W is for Wildlife Photographer

I was originally saving these shots for one of my Minifigure Monday posts (which will resume after the A-to-Z challenge is over). But, these last letters of the alphabet are hard, and it just so happens that this Minifigure’s title begins with “W”. Work has been crazy too, limiting my blog time considerably. So, today’s post is mostly about a couple of photos that I am quite happy with.

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LEGO Minifigures Series 16 – Wildlife Photographer

This Minifigure came out in Series 16 (the last set before the LEGO Batman Movie Minifigures). The Minifig herself is alright, and she is decked out for an expedition to Antarctica to photograph some penguins. She comes with a camera and one penguin. I actually bought two of the same Minifigure so that I could have more than one penguin. They were real draw for me. I will one day build a zoo for my LEGO city, and you can’t have just one lonely penguin in it.

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LEGO Minifigures Series 16 – Wildlife Photographer

This post was written as part of the April A-to-Z blogging challenge. To read more about the challenge, you can visit the official website. Be sure to check back tomorrow for my LEGO themed letter “X” post!

Until next time,

-T.N.B.

T is for Teaching

This is going to be a long one… My longest A-to-Z Challenge post so far. Though you will probably begin reading this and wonder what on Earth any of this has to do with LEGO, please keep reading. I will get to that!

I am a high school science teacher. While I have taught almost every grade level at some point in my career, I am currently teaching grades seven and eight. Even though I have been teaching for under a decade (teaching is a second career for me already), I have already found myself becoming jaded with the education system. I have found over the years that my students are disengaged, have zero attention span, and are generally under-achievers.

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If I was a LEGO Minifigure, this would be me.

A lot (in fact most) of a student’s success in school is entirely up to them. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. I adhered to this belief for quite some time, and still maintain that it is true to a large extent. However, I have also spent a lot of time reflecting on my own teaching practises, and asking myself if I am doing everything that I can to engage as many students as I can, and the answer was no. It is true that you can bring a horse to water, and that you can’t make it drink. But, if you take that same horse on a stroll through the desert as you make your way to the water, you will increase the likelihood that it will drink at journey’s end.

The ultimate question for me became how do I alter the journey so that more students are likely to engage in my class? The first thing I did was incorporate my interests. I know that my students will not all care about comic book characters, sci-fi movies, and LEGO. But, the fact that I love these things and get excited about them in conversation allows my students to know me a little and develop a relationships. My excitement rubs off on them too, even if they are not all into the same things. Developing my course materials for this method of teaching has been time consuming in the initial stages, but once its done, it only requires tweaking from year to year.

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Traditional lecture style teaching does not work.

The next step was a big one, and it was hard for me. I gave over control of learning to my students. When I was in school, I was lectured to and I had to take notes. I remember being bored out of my mind, and not really understanding what was going on quite a lot. As a teacher, I have found that my students become very disengaged after about 10-15 minutes. It is a fight to keep them on task, and you end up not covering much material. Studies have actually shown that this method of teaching doesn’t even really work, yet most of us experienced school in this way. I have read that only 30% of the population actually learns by hearing. 65% of people learn by seeing. While “seeing” does include notes, diagrams, and textbooks, a study done with undergraduate students found that this traditional style of teaching actually makes students 1.5 times more likely to fail. And those were undergrads, so that population does not include the students that you have already lost during or right after high school.

How am trying to fix this problem and create my proverbial desert through which I will lead my horses? Simply put, I have stopped lecturing. While there may be broad similarities in learning styles, everybody is still unique and learns in their own way. So, why not let them? The process has been many years in the making, and hugely time consuming. I have hated myself for starting this project several times. But, this past month I finally launched my pilot project with my grade seven classes. It is still in the very early stages, and I have not given them a major assessment yet. But, I am no longer fighting for attention. My students come into class and start working of their own accord. They are asking me questions. But, most importantly, they seem to be excited.

What did I do exactly? I gave them one major problem, and I made a checklist. Students have a set amount of time to complete a set number of tasks. They choose which tasks they want to do, and in what order they want to do them. I am teaching simple machines. I selected the wheel and axle as the first. I made a workbook with a text they could read and take notes on. I found YouTube videos with age-appropriate descriptions, and I made questions they could answer. I found online simulations they could complete. I designed a lab experiment for them to carry out and collect data from that illustrates the principles. I gave them word lists to use in the construction of mind maps and quiz games. I have even partnered with industry to run a pilot study in my classroom that uses virtual reality to teach science concepts. All of this is being done with the goal of designing a Mars rover that can traverse a Martian terrain. What Martian terrain, you ask? No, my students are not working with NASA. I built Mars in the center of my classroom over my March break.

