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Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

Lego's education unit is making its biggest product debut in three years, unveiling Spike Prime, a new kit that aims to mix the company's familiar bricks with motors, sensors and introductory coding lessons.

Why it matters: Lego isn't alone in trying to use its toys as a gateway for STEM education, with startups like LittleBits and Sphero also entering the space.

The details: The kit will sell to schools for about $330 and be available in time for the next school year. Aimed at middle schoolers, creations made with Spike Prime can be controlled via a drag-and-drop programming language built on Scratch via apps for iOS, Android, Chrome OS ands PCs.

Axios traveled to Lego's home town of Billund, Denmark for a behind-the-scenes look at the product and its development.

The mix of bricks, motors and sensors can be used to create everything from a rudimentary printer to a virtual meteorologist that taps the Internet to tell you the weather from anywhere in the globe — all in lessons that fit into a typical 45-minute class period.

While the ostensible goal of Spike Prime is for students working in pairs to build specific robots, the real mission is to teach students science, technology, engineering, art and math skills in a way that's fun and engaging.

  • "There’s a great connection between confidence in STEAM and general confidence," Lego Education president Esben Stærk Jørgensen said in an interview.

The most noticeable difference between Spike Prime and its predecessors from the Mindstorms line are the bright colors and personalization options that make it a lot more approachable than past products.

  • "We want it to be as intuitive as the brick, the opposite of being intimidating," Jørgensen said.

Lessons learned: Jørgensen said that not every product it has aimed at the classroom has been a hit, but the failures have also been meaningful. One recent example is 2014's StoryStarter, which aimed to use Legos as a starting point to help students express themselves.

  • StoryStarter didn't take off, but some of its focus on storytelling was added to Spike Prime in an effort to make the product appeal to a wider range of students. Unlike past robotics efforts, for example, Spike Prime contains Lego minifigures and other elements designed to give the projects more personality.
  • The themes of the lessons are also aimed to be more engaging, with projects in categories such as "life hacks" and "invention squad" as well as ones designed to prepare students for robotics competitions. Jørgensen said he knows the bar is high to engage middle schoolers: “I have a 15 year old at home," he said. "It’s not easy”

Fun Fact: Spike Prime also contains 11 new Lego elements, ranging from a large Technics base to new clips to bricks that help bridge the world of Lego and Technics. That's a lot for one new product and sure to have Lego die-hards clamoring to get their hands on the product. Although Spike Prime is only being sold through Lego's education channel, those products will be available online for individuals that really want one.

For more, check out this video. And we'll have more on Lego's education efforts and our trip to Denmark in Wednesday's Login.

Go deeper

Congress plots COVID pandemic-era office upgrades

oving crates outside Rep. Elise Stefanik's old office Tuesday. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The House plans to renovate members' suites even though staff are worried about an influx of contractors and D.C. is tightening restrictions on large gatherings, some staffers told Axios.

Why it matters: The Capitol has been closed to public tours since March. Work over the holiday season comes as U.S. coronavirus cases spike, Americans beg for more pandemic assistance and food lines grow.

Trump pressures Barr to release so-called Durham report

Bill Barr. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Trump and his allies are piling extreme pressure on Attorney General Bill Barr to release a report that Trump believes could hurt perceived Obama-era enemies — and view Barr's designation of John Durham as special counsel as a stall tactic, sources familiar with the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Speculation over Barr's fate grew on Tuesday, with just 49 days remaining in Trump's presidency, after Barr gave an interview to the Associated Press in which he said the Justice Department has not uncovered evidence of widespread fraud that could change the election's outcome.

CDC to cut guidance on quarantine period for coronavirus exposure

A health care worker oversees cars as people arrive to get tested for coronavirus at a testing site in Arlington, Virginia, on Tuesday. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The CDC will soon shorten its guidance for quarantine periods following exposure to COVID-19, AP reported Tuesday and Axios can confirm.

Why it matters: Quarantine helps prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which can occur before a person knows they're sick or if they're infected without feeling any symptoms. The current recommended period to stay home if exposed to the virus is 14 days. The CDC plans to amend this to 10 days or seven with a negative test, an official told Axios.

  • The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.