Mindscape in LEGO

While shopping the LEGO website the other day, I ran across a free application they provide called LEGO Digital Designer. With it, you can assemble bricks from the included palette, then package and upload your creation back to the site. This looked pretty fun so I gave the software a whirl.

Now, I am not a professional 3D modeler, but I do have experience in a few tools, such as Blender, and expect a few necessities in a 3D modeling application. LEGO Digital Designer does not have them. But that’s OK, I thought. I’ll just play around with it.

For an experiment, I decided to model the building I work in, 25 Ottawa SW, Grand Rapids, MI, the home of Mindscape at Hanon McKendry. My goal was to capture the feel of the building (being that it is LEGO and not a precise, 3D replica) without getting into too much detail. Well, that’s hard for me to do, and before too long, I found myself agonizing over placing bricks exactly where they should be to accurately reflect the building’s layout. Then I would take a step back, take a deep breath, and remind myself that I’m just capturing the building’s essence. Then it would get fun again.

However, the application does have a lot of shortcomings, and as soon as the brick count started rising, I found it more and more difficult to place bricks, even in seemingly simple scenarios. Time to put this together started skyrocketing and I decided to call it quits for now before this turns into a lifelong project. I may have to look into other tools such as LDraw and see what they have to offer.

That being said, this is where the model stands right now, at 4,368 bricks. This view is from the Southeast (you can click the pictures to see the full-size view).

25 Ottawa SW, Grand Rapids, MI
25 Ottawa SW, Grand Rapids, MI

Here is a view from the Northeast.

25 Ottawa from the Northeast
25 Ottawa from the Northeast

As you can see, it captures the building’s essence on a basic level. Here are a few more detailed views.

In this view, we’ve zoomed in to look through the first floor to see the Mindscapers hard at work in “the pit”. If you look through the small window on the right, you can even see the bearded Matt, hard at work on a website.

"The Pit" at Mindscape
"The Pit" at Mindscape

Here we are taking a bird’s eye view through the roof. You can see the entire “pit” on the first floor, and several other items under construction. The stairwell and elevator shafts are positioned, and the Skywalk has been run through the building and ready to be connected to the adjacent buildings.

Bird's Eye View
Bird's Eye View

It would be nice to finish this, especially to add in the rest of Mindscape and Hanon McKendry on the sixth floor, and to build out 25 Kitchen on the first floor. But I think I’m going to need a new tool. Of course it would be nice to build it out of real LEGO, but I would probably have to win the lottery to buy 5,000+ bricks. Has anyone out there had experience with any other digital LEGO tools?

Learning Has Always Been Fun

Learning is Fun

I was reading a blog post today about how a few companies are collaborating on a new app for NASA that will integrate the playability of an MMORPG and the coolness of real-world science. This sounds incredible to me and I can’t wait to try it. The one thing that irked me though was how when things like this come up, the cliche thing for marketers, journalists and the media to say is, “it will make learning fun” or “your kids won’t even know they are learning”.

News flash to those out there that think you have to disguise learning: LEARNING HAS ALWAYS BEEN FUN AND PEOPLE ENJOY IT.

With few exceptions, everyone loves to learn. Learning new things is what makes life exciting instead of the same old thing everyday. Talk to almost any kid in elementary school and they enjoy going to school and absorbing loads of new information. Post-elementary? Well, that’s where the excitement begins to diminish. Why?

That brings me to my theory of where this popular “It’s OK, they won’t know they’re learning” phrase came from. It probably stems from many kids’ attitudes toward post-elementary school. Learning isn’t a drag, school is. Allow me to elaborate.

The School Setting

Do you remember what it was like walking into your elementary school classrooms? I remember there were heavily decorated walls. Posters of planets, ecosystems, history and far-off places invigorated the mind. Art projects hung from the ceiling. Who wouldn’t get excited to dive into knowledge in a setting such as this? These are the best years of school.

This week we took our kids to their school open houses. As expected, the classrooms for our two youngest in elementary school were comfortable, full of creative inspiration and poised to take in a roomful of energetic kids. Then came the middle school for our two oldest kids. What did those classrooms feel like? In a word, boring. White cinder-block walls. One or two posters. Nothing hanging from the ceiling. Desks in rigid rows. Cold and sterile. Wow. Let’s open up that social studies book and have fun!

Why can’t we carry that “elementary school room” mentality throughout middle school, high school and beyond? Do we think decorations and models are childish? I don’t understand. Why is it that the system thinks we don’t need to be fully stimulated anymore as we grow older?

Following the Rules

One of my most negative memories of school was during a high school English class where we were given a short story writing assignment. At that time I had a favorite author who I liked to emulate. One of his popular writing techniques was to end a paragraph with a very short “sentence” for impact. For example, the end of the paragraph might read, “Very cold.” Now, you know and I know that this is not a complete sentence in the sacred, formal rules of grammar. So what? I loved how it sounded and how it made me feel when I read it (I actually used a few in this post, ahem).

“No. That is not allowed. I’m marking points off”, was the teacher’s response. That’s interesting. I wonder if the author, who made millions of dollars from his books writing that way, realized his blatant disregard of the English language with his sentence fragments?

My point is that creativity is stifled when students aren’t allowed to push boundaries and bend rules. Isn’t history full of examples of greatness when so called “rules” are not followed precisely?

Sark feels my pain in her book, A Creative Companion.

At school, things may have changed. The chairs were in rows, and tree trunks were to be colored brown, not purple. If you lived in a world of purple tree trunks, you probably learned to hide it.

Encourage Learning. Encourage Fun.

Our education system should do everything it can to keep our students excited for the long term. I think two very simple steps could be taken right now. Make the school settings engaging throughout all levels of education and encourage creativity and rule bending.

Learning is not a drag. School is. Let’s change that.