Everything Is Awesome: 5 Ways to Learn With Legos

18msrcfev32wojpg.jpgDespite how painful it can be when you step on them barefoot or how frustrating it can be when you can’t find the right piece, LEGOs are still one of my favorite toys because they are simultaneously simple and capable of vast complexity and creativity. Last year my district (NYC’s District 75) began their participation in FIRST® LEGO® League and FIRST® LEGO® League Jr. where schools across the district built projects based on the Creature Craze theme. Here is a video that shows competition/exhibition in action.

While you may have played with various LEGO sets over the years, you may not be aware of all the ways they are being utilized in classrooms. LEGO Education offers the opportunity for students to learn playfully the creativity and critical thinking skills necessary for future success. They provide a wide array of educational opportunities across subjects along with lessons and other digital resources. In addition to the STEM and robotics projects you can see in the LEGO League, there are a variety of other ways LEGO can be used with students. You can start with something simple like the LEGO representatives did with us where you are given 6 pieces and told to make a duck in whatever configuration you desire. It’s amazing how much variation you can get with just those directions.

General Subjects

Math

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LEGO provides a wide array of educational opportunities across subjects. You could start with a simple engineering challenge where students have to build a to a certain height that must hold a certain weight load. Of course, the shape, sizes, and variety of Lego parts lend themselves easily to math work with geometry, arrays, and fractions. The can be used in statistics as well for calculating mean, median, mode, and range for stacks of blocks

Literacy

14993560_10153961146786700_5658024535522845892_n.jpgLEGO used to have something called StoryStarter that allowed students to brainstorm using some simple kits to spark their creativity and work out story sequences. You could also use the kits to have students retell a story they have read. The act of having students explain what they were trying to visually represent with the pieces is also a great way to foster communication. You can still create your own version with extra pieces and lego figures. Make sure to have students ask each other a lot of questions about their creations. They can even put together an awesome stop motion animation using their LEGO resources. I ended up making a scene with my whole department along with the iron throne as an example for students.

Computer Science

Christmas CardWhile LEGO has kits specifically made for robotics and programming, I want to look at some of the resources that take LEGO into the digital space. For example, my Christmas card two years was made using Mini Figure Family. There used to be a great site/app called Build With Chrome that would guide students through increasingly advanced LEGO building projects based on The LEGO Movie. Even though that site is no longer fully functional, there are other similar resources that you can use to create LEGO projects digitally including the LEGO Digital Designer. Meca Bricks and Leo CAD are essentially digital drafting software that uses LEGOs. In addition you can turn to a digital game like Minecraft Education which is essentially the same sort of building blocks in an action/creative game.

 

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a mini-scale version of Disney World made using Meca Bricks

 

 

Project-Based Learning

a76f459309d26597e9d2ed4ded90e947.jpgWhether you call it PBL or a Makerspace, learning by doing is key to student understanding and LEGOs are a basic tool that any young makerspace should have. LEGO has their own maker program with lessons and activities for elementary and middle school students. These pair with robotics, pneumatics, and renewable energy kits to further exploration. Or you can have students create things for the classroom like a desk organizer. You can take some of the digital designs discussed previously and turn it into a physical project. One way to do that is using Tinkercad which lets you design for your 3D printer with shapes or LEGO style pieces.

Robotics

Robotics is the area of education where LEGO has been the most instrumental and shown the most success. For the older students, there are the Mindstorms EV3 kits while younger students can master building and programming with the WeDo 2.0 (a Bluetooth improvement on the wired original). Now they even offer STEAM park for teachers to begin supporting preschool engineers. The kits come with all the pieces you’ll need to solve STEM challenges along with accompanying software that includes building instructions and block-based coding software. You can also expand your program using the  Tynker course.

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Recently we held the training for our 2nd annual NYC District 75 LEGOLeague. Our first event last year, held at the New York Hall of Science, was a resounding success that students and staff loved. Now we’re focusing on this year’s Aqua Adventure challenge. The goal is to create something that explores how you use water at home or in your community and improve on that design. Over the course of lunch, I was able to create a water slide design with a functioning water pump and fan. I particularly liked the lifeguard with the radio on top. Other teacher teams also created water designs as well including a moving fish in a tank.

If you’re not sure where to start, you can contact the people at LEGO education. Start small and just have students create a car, house or animal in no time or get deep into the weeds with the ridiculous number of themes they have. You can also get custom made minfigures as well. If you need extra pieces or kits (and can remember what they’re called) you can order directly from LEGOBrickLink, or Brick Owl. No matter what start your day knowing EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!

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