Carnegie Mellon University and Play Included Bring LEGO Brick Based Interventions to US

Brick by brick, Carnegie Mellon University is building a new way to transform children’s social and emotional learning in schools and community organizations throughout Pittsburgh and, eventually, across the country. 

CMU has announced its partnership with a U.K. social enterprise, Play Included , to officially launch Project Baseplate, a scalable platform for deploying LEGO brick based activities to children across the United States. The university’s pioneering Center for Transformational Play (CTP), which focuses on the research and development of transformational games, will lead the first two Project Baseplate initiatives: launching the Brick-by-Brick program, an internationally acclaimed LEGO brick based therapy in the United States; and conducting a research study on the potential for Brick Clubs to foster economic connectedness through cross-class friendships. 

"We’re excited to be working with an organization that shares our values and priorities: creating playful experiences that change people’s lives," said Jessica Hammer , CTP director and the Thomas and Lydia Moran Associate Professor of Learning Sciences in CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute in the School of Computer Science and the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC). 

The CTP is the first U.S. training partner for the Brick-by-Brick program. Creation of the CMU training hub is supported by the Leonard Gelfand Center for Service Learning and Outreach , which works with staff, students and faculty at CMU and within the community to improve educational outcomes for K-12 students through educator professional development. The partnership will enable CMU to train education professionals to deliver the program in their own schools and community settings to support children’s development and personal well-being. 

Project Baseplate will also investigate how Brick Clubs, set up through partnerships with community organizations, can enable cross-class friendships by bringing together children from different backgrounds. Cross-class friendships can dramatically impact children’s lives. Recent research on economic  mobility and  connectedness suggests having strong social networks across socioeconomic status is associated with upward income mobility. At Brick Clubs, trained facilitators guide children in Brick-by-Brick program activities, including collaborative building techniques that strengthen both skills and confidence. Led by the CTP, an interorganizational team of researchers will first study the types of social connections enabled by current Brick Clubs. The researchers will then design research-backed interventions to help kids form meaningful relationships with children from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

The project will include area K-12 schools and community institutions such as the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and Dragon’s Den, a nonprofit providing transformative learning environments in Homestead, just outside Pittsburgh. Hammer will lead the research project in collaboration with Kody Manke-Miller , an assistant professor of teaching in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Psychology Department and the college’s director of research on diversity and inclusion; and Judith Uchidiuno, an assistant professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Interactive Computing.
Brick-by-Brick program, developed with support from the LEGO Foundation, is an evidence-based, child-led approach that draws on the latest research in neurodiversity and learning through play. The neurodiversity-affirming program offers children positive, meaningful social experiences in a playful and accepting environment. Through collaborative play, children have fun and make friends, and develop their communication skills, confidence, and social and emotional well-being.

"We are thrilled to be partnering with the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University to launch our Brick-by-Brick program training pathway in the U.S. Just like the Center for Transformational Play, we firmly believe that play is fundamental for children’s development. Not only does it support their social and emotional well-being, it improves their cognitive and physical development. Most importantly, play is an opportunity for children to enjoy meaningful social experiences together - something many children missed out on during the recent pandemic," said Gina Gómez de la Cuesta, founder and director of Play Included. 

"The Center for Transformational Play team is hugely enthusiastic and passionate about giving children access to playful experiences, and our partnership will give educational professionals the opportunity to learn how to support the social and emotional well-being of children using the most up-to-date version of LEGO brick based therapy," Gómez de la Cuesta continued.

Over the past few weeks, the university has trained 27 school-based and out-of-school program educators in the Brick-by-Brick program methodology, and 16 active sites across Pittsburgh have already implemented the program with more than 170 local children. The Brick-by-Brick program is supported by funding from the Benedum Foundation, The Grable Foundation, and David L. and Noelle C. Conover of Matt’s Maker Space.

"We are excited to bring the Brick-by-Brick program to Pittsburgh and launch Brick Clubs in our region," said John Balash, head of partnerships at the CTP and director of educational engagement in the ETC. "In fact, we have already seen the benefits of the program through a pilot we ran with students around Pittsburgh."

The CTP ran a Brick-by-Brick program pilot in 2023 across Intermediate Unit 1, covering schools in Fayette, Greene and Washington counties; the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, covering schools in Allegheny County; Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh; Dragon’s Den in Homestead; ASSEMBLE; Pittsburgh Public Schools; Beaver Area School District’s Dutch Ridge Elementary School; and the Matt’s Maker Space at Mt. Lebanon’s Mellon Middle School. In collaboration with Remake Learning, the CTP looks forward to expanding across the region and amplifying Play Included’s work. At CMU, the Simon Initiative have supported the rollout of regional clubs. 

"Having visited some of the creative Brick Clubs in Pittsburgh, it is clear that the Brick-by-Brick program provides a welcoming space that encourages children to be more playful and creative. It’s an incredible way for children to engage, interact with one another and build experiences via learning through play," said Andrea Hernández, program specialist at the LEGO Foundation.

Teachers can learn more about the Brick-by-Brick program on the.

There are a number of funded training places available for education professionals in Pennsylvania. To learn more, visit the Project Baseplate website.

Carnegie Mellon University Launches Center for Transformational Play