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Microbric goes old-school with new product


The international education expert is bringing back building blocks to help teach children about STEM subjects.

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Although building blocks are a staple of classrooms worldwide, Microbric COO Adriana O’Brien said the company saw a disconnect between theoretical scientific concepts being taught in the classroom and the real world.

“That disconnect was causing students to be disengaged from the lessons,” Adriana O’Brien said.

So Microbric, which is based in Adelaide, South Australia but supplies classrooms across the world, developed the Whybricks learning tools.

The kit consists of building blocks, accessories and lesson plans specifically designed to help students learn about scientific concepts.

“What’s innovative about Whybricks is that it’s using bricks to explain concepts that traditionally have been explained in a way that is not engaging or tangible,” O’Brien said.

“Whybricks uses an inquiry, student-led learning approach so that students can then experiment and see for themselves through the building of different objects, how the physical world works.”

Microbric director Brenton O’Brien said the company put a lot of effort into the teacher and student resources aspect of the kit to make it easy to use and follow.

He also drew on Microbric’s experience providing other affordable STEM teaching resources, most notably its inexpensive Edison robot, which teaches students about computer science, coding, and engineering.

The inexpensive Edison robot has led sales for Microbric.

While Brenton O’Brien acknowledged Whybricks might appear very similar to well-established building blocks such as Lego, he said the price of those sets were too prohibitive for many schools to have each student working on their own project.

A single Whybricks kit contains 2,100 pieces, enough for 10 students to work individually or 20 students to work in pairs, and costs USD$195.

Brenton O’Brien said the bricks are sold in bulk rather than in a traditionally smaller set to give teachers the freedom to decide how they want to present exercises to their students and not have to worry too much if a couple of pieces go missing.

Microbric also did a lot of research to decide on the colours of Whybricks to ensure gender-neutrality.

“We noticed a lot of the Lego products are traditionally thought of as boys’ toys, and Lego have moved into the area of having Lego Friends, [which] they purposely push towards girls,” said Brenton O’Brien.

“Whereas we really needed to find a balance between the two, and [make sure] that it wasn’t communicating a gender in the colouring, or in the exercises, or in the resources.

“So gender neutrality really had a high priority when developing the products.”

While the O’Briens were initially worried about whether there would be enough demand for the tactile teaching tools during the COVID-19 pandemic, they were pleasantly surprised to receive approximately 30 inquiries for the product from Australian and international educators within a day after the release.

Adriana O’Brien said she and Brenton were passionate about children being taught STEM subjects because today’s children “will be the ones to solve really big problems in the future.”

“So I think the most important part about STEM is the skills that you develop through the learning of the different STEM components,” Adriana O’Brien said.

“It’s about problem-solving, understanding the world, being able to look at a phenomenon and understand the different things that are happening behind it, and asking the right questions.

“I think it’s not just learning about engineering or mathematics, but knowing how to use that information to solve bigger problems.”

Brenton O’Brien said through learning the process of scientific inquiry, young people would develop critical-thinking skills that are vital to understanding various real-world issues.

“What makes us really excited for the products that we have and what they do for students is they’re learning about the process of scientific inquiry, in that students learn the process [of] determining the closest thing to the truth, or figuring out why something works the way it does,” Brenton O’Brien said.

“The future requires workers to have a problem-solving ability and I think a lot of schools and governments are waking up to that now and seeing that technology and engineering are becoming important for countries to have a workforce that is well-equipped with those skills.”

This is a Creative Commons story from The Lead South Australia, a news service providing stories about innovation in South Australia. Please feel free to use the story in any form of media. The story sources are linked in with the copy and all contacts are willing to talk further about the story. Copied to Clipboard

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