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I built Mars in the middle of my classroom. This is version one, it will get better and more detailed with time.

What does any of this have to do with LEGO? Well, like I said before, I incorporate my interests in my teaching. My workbook is LEGO themed, using pictures of Minifigures that I have drawn to teach concepts. I applied for a grant and I bought a crap-load of LEGO for my classroom. The lab I mentioned before requires students to build wheel and axle systems out of LEGO. The Mars rover will be built and programmed using LEGO Mindstorms EV3 sets. And one of their Mars challenges will involve using simple machines to rescue a LEGO astronaut.

All of this is still in the very early stages. Like I said, I only launched this initiative this month. I will run it until the end of the school year, and see if it makes a difference. While my preliminary observations have been encouraging, I know I will not engage every student. You will never please everyone. But, now I can say that at least I have done everything I can to try. And, I get to play with LEGO at work.

This post is a lot longer than I planned it to be, so I will sign off here. Are any of you reading this teachers? I would love to hear of your adventures with similar initiatives.

This post was written as part of the April A-to-Z blogging challenge. You can read more about the challenge by visiting the official website. Be sure to check back tomorrow for my letter “U” post. I promise, it will be solely about LEGO.

Until next time,

-T.N.B.

S is for Sasquatch

I already posted about one of my favorite Minifigures of all time (click here to read about Hot Dog Guy). Today’s post is about another one, my LEGO sasquatch. This Minifigure was released in Series 14, and it has provided me with hours of photography entertainment. I took him on pretty much every hiking trip I went on last summer, taking every opportunity to shoot some pics.

Much like ghosts (click here to read my thoughts on those), the sasquatch is a creature that I am intrigued by, and am not ready to rule out as myth. But, the question arises, how could something so big exist with so little evidence for so long? Well, the answer is quite easily, actually. Let’s begin with what a sasquatch could be. My favorite theory is that Big Foot is a hominoid, which is to say a close relative of ours on the evolutionary tree. Throughout the short history of man, several species of hominoids have co-existed (Neanderthals being the most commonly known). While it is generally accepted that our species outcompeted all others, there is a small chance that we are incorrect in that assumption. Another species of hominoid would be relatively clever compared to many other animal species, and could avoid us easily enough. It has been said that one out of every ten times that you go hiking in the Pacific North West, a mountain lion will see you, but you won’t see it. Now imagine an animal that is even smarter.

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You never know what is lurking in the world’s wild places.

So, why isn’t there any real proof? Well, anyone who has tried to photograph or film wildlife will know that it is actually really hard to do. I used to track lions in Africa for film crews from BBC, Animal Planet, and National Geographic. All those beautiful shots you see on TV take hours, if not days or weeks to catch. For every great shot I took of a lion, I took another multitude of crappy ones. The only photo I managed to catch of a wild leopard during a whole year spent in Africa is a blurry mess. Big animals can hide from and avoid you easily. There were times when we would have a full radio signal from the tracking collar of a lion, but the actual animal was no where in sight.

Then there are all those large animals that we have only discovered recently. In the last 10 years, we have discovered a new species of clouded leopard (which is no small cat) in Indonesia, two species of primates (one in Brazil, another in the Congo), a species of sloth (on an island near Panama), a species of dolphin (in Australia), a species of lemur (in Madagascar), and a species of deer (in Vietnam) among many others. Interestingly, the deer was originally identified from bones, but later was found to be a living species in the woods. There is a lot out there that we just don’t know about, so I am not ready to give up on sasquatches just yet.

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LEGO Sasquatch

What do you think? Do you believe in Big Foot? At the very least, the wilderness of my LEGO world is home to sasquatches.

This post was written as part of the April A-to-Z blogging challenge. You can read more about the challenge by visiting the official website. Be sure to check back on Monday for my LEGO themed letter “T” post!

Until next time,

-T.N.B.

