Over the holidays, I got a chance to spend a day at home, with nothing to do other than build a large LEGO model of the Millennium Falcon. As I was building it, the details that were part of the build helped to bring back memories from books, movies, and games. Being able to manipulate elements that were previously only imagined was, for a Star Wars geek, very rewarding. It got me thinking though, what if I wasn’t attached to the object I was building in any way, and I just had to complete the steps to achieve a result? What if this was a task that had been assigned as so many are in schools everywhere. Jump the hoops, check the boxes, move on.

In this context, if the builder of the model didn’t know what the end result would be, the assignment would be much more difficult, as there would be no way to estimate how close one would be to a final result, or significant checkpoint. If this were a story, this would be akin to knowing what happens in the end – SPOILERS – and that wouldn’t really do. But stories do foreshadow events to allow people to see how things will fit together. During the build of The Falcon, this foreshadowing was there when each stage showed what it would look like when it was completed.

Part of this foreshadowing included holes. Gaps in the model or story where you knew things were going to go/happen, but where the details are not revealed. A simple model or story would have few if any holes, but a more complex story would have these arranged in such a manner that they would contribute to the overall experience. Sometimes these holes are for small details that may not have an impact overall, but that enrich some element for those who would care to look further. Details like chairs that can only be seen when the model is open; a state that it would likely rarely be in once completed.

Beyond the foreshadowing that helps a story, and a build move along, I noticed there was another important element. There needed to be some way to manage the tedium associated with the basic building blocks. Elements that repeat with little if any variation are important, but can so easily be lumped together at the start of the process and labeled as “basics”. In a classroom, these could be those rote skills like spelling or multiplication; in a build, they could be exterior panels. During the build of The Falcon, these “boring” micro builds were spaced through the process and were always in context. I noticed this when I thought I knew more than I did and I built a number of similar pieces, only to find out that there were small, but significant differences that I had missed. The context was vital. Having an authentic context for classroom building blocks should work the same way. Spelling words properly is great, but outside of a sentence, that spelling may or may not be correct or appropriate. The build kept these elements in context and it helped, as you would assume, to tell the story of what is being created. This is different from other builds like IKEA, where subunits are often assembled out of context and then brought together to create a functional whole, but not after at least one subunit is installed backward, necessitating sometimes considerable rework, and breaking the flow.


It’s really not hard to see how/why people describe both builds and stories as being layered. There are many similarities between the two processes, and when done well, they can be used to teach those involved complex ideas in a manner that is accessible and engaging.

Forward and Back

I’ll grab my soap box, and deep thought pose and with a deep breath… get going in this all annecdotal, unresearched or referenced mind dump.

In the news this week, there were two stories about local newspapers shuttering in Canada. The first is CBC Sunday Edition’s story on Moose Jaw losing it’s paper (podcast) and the second is from CANADALAND (podcast) – edit and Day Six (podcast). While these stories are similar and are only related enough to the point I want to make as to inspire this post, they point to the demise of what one could easily say is the most common form of storytelling that we have only lost in the past few years.

Newspapers, magazines, and letters used to be the way stories were told. The length of the story connoted some measure of quality. It used to (and some would say still does), cost a significant sum of blood and treasure to put together a story that fully and rationally explore an idea. Perhaps “back in the day” stories were better balanced to ensure that everyone would have some element of their voice heard. This lead to the idea that if it was in print, the story must be true.

But then as the cost of printing fell, voices started to separate. As more individuals could access the means to publish, the number of publications increased, and to be well read meant that one had to access more sources and those sources, to capture more people reduced the size of their stories. Quickly getting to the point of their argument.

Today we find ourselves in a sound bite and headline world, having slipped down a slippery slope. The co-efficient of friction and the slope continue to move in opposite directions to a point that wants to move stories in front of us so fast, that they are there and have had us react before we even know that we do through the use of managed newsfeeds and predictive algorithms.

These older stories used to have value because they provided insight about the past. Seemingly, it was the past that was the most important part about the art of storytelling – be it the news or epics about heroes. Now it seems that the value of a story is all about how close, and how amusingly it can get a glimpse about the future. So how do we get around this to use stories as a tool to teach when the very tool that we want to use is/has/or will change?

Is it worth trying to use an old tool in a new world?