6-Sess for NWU: Paving the way one LEGO brick at a time

“If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people” (Chinese proverb)

There are many ways in which one can make an impact in the world, but there is no greater impact to be made than by spreading education and empowering people who, in turn, will empower and teach others.

The 6BRICKS initiative is not new to the South African education department, as this initiative has already been rolled out in three other provinces. However, with North West having been put on the back burner, the North-West University (NWU) took up the challenge and moved our province into fourth place on the national roll-out agenda.

This was done by immediately getting to work and training the personnel of the Foundation Phase subject coordinators and the subject advisers at the North West Department of Basic Education (DBE) in their specific specialisation areas (Home Languages, Life Skills and Mathematics) in the art of learner engagement, using 6BRICKS as a fun educational tool.

More about 6BRICKS: brick background

“Play is the work of the child” (Maria Montessori)

6BRICKS is a simple game that can, through fun and short activities, provide the freedom for a child to train their memory, practise movement and creativity – in short, to just play. Activities can be structured and adapted to match the child’s skill and interests.

The 6BRICKS initiative has already been rolled out in Gauteng, the Eastern Cape and the Free State. However, no South African university has ever been involved in such a roll-out programme. This makes this NWU initiative a first for South Africa.

The plan is to start the 6BRICKS programme in the various districts in North West. Facilitating this initiative is the NGO Care for Education, which will assist logistically with donating the LEGO blocks from the Lego Foundation.

As 6BRICKS can lay a foundation for lifelong learning, the following aims play a pivotal role in the interaction with the learner:

  • Language development, which includes and encourages verbalisations by the child. This embraces activities such as describing and communicating, using rich detail and vocabulary, giving clear instructions, explanations and reasons, and telling stories and assisting in expressing ideas.
  • Problem-solving skills, which include heightened focus, improved memory, confidence to face challenges, setting of goals and making plans, employing creativity, as well as introspection and reflection on the tasks encountered and completed.
  • Collaboration, which includes working together in pairs or teams, sharing and taking turns with the materials at hand, learning from peers and giving and taking roles and responsibilities.

6-Sess community engagement: the NWU’s involvement

It is for this reason that the Educational Psychology subject group of the Faculty of Education  and WILWORKS  established a community engagement project in North West called “6-Sess”. This project forms part of the national DBE’s national roll-out of the 6BRICKS initiative.

The 6BRICKS initiative has also not been foreign to the NWU. This tool was introduced in 2019 and has since been included in the curriculum of all first-year students.

During the professional orientation programme (POP) that is part of the first-year programme and WILWORKS*, a support initiative was provided for students who are required to perform work-integrated learning/teaching practice (WIL) placements in schools. These early 6BRICKS initiatives were implemented under the guidance of Prof Carisma Nel and Dr Elma Marais.

After this foundation had been laid, the initiative was further developed in 2020 and incorporated as a therapeutic tool in the BEd Honours Educational Psychology programme. This extension was done under the auspices of the Educational Psychology subject group in the Faculty of Education, under the professional supervision of the educational psychologists Dr Lynn Preston, Dr Wanda van der Merwe and Mr Jaco van der Merwe.

As this initiative evolves, further innovative additions will strengthen the six-brick concept. From 2022, every first-year student will receive a set of 6BRICKS as part of the WIL programme.

This will ensure that by the time the NWU students are trained as professional educators, they will already possess some knowledge of the internationally known 6BRICKS initiative. These NWU students will also have the basic foundation to apply this knowledge if they decide to continue their academic careers and move into the honours-degree programme.

The Stilfontein Primary trial run

This unique NWU initiative was launched on 24 August as a trial run with the support of Stilfontein Primary School.  The results that were evident at this event were all positive and the staff members thoroughly enjoyed the training. Each Foundation Phase learner and teacher received their own set of 6BRICKS, which will be actively used by the Foundation Phase staff members.

*WILWORKS is a research project at the NWU that conducts research on teaching practice and the development of future teachers as part of the teaching practice requirements.

Dr Elma Marais, Mr Jaco van der Merwe, Dr Lynn Preston, Ms Elmaré Mong and Dr Wanda van der Merwe.

Prof Lloyd Conley and Mr Riaan Grove playing and learning with 6BRICKS.

Stilfontein Primary Foundation Phase teachers being trained in 6BRICKS.

North West DBE official training and launch

The second launch was actually the official launch, which involved the North West DBE Foundation Phase subject coordinators. This event was celebrated at the popular Purple Carrot Chef School of Culinary Arts in Potchefstroom on 1 September 2021.

During the North West DBE training session, Prof Lloyd Conley, executive dean at the Faculty of Education at the NWU, welcomed everyone and added that the NWU was proud to host everyone and that the one thing that had not changed over the years was the LEGO blocks and the way we use them. He further reminisced that what always stood out for him during his childhood school days was when the teacher would make them play in class, as through playing they learned various things.

Prof Conley ended by wisely saying: “If we need to improve the lives of people in our country, we first need to educate them.”

Dr Elize Küng and Prof Lloyd Conley.

The spokesperson from the DBE, Ms Gasenakeletso Hebe, emphasised how excited they were to be in partnership with the NWU and that they were pleased that this training would develop teachers, especially regarding a child learning through their senses.

Ms Gasenakeletso Hebe

Dr Elize Küng, Deputy Dean: Community Engagement and Stakeholder Relations and senior lecturer in the School of Professional Studies in Education, also addressed the trainees, reminding everyone of the privilege of being able to work with the DBE, with everyone sharing the same passion for educating children in South Africa.

The training encouraged participants to experience the fun of playing again. All facilitators and subject specialists interacted with one another and were required to do many practical exercises such as puzzle building, juggling blocks, movement exercises – all with the six simple LEGO blocks.

The training demonstrated how a child builds concentration while being actively engaged, promoting inclusive classrooms. Various elements of sensory stimulation were also being added and brain development encouraged. It was a day of fun, learning and exciting possibilities.

The training was provided by Dr Elma Marais and Mr Jaco van der Merwe, both certified 6BRICKS trainers, supported by Dr Lynn Preston and Dr Wanda van der Merwe, who are both HPCSA-registered educational psychologists at the NWU.

Submitted on Mon, 10/18/2021 - 14:49