Though she spent a year piecing together 400,000 Legos to build an incredibly detailed recreation of the Harry Potter castle and school, Hogwarts, Alice Finch didn’t set out to become a Lego superstar.
It was something to do; plus, now that she had retired from teaching social studies to raise her family, she didn’t want to just watch her kids have all the fun with the Legos. She wanted in on it herself.
So Finch took the 500-piece official Hogwarts set from Lego but expanded it dramatically with her own creative takes, eventually building a fully interactive castle with all the characters, rooms, and storylines. The pictures spread across the internet like wildfire in August.
“When I published pictures online, it got noticed,” Finch said. “Lego contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in building models for their books.”
It was what would be the start of a new career for Finch, who is the only North American working with Lego in her capacity. She also touts Lego’s robotics series, which brings her to Columbia Falls on March 8.
Finch will come to town to teach concepts from Lego Serious Play to Columbia Falls teachers; the Serious Play program was developed in-house at Lego as a way for the company’s team members to learn to work better together. Finch, with her teaching background, said the concept of using play to get people to perform better at work can be transferred to school children, as well as the teachers.
Finch will also teach from the Lego Intro to Robotics series: WeDo, which is the intro kit, with a smart brick they can program; the next level is Boost, which is commercially available and is a middle-level intro to robotics; and finally, the “extremely sophisticated” EV3 set often used by adults.
“I’ll introduce (the teachers) to those three levels, then they can go back to their classrooms and incorporate it into their curriculum,” Finch said.
The teachers will learn in the morning on March 8, and then in the afternoon, 80 Columbia Falls students from grades 2 to 12 will take part in a building challenge project with Finch.
Each student will receive a bag of 75 Legos, and then they get to free build, without any right or wrong creations.
“This is really a demonstration that everybody has a creative bone in their body and it’s really important to allow people to express that without limitation,” Finch said.
The March 8 events comes courtesy of the Columbia Falls Alumni Community Academic Endowment, which raises funds to help support these kinds of opportunities for local students.
Alyson Dorr, a former teacher in Columbia Falls and president of the endowment, said the Lego curriculum fits well with what the schools are trying to do with computer sciences, starting kids early on and then continuing to build their creativity as they get into high school.
“Alice is a master teacher and she’s also a phenomenal Lego builder,” Dorr said. “It’s a great opportunity for our kiddos to get to experience.”
The endowment purchased $7,000 of materials, including WeDo 2.0 and EV3 kits, to continue the curriculum after Finch leaves. The endowment also recently purchased $18,000 of new science lab equipment, replacing some equipment that has been there since the school was built in the 1960s.
Finch also has an upcoming book to be published in June that she calls a builder’s thesaurus, which will again stress the idea that there’s no wrong way to be creative with your building blocks.
“As a result of building the models I’ve done, I keep getting asked how I do that,” Finch said. “Say you know how to build a wall but it’s not a very interesting wall, and you look in the book and you have 100 different ideas of how to build a wall. It’s just to get imaginations going.”
A free-building Lego session can actually stress out some kids, Finch said, because they’re so used to following directions for a right or wrong outcome.
“I really think it’s a difficult leap for some kids to go from following instructions to go to free building,” Finch said. “But just start playing with the bricks, and your fingers are sort of able to figure out what to do. You just start sticking stuff together and after a few minutes, you say, ‘That looks good.’ Just playing with it allows you to gradually come up with something.”