LEGO Bricks are toys. They’re items that students willingly seek out to play with and get excited to receive as gifts under the Christmas tree. That’s one of the things that make them so useful to teachers. Lessons taught using LEGO Bricks don’t feel like dull schoolwork. On the contrary, students might feel like they’re getting away with something. They actually get to play with LEGO Bricks in class?
The idea that students can learn something valuable from play isn’t new, or even controversial. A sizeable body of research has been conducted to back up what many teachers already knew to be true. Fun and learning don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and it really works better for everyone involved when they’re not.
As such, making LEGO Bricks part of your lesson plan can help you teach concepts that students might otherwise find tedious, in a way that doesn’t feel like work to them. Many educators have already been putting this idea to the test with success. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Many students are visual learners and will have an easier time grasping mathematical concepts if they can see them demonstrated in a visually compelling way. LEGO can help with that.
For younger students, LEGO Bricks can be useful for covering some of the basics of learning numbers. Connect a bunch of LEGO Bricks and have your students count them one at a time. Make the exercise more interactive by challenging them to measure different items around the room (or themselves – how many bricks long is your arm?). If you write numbers onto your LEGO set, as in the example linked to above, you can help them learn numerals in the process.
Since LEGO Bricks come in many sizes and each have a number of studs that align to their size, you can use them to show what arithmetic problems look like. Scholastic.com gives a few examples of the forms that can take.
A square piece with four studs helps students see what 2×2 looks like. If you connect that piece to a rectangular one with eight studs, students can count out what 4+8 is. By setting different pieces side by side, you can show how fractions work – this one is ½ the size of that one, which is ¼ of the size of this other one.
LEGO’s More to Math sets come with even more ideas and ways to use the familiar bricks for visualizing mathematical concepts. The company provides curriculum packs with lessons built from common core standards, as well as whiteboard software that lets you demonstrate the concepts explored on a screen for everyone to see.
Between the colors and the ability to build almost any shape, LEGO Bricks are perfect tools for challenging students to create something that demonstrates a pattern or shows symmetry.
A pattern can be as simple as alternating between two colors, like red-green-red-green-red. Or, patterns can be used to provide a more complicated challenge, like asking your students to create an object that demonstrates one of math’s famous sequences, like triangle numbers or square numbers. Symmetrical objects can take on any form a student can come up with, as long as one side mirrors another.
History lessons can be dry words on a page, or they can be an exercise in imagining what being there was like. Students tasked with building a model of the attack on the Bastille or creating a labyrinth inspired by the one in Greek mythology will be more actively engaged with those lessons than they would be after merely reading about them in a textbook.
Your students are probably already doing this if they play with LEGO Bricks at home (or have a good example of how it works if they’ve seen The LEGO Movie). In class, you can encourage students to do it collaboratively in groups or to share the stories they’ve used the LEGO Bricks to create. You can add an extra (and fun) challenge by having one student create a scene with LEGO Bricks, then have another come up with a story based on what they see.
The examples we’ve given are homemade, but LEGO Education also provides curriculum to promote writing and literacy skills with their StoryStarter kits. These kits give students a little structure to start with in constructing their stories. They come with characters, sets to build, and beginning, middle and end boards upon which to construct the stories. The kits leave your students plenty of room for creativity, but it encourages them to exercise it within the classic story structure, thereby subtly teaching story construction.
Similar to what Weda Bory suggested in her article on using using smartphone photography as the jumping off point for student stories, student-built LEGO scenes can easily become the inspiration for deep storytelling. For instance, students can start simply by adding a few fun characters and props to a scene, like a princess, a prince and a pirate fighting each other next to a LEGO ship. With this as the inciting incident, students can craft a larger tale that they turn into a book or a series of blog posts. Photographs of each scene can illustrate their larger tale, and a photo series can even become a form of LEGO animation — all begun with a few LEGO bricks on a board!
Students still learning their letters can take a break from laborious handwriting exercises by building their letters out of LEGO Bricks. Wildflower Ramblings has made cards available in both uppercase and lowercase letters that can make the process a little easier to start. But once they have the hang of it, they can probably tackle the task on their own. Just draw a big letter L on the board, and have your students compete to making the coolest-looking letter in town!
Moving one step up the learning chain, add letter stickers on each LEGO for all the different letters of the alphabet, so students can get practice putting them together in different combinations By building with their LEGO Bricks, they’ll now be creating words and getting some fun practice with basic spelling. It’s like Scrabble, for tykes.
The obvious next step up is to add whole words to your LEGO Bricks, so students can practice building sentences. “Writing” becomes a tactile game they can play.
You can tell students about how scientists classify things like plants, animals, and elements, but the categories are more complicated than they look on the surface. Someone somewhere along the way had to make a choice about which traits to group things by.
If you ask students to work out a classification system for their LEGO sets, they’ll be challenged to do the same. Should they group them based on color, size, or shape? What kind of names should they assign to each category? Different students might end up with different systems altogether.
As such, this is a great lesson in looking for patterns and logic in taxonomic systems. Your students will come away from it with a deeper understanding of the many ways the world can be ordered.
Challenging your students to build a city out of their LEGO Bricks isn’t just a fun imagination game; doing so will give your students a deeper understanding of the world around them, and perhaps get them looking at the simplest city structures in a new way.
Make clear the task is not as simple as building a few houses. They have to think about what every city needs, as well as what most residents will want. They’ll have to make room for roads, trees, sidewalks, and all those other elements of city planning they probably take for granted every day without considering the fact that someone had to plan and build them. Not only will this give your students a new perspective, it will help them see the world as one big problem solving challenge — one they’re well equipped to solve.
One teacher had the novel idea of giving students a computerless coding project using LEGO Bricks. Students had to write out a code that tells “robots” (in this exercise, the other students), how to build LEGO Bricks into different shapes. In coding, every step and command is crucial, so having to act out imperfect codes teaches each student how valuable every little component is to the larger whole in a way that’s more meaningful (and less obnoxious) than computer error messages.
Of course, we didn’t even mention the many building and robotics exercises LEGO Bricks are commonly used for. Consider how many subjects and activities in life involve building blocks (physically and metaphorically), and you’ll see how expansive the list of subjects these endlessly useful tools can be applied to. Bring LEGO Bricks into any lesson, and you immediately add an element of fun, without losing any learning benefits.