labs designed to teach STEM skills.