Ngā Matapakinga | Discussion

    Gerard MacManus
    The Computational Duck
    6 March
    Public discussion Created by Gerard MacManus

    The Computational Thinking Duck


    Age Range

    Suitable for all ages


    You WIll Need:

    6 LEGO bricks per students (for the main activity)

    • 2, 2x2 bricks (yellow)
    • 1, 2x4 brick (yellow)
    • 2, 2x1 brick (yellow)
    • 2, 2x3 flat plate bricks (orange)

    A range of additional bricks for the extension activity

    A digital alternative to LEGO bricks is the Virtual LEGO Builder (unavailable due to G+ being discontinued).


    LEGO does not make this kit anymore, a possible solution could be to purchase alternative blocks through


    This activity uses LEGO bricks to help develop computational thinking and creativity skills through play. The students should be encouraged to tinker, play and explore ideas to discover key concepts for themselves. The role of the teacher in this activity is to facilitate that learning and help students realise their discoveries and to embed and solidify the knowledge that they have gained.


    Create packs of the 6 bricks ensuring that each student has the two orange and four yellow bricks to enable them to create their own duck. Ask students to build a duck, give them no further instructions. Encourage them to get creative, see what they develop; each student should independently create their own duck and not attempt to follow their peers.


    After each student has created their duck ask them to compare their ducks with that of their peers. This is a good point for discussion as all the ducks will be different. Ask the students to examine their ducks. Why is each one different? The answer is because of the instruction given. Simply saying “Make a duck”; leaves how the duck should look open to interpretation. As humans we add our own prior knowledge and make the duck according to how we think it should look. However, computers do not have that ability, they simply follow the algorithm programmed within them.


    The next part of the activity encourages students to examine algorithms in different forms.


    Pair up students together. There are two distinct roles for the students to play, and both will take it in turns to play each role. One student will play the role of ‘programmer’ and the other will be the ‘human computer’. It will be the job of the programmer to describe their duck to the computer.


    Verbal Instructions

    Instruct the students to first give their partner verbal instructions to recreate their duck. It is worth noting that this activity can be repeated several time with different levels of questioning attached to each. For example:

    • Round 1 - free discussion between the pair, no restrictions.
    • Round 2 - allow the (student) computer to give feedback on whether or not they understood the instruction, but not ask any questions.
    • Round 3 - the (student) computer gives no feedback on the instruction, they simply execute the instruction given as best they can.

    Engage students in discussion about algorithms they gave their partners

    • How successful was their algorithm?
    • Did they have to refine their algorithm at all?
    • How easy was it to describe their duck to enable their partner to recreate it?
    • As the students worked through the rounds did the process become easier or more difficult?
    • Round 2 and 3 begin to illustrate the importance of computer feedback and systems with well-designed error message. What type of response from the students computer was the most helpful? Why?

    Written instructions

    Ask the students to write down the algorithm that would enable their partner to create the exact duck model that they have made.

    Pair up students and tell them to swap instructions. Each student should test the instructions of their partner, are they able to recreate the same duck? Engage students in discussion about what they have found, for example some starting points may be:

    • Give an example of a very good instruction - what made this a good instruction?
    • Give an example of an instruction that was difficult to follow - why was this difficult?
    • How long did it take to follow the algorithm?
    • Were the instructions accurate?


    Graphical Instructions

    When LEGO issue building instructions for their kits, the algorithms are graphical rather than text based. Why? Ask the students to examine existing LEGO building instructions.

    What is common about each set of building instructions?

    What are the differences between each instruction set?

    Why are they easy to follow?


    Engage students in discussion about the importance of good algorithms. What have they learnt from the tasks they have carried out so far?


    Ask the students to draw their own building instructions for their duck and then test it on a new partner. Engage the students in another short discussion to evaluate the result of this test. Help draw out the key elements of the activity and ehat makes the graphical representation of the algorithm so effective for the duck building exercise.


    Evaluating Algorithms

    Engage the students in discussion to compare the different algorithms that they have developed for their duck.

    • Are the algorithms better written out or drawn?
    • What difference does it make?
    • Why?
    • Which algorithm was easier to produce?
    • Which algorithm was easier to follow?

    The evaluation of the different algorithms can take a more formal approach by working with students to devise a set of evaluation criteria that they can test. These criteria could include:

    • The speed of the algorithm
    • The length of time it took to create the duck by following each algorithm
    • The efficiency of the algorithm
    • Was the end result accurate?
    • How many errors were made by following the algorithm?
    • How easy was the algorithm to follow?

