Braille Monitor                                     March 2017

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Dots from Space!
Voices from the Past

by Amy Mason and Anna Kresmer

From the Editor: This is episode three from our monthly serial “Dots from Space!” If you missed episodes one and two, refer to the January and February issues.

Some time later, as the intrepid crew continues their explorations, they find themselves in a large room with shining glass windows stretching all the way up to the ceiling. A once-stately wooden desk and leather office furniture, showing the signs of age and neglect, are positioned in the center of a semicircle comprised of fifteen chairs. Strewn among the chairs and across the surface of the desk are small structures made from miniature interlocking building blocks, while an enormous glass jar of candy-coated chocolates sits half-empty on the desk.

The first officer rotates slightly as he considers the scene before them. Deep in concentration he stretches out a limb and uses two fingers to stroke what appears to be a small pointy beard on his nonexistent chin. It squeaks softly in the hushed room. “The room appears to have been abandoned, Captain,” he says in an authoritative voice.

“Indeed, Commander Point. Just like the rest of the building, perhaps?” the captain’s exasperation is apparent.

“Yes, er… I mean no, Captain. This room was obviously abandoned in a hurry in the middle of some strange ritual.” Squeak, squeak, squeak.

“An astute observation, as usual, Commander,” replies Doctor Spot. Spot then turns to the fifth member of the group and asks, “How are you making out on reactivating that primitive computing device, Lieutenant-Commander Jot?”

“Almost got it now, Doctor?” says a cheerful voice under the desk as ominous sparks light up the murky room.

Suddenly the computer screen comes to life, and a voice from the past echoes in the long-abandoned room. As the voices from long-ago waft among the crew members, a faint squeaking sound can be heard.

“Knock it off, Commander!” barks the captain. “I want to hear this!”

“Oh, sorry!” A small pop can be heard as the commander quickly retracts the arm back into his body.

LEGO and the Pattern of Experience [Video transcription]

[Son] So, we're also going to need one base plate.
[Father] Got it.
[Son] And we're also going to need one two-by-one flat, please.
[Father] So this base plate is eight-by-sixteen.
[Son] A one-by-two flat.
[Father] A one-by-two flat?
[Son] Yes.
[Father] Hello, I'm Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. I'm also a blind person who is a father of three children. It was shocking to me the first time in one of our science programs in the National Federation of the Blind when we were doing an activity, we were trying to get kids to build models that they were going to test with LEGOs, and these were high school students, and we found that some of them had never built with LEGOs before. And it was a little astonishing to learn that blind kids, especially ones that were interested in science, technology, engineering, and math just hadn't had the opportunity to learn concepts of engineering, building, spatial relationship, simply from playing with LEGOs. So it got me interested in what we could do in our organization to build greater opportunities, and one of the things that we decided we wanted to do was find ways to communicate the instructions for LEGOs, which are often presented visually in alternative ways. So I started with my son, developing a language that we use to describe different pieces. That's the way we build together; we look for different pieces together, we talk about the types of pieces we need—the key is using a common language.
[Son] Put the stud one in the corner. This one up here. This corner.
[Father] This stud one?
[Son] No. Yeah, that one right in the corner.
[Father] Right there.
[Son] Okay, then put the flat piece across.
[Father] Across?
[Son] Yeah sort of across it. No not like that. Just get it down onto, next to it.
[Father] Next to it? Like that?
[Son] Yeah, good. And then put the studded one right underneath the end of that one, of the flat.
[Father] Over here?
[Son] Wrong, wrong, wrong. Right under it.
[Father] Under it? In the middle?
[Son] No, right here, man.
[Father] At the end?
[Son] Yeah, at the end. That's what I'm saying. Okay.
[Father] One thing I think is really important is just letting children have the opportunity to build. So often in society it's focused on our kids building the right way, following the right instructions. But, you know, when I first as a blind child started playing with LEGOs, the focus wasn't on building sets. It was on just getting a bunch of bricks and building things from your imagination and starting to learn the concepts of building. And I think that's particularly important for getting blind children engaging with building. And it can teach so many great spatial concepts.
[Son] And now we need one jointed double one-by-one, one-by-two joints.
[Father] One-by-two jointed. Oh. Like this thing?
[Son] No, but it's connected like one of these except, no, oh yeah. One of these except a different color.
[Father] Oh, that's a jointed.
[Son] Yes. And then we also need two four-by-one stud flats.
[Father] What color?
[Son] Gray.
[Father] I just think LEGOs provide particularly a very fun and interactive way to teach spatial concepts, building concepts, that are very useful for everybody. And besides, they're a lot of fun, don't you think?
[Son] I think that LEGOs are really awesome, and if there weren't LEGOs, the world would be pretty boring.
[Father] So what do you think about building with me?
[Son] I think that it's fun even though you can't see. I think that it's good to have the opportunity to build with somebody who has experience and knows how to build, what to do.
[Father] So what did you learn from building with me?
[Son] That you don't always have to follow the instructions. Just be creative. Build whatever you want.

As the soundtrack of the video fades, Ensign Bean begins to bounce excitedly. “Counselor! This must be how they taught their young! This was some kind of mentoring ritual!”

“I think you may be right, Ensign,” Counselor Mote concedes. “A truly creative way to impart some important life lessons.” [Note: Link to video]

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