R is for Requisite

The summer season of LEGO releases is close at hand. It is time to start gearing up and planning what I absolutely need, and what I can live without. Sadly, my lowly teacher’s salary does not allow me to go crazy, or even get all the sets I would like to have. So, I pay close attention to what is out, what is on its way to retirement, and what is looming on the horizon when I plan my purchases. I sometimes buy sets because I love the look of the set. Other times, I buy a set because it contains a lot of pieces that I need for my custom projects. My third major reason for buying a set is the Minifigures that come with it. I have been known to buy sets I don’t really like for the Minifigs in them. So, my list of sets that I want is not always the same as the list of sets that I want for just the Minifigures. Today, I will introduce you to my 10 requisite Minifigures that will be released in Summer 2017 (in no particular order).

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Back row: Pro Surfer, Pastry Chef, Diner Waiter, Elvish Warrior, Macho Man, Dodgy Business Man, Vet. Front Row: Parisian Man, Fairy Girl, Gladiator, Corn Cob Man, Retro Space Man, Jazzercise Fan, Dwarven Warrior, Rocket Boy

10. Minifigures Series 17 – Parisian Man
In truth, I will probably get most (if not all) of the Series 17 Minifigures. But, if I had to pick only a few, I definitely would add the Parisian Man to my list. He will go very well with my Creator modular Parisian Restaurant set. He also comes with the first LEGO bulldog that I have ever seen.

09. Minifigures Series 17 – Corn Suit Guy
Who doesn’t want a Minifigure dressed as a corn cob?

08. Minifigures Series 17 – Jazzercise Fan
I am always on the lookout for new and original Minifigure parts, and that hairdo is one I have never seen before.

07. Minifigures Series 17 – Pastry Chef
While I have a large number of LEGO chefs already, surprisingly, none of them are female. This one also comes with a new pie design, and a whisk! She will take over the bakery in my Creator modular Assembly Square set.

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LEGO Darth Maul

06. Star Wars – Darth Maul
Darth Maul is my all time favorite Star Wars character. Say what you will about the prequel trilogy, but Darth Maul was awesome. I was psyched when they brought him back in the Clone Wars series, as well as Rebels. Shockingly, I do not have a regular Darth Maul Minifigure yet. I get the Star Wars LEGO advent calendar every year, so I do have Christmas Darth Maul. I don’t generally collect Star Wars LEGO for budget and storage reasons. But, this Darth Maul comes in a relatively inexpensive set. Technically, it is not a “summer” set. It was released in February. But, it was also released after my last round of LEGO budgeting, so for me, it goes in my summer purchases. The set is called Duel on Naboo (75169).

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LEGO Bane

05. The LEGO Batman Movie – Bane
While not strictly a traditional Minifigure, I am thrilled with this Bane figure. He will arrive this summer in set 70914: Bane’s Toxic Truck Attack. Bane has been released as a normal Minifigure in the past. He was never quite imposing enough in that form. He is supposed to be all pumped up on a fictional super-steroid called Venom, and this figurine finally captures that. The set has a number of interesting pieces that I can see myself using in other projects as well. The new wave of LEGO Batman Movie sets is set to be released sometime in June.

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LEGO Wonder Woman – DK Book Exclusive

04. DK DC Comics Super Heroes: The Awesome Guide – Wonder Woman
This is an exclusive variant of Wonder Woman that will only be available with DK’s new DC Comics Super Heroes book, The Awesome Guide. It is based off of a Wonder Woman costume variation seen in the comic books in 2015. The book is set to be released on May 2.

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DC Super Heroes – Wonder Woman

03. DC Super Heroes – Wonder Woman
What? Wonder Woman again? I already have two Wonder Woman Minifigures at home, but this summer it will be four. This Wonder Woman is based on her look from the upcoming movie. I am pretty sure that this is the same Minifigure seen in the Batman V Superman sets, but I skipped that one because the set itself was expensive and did not interest me. This is a much cheaper alternative, and this Wonder Woman comes with blue hood and cape like you see in the movie trailer. The set it comes in is called 76075: Wonder Woman Battle, and it is slated for a May 1 release date.

