LEGO My Science! 10 Engineering LEGO Activities for Kids

Kids have been building with LEGOs since the 1930s. Even with competition from computers and game consoles, LEGOs have still been a kid-favorite, a way for them to explore the STEM world while also having so much fun, they don’t even know they’re learning! LEGOs provide an almost infinite amount of ways to create with them. Only six of the eight-studded LEGO bricks can be combined in 915,103,765 different ways.

But how can a simple thing like LEGOs teach kids about engineering? With each challenge for a child to build, they have to use different concepts of structural engineering. Even if they haven’t formally learned the idea, they can see the laws in action in front of their eyes and adjust their creation accordingly. Here are 10 engineering LEGO activities for your kids to enjoy!

  1. Sturdy Tower Challenge

Can you build a tower that can hold up several textbooks?

Start by building a structure that is 5-6 inches high with LEGO beams and pins. You shouldn’t just be stacking bricks for your tower. When creating your tower, think about what makes other structures sturdier. After you feel your tower is ready, test away, adding one textbook at a time. Note any points of weakness in the structure, for example if the tower is leaning or bending in a section. Once you have identified any problems, brainstorm possible solutions. How can you add beams to create more support? What’s the best way to distribute the weight of the textbooks evenly across the tower?

As a parent or teacher, consider discussing the advantages of interweaving and crossing pieces, adding connector pegs and axles for support, and making supports wider for greater balance and strength. Use this link as a guide for helping children through this challenge.

  1. Earthquake-Proof Skyscraper

Build a shake table to test your skyscraper in a simulated earthquake.

When engineers design skyscrapers for earthquake territory, they use a simulation of an earthquake on their design to see how well it holds up against one. With just a few simple materials, you can create your own shake table and skyscraper to test out.

As an extra challenge for older students, try to create the biggest building that won’t fall over. Design the building with the most volume that will still withstand the earthquake. For parents or teachers interested in this challenge, make a height to base size ratio limit for the kids so they can’t build a building all around the base to whatever height stays standing. For more information on how to make the shake table and run your experiment, go here.

  1. Chair for Mr. Bear

Keep this floppy bear from flopping over by building him his own chair.

Mr. Bear can be any floppy stuffed animal that just won’t sit straight. The challenge is to create a chair that keeps him from falling backward, forward, right or left. Before you begin, look at different pictures of chairs to get inspiration for your design. What parts of each chair could help keep Mr. Bear upright?

For parents or teachers using LEGOs to teach, this activity is a good chance to talk about forces, especially gravity. Discuss why Mr. Bear won’t sit straight by himself. Discuss how the chair also exhibits force on the stuffed animal. For more lesson ideas, check out this link from LEGO engineering.

  1. LEGO Man Escape Challenge

Can you help the trapped LEGO man to escape from the canyon?

Using a tub or trash can as your “canyon,” trap a LEGO man at the very bottom. How can you use LEGOs to devise a way for him to escape? How many different ways can you create an escape route for him? What is the route with the least number of blocks used?

This activity teaches kids how to solve specific problems and that there is not one correct solution, but rather a multitude of options. If your kids are finding this activity too easy, add an extra challenge by outlawing building stairs or elevators. This will spark kid’s imaginations to engineer a variety of possibilities.

  1. Build a Bridge

How many pennies can your bridge hold?

Bridge building is the most typical engineering learning activity, but it is also one of the most fun! There are so many options when building a bridge, but which is the strongest? Bridges need all sorts of supports. Look up pictures of bridges to get inspiration for your design. You should keep things in mind like the size of the two bases for the bridge. The bases need to be weighty enough to support the bridge, especially if your bridge is very long. Also think about construction strength; are overlapping pieces stronger than stacked pieces?

When you are ready to test your bridge, get a cup and start adding pennies, slowly at first. See how many you can add before it breaks. Notice if there are any points that look weak or look like they need more support. Use different shapes such as triangles or trapezoids to test how each shape adds support to your bridge. For more ways to test your bridge, go here.

  1. Amusement Park Rides

Using simple machines, build a ride no one has ever seen before!

Engineers have a lot to think about when they design an amusement park ride. You will have to answer some of the same questions they do when building your LEGO ride. To build your ride, use the six simple machines to create one large compound machine that will be your amusement park ride. Keep in mind safety for any passengers that might have to ride on your coaster.

Simple machines include levers, the wheel and axle, inclined planes, wedges, the pulley, and the screw. To learn more about these machines and how they can combine to create compound machines, click here. How many different ways can you combine these machines in your ride?

  1. LEGO Drop Test

With 20 bricks, create an object that won’t break when dropped from a defined height.

