The “Magic” of Lego Machines

May 26, 2011 at 1:03 PM Leave a comment

Can you imagine that California somehow forgot to include simple machines, work and energy in their Force and Motion standards? They did. What a loss – it’s so fun, relevant and tangible and can involve Lego in a big way. More pre-school re-tooled for middle school 🙂

The magic in the title refers to how wonderful it is to let students relax and build stuff from the Lego Technic kits. We started off very loose – build a structure from any instruction card you like. Then write what you learned about skills, attitudes, concepts and applications in your learning log at the end. Gradually, I’ve been tightening the screws (a variant of the inclined plane, in case you are asking…) and expecting a little more each day. Second day introduced levers and had them make something with a lever in it. Gave feedback on their journal entries. Third day, wheels/axles and gears but today, they are evaluated on writing about the physics.

It’s like Holden High’s philosophy – they get their troubled teens to love the place and them first. Then they start asking something of them, and get it. They save lives that way. It’s such a fine balance between playing and learning, ‘covering material’ and passing tests

The ‘magic’ also refers to what particular cool thing a simple machine does – does it make you feel super-humanly strong? Like a screw driver, a wrench? A winch or pulley? Or the granny gear on a bike? That’s a force multiplier and the force IS with you.

If you go fast as the wind on your bike, or you make a fan blade spin wildly fast, that’s a distance multiplier. The magic, the ‘something for nothing’ feel of some machines, was a surprisingly successful way to get the idea across.

The third part of the magic is allowing them (and me) to NOT have a !#$% worksheet to fill in, and instead just do a journal entry of what they learned. Very nice to see how each student is doing and give quick feedback. Not terribly ‘rigourous’. They generally like it although it surprises my more academic students. But they write at a much higher level than other students, so it’s sort of differentiated by accident.

And the fourth, powerful magic is that my squirly, soon to be free 8th graders are happily engaged, friendly and sweet.  I’ll miss them.


Entry filed under: Class Management, Creativity, Kids Choice, Physics Topics, Project Based Learning.

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