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LEGO funds new $5 million Media Lab facility

MIT has announced that the LEGO Co. will fund a $5 million LEGO Learning Lab at MIT's Media Laboratory. The new lab will focus on the development of new learning technologies for children -- and also the development of new theories about children's play, learning and creativity.

"The Media Laboratory and the LEGO Co. share a deep respect for children and a fundamental belief that our investment in their learning and imagination will bear significant fruit for future generations," said Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, chief executive of the LEGO Co.

"Today's children are the world's first truly digital generation," said Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder and director of the Media Lab. "Establishing this laboratory provides an exciting opportunity to help redefine how children learn in an online world."

The LEGO Learning Lab is the latest stage in a 15-year collaboration between the LEGO Co. and the Media Laboratory. This collaboration has led to a new generation of learning materials, based on "programmable bricks" with electronics embedded inside. With these new kits, commercialized last year in the LEGO Mindstorms product line, children can build and program their own robots and other computerized contraptions.

LEGO has also endowed a LEGO Professorship at the Media Laboratory. This endowed chair, held initially by Seymour Papert, is currently held by Mitchel Resnick.

The establishment of the LEGO Learning Lab will enable MIT students and faculty to extend and expand their research efforts in the field of learning and education. Research will be guided by the Media Laboratory's "constructionist" approach, in which children learn through a process of designing, inventing and experimenting.

As part of the Media Laboratory, the LEGO Learning Lab will be able to draw on leading-edge research in digital technology, including the latest advances in embedded computing, smart materials and "things that link." It will have strong connections to the Media Lab's Toys of Tomorrow initiative.

Questions to be explored in the LEGO Learning Lab include: Can new digital technologies enable children to work on projects and learn concepts that were previously seen as too complex for children? Can we make computer programming as easy and natural as putting LEGO bricks together? When children's toys can communicate with one another, what are the new play and learning opportunities?

The LEGO Learning Lab will serve as a centerpiece of the Media Laboratory's new Okawa Center for Future Children, to be housed in a new building next to the current Media Lab facility. Until the opening of the new building, set for 2003, the LEGO Learning Lab will be located in the existing Media Lab building (E15).

The creation of the LEGO Learning Lab was announced during MindFest, a two-day festival of inventing, designing and learning, organized by the Media Lab. Billed as "a gathering of playful inventors," MindFest was a celebration of the creativity unleashed by new technologies such as LEGO Mindstorms.

The LEGO Co., established in 1932 and headquartered in Billund, Denmark, is one of the world's largest toy manufacturers, employing about 9,000 people in 30 countries. The company has molded more than 200 billion plastic building pieces during the past 50 years.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 27, 1999.

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