Contributions to teaching profession - Kazuya Takahashi (Japan)

Creativity and independent thinking, built with Lego bricks

Mr Takahashi said students who are not good with language can use Lego bricks to express what and how they think.
Mr Takahashi said students who are not good with language can use Lego bricks to express what and how they think.PHOTO: KOGAKUIN UNIVERSITY JUNIOR AND SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL

Students call him the "Lego teacher", and Mr Kazuya Takahashi of Kogakuin University Junior and Senior High School in Tokyo, Japan, has certainly earned the title.

After all, the 35-year-old uses novel teaching methods, including the use of the plastic toy bricks, to teach independent thinking and creativity in subjects such as English. In a typical lesson, his students may be asked to form small groups and use the toy bricks to create stories about what they have learnt.

Mr Takahashi, a finalist of the Global Teacher Prize, said some students, who may not be good at expressing themselves through language, can use Lego bricks to break through. Such activities also encourage other students to think out of the box.

"With Lego, students can express what and how they think," he said.

Mr Takahashi had explored various learning methods to pique students' curiosity while doing a postgraduate degree in education at the University of Georgia in the United States some 10 years ago.

A subsequent research internship at education technology firm Blackboard in 2007 sparked his interest in online education.

POVERTY PROBLEM IN JAPAN

There are many emergent issues in the world such as the education of refugee children, but there are also critical problems in Japan. A lot of children do not have access to a good education because they are poor.

MR KAZUYA TAKAHASHI, who teaches at Kogakuin University Junior and Senior High School in Tokyo.

He returned to Japan a year later to pursue a teaching career, and has applied innovative methods, such as using information technology tools, in his lessons.

For instance, Mr Takahashi has translated into Japanese an English educational software which enables teachers to share content, distribute assignments, communicate with students and measure their learning progress.

And his efforts are bearing fruit.

A topic which used to take seven classes to cover, for example, now takes at most four lessons.

According to Mr Takahashi, academic performance at his school has also improved as a result of his innovative approaches.

He now holds monthly workshops for his colleagues to share best practices.

He believes that these unconventional methods are important in enhancing the Japanese education system, which places heavy emphasis on academics and test scores.

Besides achieving good grades, students have to develop 21st-century skills such as creativity and critical thinking to prepare for the future, he said.

Mr Takahashi, Japan's first finalist for the prize, did not take home the award but is not discouraged.

He is keen to start his own school in the future to address education problems caused by urban poverty.

"There are many emergent issues in the world such as the education of refugee children, but there are also critical problems in Japan. A lot of children do not have access to a good education because they are poor," said Mr Takahashi.

"Teachers can have a positive impact on children, and are able to help make this world better."

Calvin Yang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2016, with the headline 'Creativity and independent thinking, built with Lego bricks'. Print Edition | Subscribe