    Extension Activities

    There are a range of activities that can be carried out using different coloured 6 blocks. The activity carried out can be easily extended, with students developing their own versions. Try the activities below:

    Ask students to pick their own 6 bricks and then:

    • Use it to create an object, i.e. a tree
    • Develop an algorithm for the object
    • Give the bricks (without the algorithm) to another person
    • Do they create the object identical to yours?
    • Now try it with the algorithm? Does it work?

    Links to Computational Thinking

    Where is the computational thinking in this activity?

    This activity uses a range of computational thinking techniques. The key skill developed here is algorithmic thinking. With students formulating their own instructions that may be simply sequential or follow logical operations. Students work with their verbal instruction to create them in written form, which then may begin to see the introduction of programming concepts such as loops/iteration.


    The construction of the duck enables the, yo touch upon abstraction and decomposition. For example, they need to be able to identify the different parts of the duck that can be represented through the six bricks, while this in itself is decomposition, abstraction enables them to realise that they will not create an exact replica of the duck. Key details about the features of a duck will need to be ignored of they are going to create their own model replica using only 6 LEGO bricks. Teachers can engage in discussion to help students see what details they automatically began yo ignore about ducks.


    Continuous evaluation enables students to constantly test and debug their algorithms. Key discussions around the effectiveness of different algorithms enable them to see if it is fit for purpose. Were there alternative solutions, what did their peers come up with? These are all valuable considerations and it is important if possible to enable students to try and arrive at their own evaluation criterion; This may be specific for each individual or a collective effort by the class to arrive at a common set of criteria that they deem suitable/


    Tip: to ensure everyone contributes to the common set of evaluation criteria, ask each student to writ ethir top 3 most important evaluation criterion on post it notes and then to stick them onto the board/wall etc. The teacher can then use these to identify the most common suggestions (and the most important ones) to help devise the class set.


    New Zealand Context-Sections from Progress Outcomes

    Computational Thinking for Digital Outcomes

    Progress outcome 1

    In authentic contexts and taking account of end-users, students use their decomposition skills to break down simple non-computerised tasks into precise, unambiguous, step-by-step instructions (algorithmic thinking). They give these instructions, identify any errors in them as they are followed, and correct them (simple debugging).


    Progress outcome 2

    In authentic contexts and taking account of end-users, students give, follow and debug simple algorithms in computerised and non-computerised contexts.

    NOTE: You have to be a member of the group in order to reply to a discussion
      • Annette Vartha
        By Annette Vartha
        Jul 6

        Further to Jill Monteiro's post: it is great to see another ESOL teacher on board with learning DDDO!   
        I agree that the promotion of speaking English is paramount! When students are enjoying themselves and engaged in what they are doing, they relax and are more likely to speak English. Using the Lego Ducks in a collaborative small group activity would be really fun for my students - kinesthetic too! 
        Getting our ESOL students (most particularly former refugees) up to speed with digital technology language would also hugely help in mainstream classes.  

        • Jill Monteiro
          By Jill Monteiro
          Mar 24

          This would be a great activity for my ESOL children to develop oral language skills. Will bring out some cognitive language.

          • Donna Love
            By Donna Love
            Mar 20

            Wow these look really cool could be something to try with my class and then maybe try using different coloured lego pieces the put the results into a type of graph. 

            • Tessa Gray
              By Tessa Gray
              Mar 20

              Gerard MacManus as always, we're so lucky to have you share your fantastic ideas, lesson plans, pictures and videos. I'm off to on-share these with others in social networks as well. Thanks again for leading the way! yes

              • Gerard MacManus
                By Gerard MacManus
                Mar 19

                Happy that my ducks have now arrived and now waiting for eyes to be attached.pieces of duck

                Testing to make sure that ducks go together

                Ready for the 100 computational duck challenge? how many ways can you make a duck from 6 lego bricks? 

                • Lesley Hodge
                  By Lesley Hodge
                  Mar 19

                  Thanks Gerald. Your idea is definitely something I want to try - especially as it's a good place to start CT with juniors. It highlights the need to break this activity down from verbalising the steps carefully first to try and re-create the same duck as their buddy. Then to move on to written recording of the algorithm, through to graphical instructions - great progression. The discussions at the end are valuable as well. 

                  • Lisa Byers
                    By Lisa Byers
                    Mar 8

                    Thanks Gerald - this is a fun idea, that could be easily implemented in any classroom with varied and positive outcomes.  This would also be great for relievers.  I'm glad I took the time to read this more fully.

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