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LEGO City – Jungle Exploration theme leopard

02. City: Jungle Exploration – Leopard
Again, this one is not strictly speaking a Minifigure, but it is definitely a figurine that I need to get. I love big cats, and I have been waiting for LEGO to start making them. The one seen above will be part of the new City subtheme that centers on jungle exploration. It is their science based series of sets for the year. These sets are also expected this June. The leopard will come in the largest (and most expensive) set, called the Jungle Exploration Site (60161). An all black variant of the cat will be available in the slightly cheaper Jungle Halftrack Mission set (60159). I would like to get both…

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LEGO Batman Battle Pod

01. The LEGO Batman Movie – Tiger Suit Batman
This little set is supposed to be offered as a freebie at some point. I am aware that it has already popped up in a couple of places around the world, but it has yet to surface in Canada. My hope is that it will be an upcoming LEGO Store free-with-purchase offer. Maybe in conjunction with the release of the Blu-ray of the LEGO Batman Movie? Or perhaps with the new wave of LEGO Batman movie sets? It is officially known as the Battle Pod.

What Minifigures are you looking forward to this summer?

This post was written as part of the April A-to-Z blogging challenge. You can read more about the challenge by visiting the official website. Be sure to check back tomorrow for my LEGO themed letter “S” post!

Until next time,

-T.N.B.

Q is for Quinn

Harley Quinn was created in 1992 as Joker’s accomplice in Batman: The Animated Series. She quickly became a fan favorite, and was adapted for the comic books as well. It comes as no surprise that she has also made it into the LEGO DC Universe. The first Minifigure Harley Quinn appeared in 2008 in set 7886, Harley’s Hammer Truck. She has since appeared in numerous costumes and multiple sets. My favorite is still in the original animated series costume. Here’s a LEGO reimagining of Harley’s origin…

It all began as professional interest. I was fresh out of grad school, looking to make a name for myself. What better way then to be the first the understand the inner workings of the world’s most infamous psychopath?

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As months went by, and the Joker began to reveal his secrets to me, it became apparent that he was not what everyone had made him out to be. The Joker was in fact a victim. Ruthlessly pursued and pushed towards criminal behaviour by a vigilante gone wild.

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Joker was actually a caring soul when you striped away the mask society had forced upon him. I found myself developing more than just a professional interest in this case. If only there was a way for him to be given a legitimate chance in the real world, without all the prejudice and preconceptions. If only I could help him succeed somehow.

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And so, a plan was born to break him out. One fateful night, I found myself back at work in the late hours.

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My heart was racing as I made my way through the halls of the Asylum. I had to play it cool to not arouse suspicion.

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Everything seemed to be going to plan.

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I had stored some materials in the asylum to help make this night perfect.

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This post was written as part of the April A-to-Z blogging challenge. You can read more about the challenge by visiting the official website. Be sure to check back tomorrow for my LEGO themed letter “R” post!

Until next time,

-T.N.B.

P is for Paleontology

While LEGO has never produced a paleontology theme, they have produced paleontologist Minifigures. The subject of my photos today is from Minifigures Series 13. She came with the trilobite fossil you see in the picture, as well as a bone. The other paleontologist came in the LEGO Ideas Research Institute set, which featured all female scientists. So, both paleontologist Minifigures were women!

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LEGO Ideas Research Institute set, with a paleontologist.

Working as a paleontologist was a childhood dream of mine, especially around the time that Jurassic Park came out. I naturally believed that fossilized mosquitoes could bring dinosaurs back to life. Nowadays, I just enjoy fossils in museums. I really like visiting dinosaur exhibits. It comes back to my love of ancient things. While it is not from a dinosaur, I do have a fossil Megalodon tooth. It is crazy to think that it came from an animal that lived millions of years ago. Can you imagine what that tooth has been through? Existing in the mouth of a super-predator? What did that animal see in its lifetime? The Megalodon was the largest shark to ever roam the planet (at least the largest that we know of). It was three times longer, and 20 times heavier than a modern Great White (it was about 20 m long, and had a mass of 54,431 kg). While some cryptozoologists maintain that it might still be alive, most scientists maintain that it went extinct 2.6 million years ago. Its mouth was probably seven feet wide (judging from the average size of fossil teeth found), and it most likely fed on full grown whales. My particular fossil tooth is a small one. In reality, Megalodon probably had over 250 teeth spread out in five rows, and each tooth could reach up to almost 20 cm from root to tip! It also had an estimated bite strength greater than a T. rex.

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LEGO Minifigures Series 13 – Paleontologist

This post was written as part of the April A-to-Z blogging challenge. You can read more about the challenge by visiting the official website. Be sure to check back tomorrow for my LEGO themed letter “Q” post.

Until next time,

-T.N.B.

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My Megalodon tooth.