“Let’s build a robot”: a Lego® building challenge to introduce pharmacy undergraduates to teamwork

By Efi Mantzourani, PhD, MSc, MPharm, PgCUTL

Summer Struggles

“What a challenging time to be a pharmacy student! Not only do you need to become a clinically competent practitioner, but you also need to develop a range of professional skills to integrate in the workplace. And what a challenging time to be a pharmacy educator. How do you marry the fact that professional skills are essential in the workplace, while at the same time, probably not the top priority for 18-year-olds, straight from high-school?

This is what I was thinking in the summer, while reviewing my first-year undergraduate workshop on introducing the importance of working in teams. Students’ acceptance into higher education is based purely on their personal performance on exams and interviewing, so how do I support them to transition to the requirements of healthcare, where the outcome is to work as a team to keep patients safe and happy? How do I design the instruction in a way that is exciting and engages the learners?

The Lego® Challenge
I decided to let the students play with Legos®! The first thing they saw when they came in the room was boxes of mixed colors bricks on their tables, one for each group of 6-8 students. The excitement was instant: “I love Lego®”, “Are you sure we are in the right class?”, and “If this is what [university] is like, I love it already!” were some of the comments.

The task was simple:

  • As a team you have 20 minutes to build a robot.
  • You may build your robot with only two colors of your choice. You may negotiate with other teams to exchange bricks.
  • The team with the “best robot” as determined by class vote wins treats at the end.

The buzz started immediately! Loud noises erupted from Lego® bricks being emptied on the tables, individuals organizing teams, and everybody concentrating on different tasks from sorting colors out to trying and convince others to lend them specific colored pieces. One thing that didn’t happen – no-one queried the activity’s relevance to learning!

Suddenly, the 20 minutes were up, and the robots were built. Everyone voted, the team with the “best robot” proudly shared some sweets, and then reflection began! Each student was given a post-it note and was asked to write down what they thought personally helped them with this task, and what challenged them. This was the students’ start of their reflective journey to develop as professionals, and they didn’t even realize they were doing it. The depth of their insights was impressive as they recognized important skills and attributes that promote or hinder teamwork (Table 1).

To Play or Not to Play?
My job as the instructor was easy! All I had to do was ask them to now imagine that the final goal is not to build a robot, but to provide care to a patient as a member of the healthcare team. This exercise provided a teaching platform from which I could address a variety of important concepts related to healthcare teams. In their future roles on the healthcare team, they will normally have a team they did not choose, key performance indicators they have no control over, limited financial and human resources, time restraints, and the responsibility for the outcome! Their comments even allowed me to go into the territory of Equality and Diversity, by discussing how to ensure delegation of tasks is tailored to members of your team.

Table 1: Sample student observations regarding barriers and facilitators for the Lego® building activity

What helped me during the activity was…What challenged me during the activity was…
Everybody helpedTime restraints
Communication with other tablesLimited resources
Splitting tasksPeople not being interested
Good decision making under pressureFollowing simple instructions
Organising colours and decision based on numbersCommunicating with other teams
Motivated by rewardsToo slow at deciding
Clear goalI am colour-blind

More Lego®?
Playful learning is increasingly being used in higher education1-3 and evidenced-based approaches such as Lego® Serious Play® 4 is one such technique that is gaining ground. In my workshop, the incorporation of “play” had several seemingly positive effects on learning. Students’ intrinsic motivation was high as it was a pleasurable activity, and this in turn enhanced engagement. While they were having fun, they also had to follow rules, and this structure made it easy for me to move to the next phase of the session and relate the activity with the intellectual concept of teamwork. The goal was achieved and we are definitely playing Lego® again! What other games have you used successfully in teaching?

I would like to thank all the students who engaged so enthusiastically in this workshop!


1. Buckley, C. Conceptualising plagiarism: using Lego to construct students’ understanding of authorship and citation. Teach Higher Educ. 2015;20(3): 352–358.

2. Nerantzi, C., Moravej, H., & Johnson, F. Play Brings Openness or Using a Creative Approach to Evaluate an Undergraduate Unit and Move Forward Together. J Perspect Applied Acad Pract. 2015;3(2).

3. Nerantzi, C., & Despard, C. Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice Do LEGO ® Models Aid Reflection in Learning and Teaching. J Perspect Applied Acad Pract. 2014;2(2): 31–36.

4. Mccusker, S. Lego Serious Play: Thinking about Teaching and Learning. Int J Knowl Innovat Entrepren 2014:2(1): 27–37.


Efi is a Senior Lecturer in Pharmacy Practice at Cardiff School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Educational scholarship interests include designing and evaluating novel opportunities for role-emerging placements and reflective practice. In her free time, Efi enjoys walking and playing Lego®.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning


  1. Efi, Thanks so much for your creative ideas. We’ve used various strategies to begin instruction related to teams, but this would give the first orientation new energy! In particular, I appreciated reference 4, which I’ve shared with our professional development instructors. I love how they were using legos to facilitate identity development. Kristin Janke, U of Minnesota


    1. Thanks Kristin, it is great that you find it useful! Part B of the workshop was linking all the lessons learnt to working in an inclusive environment, applying principle of Equality and Diversity. If you think it is of interest I would be more than happy to send you the slides.


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