There are an almost infinite amount of ways to combine LEGO bricks, but which of those ways won’t break when you drop them? Is there a pattern to the LEGO creations that don’t break? Once you’ve created a structure that doesn’t break, raise the drop height and see how well the creation holds up under the added drop. Be as creative as you would like.

For teachers and parents, there are several teaching tips and instructions here.

  1. Floating Boat Challenge

Can you make a boat that floats on water?

Making something that floats may be harder than you think. But with some creativity, imagination, and engineer thinking, you can create something that lasts better than the Titanic. Before you begin building, brainstorm the different aspects of ships that make them floatable. Consider the amount of air inside the boat to create buoyancy, the base of the boat to help with surface tension, and how top heavy the boat is. Build your boat and test to see how it does. If it sinks, keep adjusting your creation until it floats like a real boat.

For an added challenge, put as many coins inside the boat as you can before it sinks. Teachers and parents can discuss with the children why boats float and why giant heavy boats such as barges can carry so much and still stay afloat.

  1. Zip Line

Create a zip line for your LEGO Man.

A zip line also uses some of the simple machines you used when building your roller coaster. Use your imagination to create a holder for your LEGO man and you will need a pulley to slide down the rope. To test out speeding up and slowing down, try different angles for your rope. Maybe you can even make it speed up and then slow down halfway through the line. Check out all the materials you will need to build this LEGO man zip line here.

  1. LEGO Digital Designer

Download this free application from LEGO and start designing your own creations.

If you are looking for a way to keep tiny LEGO pieces off the floor and from being stepped on, the LEGO Digital Designer is a great free computer application from LEGO itself that allows kids to build whatever they want online, even test it out. They can take their design and create it in real life. This gives kids an inside look into some of the software engineers and architects use to design real life things. Get it here http://ldd.lego.com/en-us/

Discovery Center of Idaho

If you’re looking for more LEGO engineering fun, check out our LEGO Engineers: Myths and Minifigs edition camp here. We believe in expanding young minds with hands-on STEM interactive exhibits. We want to inspire life-long learning and help kids find out that learning is fun! Come explore our exhibits at our museum or visit us online at http://www.dcidaho.org/.

Boise Is An Adventure Mecca, But… 

You Should Follow These Eight Safety Tips Before Exploring One Of USA’s Best Cities For Recreation.

“Boise is a recreationalist's paradise. If you value the outdoors and time spent among rivers, mountains, canyons, deserts and lakes – and all the activities encapsulated therein – it's worth a serious look.” If you saw the above paragraph just sitting by itself on a piece of paper or on a website, you might think to yourself ‘that sentence was written by a Boise, Idaho, employee, or someone who was paid to write great things about Boise.’ If you thought that, you were wrong. Boise is, in fact, regarded as one of the best cities in the United States for people who want to explore the outdoors and want to get in and stay in excellent physical condition via walking, hiking, bicycling, jogging, and many other outdoor activities. It was the magazine U.S. News & World Report that labeled Boise a “recreationalist’s paradise” while listing Boise as the 12th best place to live in the nation. Another publication, Outside, lists Boise as one of the 16 best “adventure meccas” in the country. There are numerous reasons why Boise is regarded as one of the best places in the USA to explore the outdoors. Here are a few:

The Boise River Greenbelt

You can walk, jog, bicycle, and even skate on about 25 miles of trails along the Boise River. The Greenbelt extends from the Lucky Peak Dam on the east to the suburban town of Eagle on the west. The Greenbelt runs through downtown Boise and connects many of the city’s parks. About 60 points of interest along the route are listed on this website.

The Ridge to Rivers Trail System

The Ridge to Rivers trails aren’t paved like the Boise River Greenbelt trails are. That makes them more adventurous!! And there are more than 190 miles of trails to travel on. These trails are in the Boise Foothills. Many of them are steep, end at peaks a few thousand feet higher than Boise’s already high elevation (2,730 feet above sea level), and are challenging for hikers, mountain bikers, and hill climbers. There are also equestrian trails.

The Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area

This is a great recreational facility for families, including kids. Located about 16 miles northeast of Boise, the Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area has about 2,600 acres of hills for alpine skiers and snowboarders as well as about 23 miles of trails for cross-country skiers. The highest slopes are more than 7,000 feet above sea level.

Do you want to enjoy Boise’s top-notch outdoors recreational areas? You should, but before you become too adventurous you should follow these eight safety tips so you can be as safe as possible.

1. Study The Options

Beginners shouldn’t seek to conquer difficult ski slopes or difficult trails. How do you know the degree of difficulty of your options? Study beforehand. In fact, there are innumerable sources of information for prospective Boise explorers. This article, for example, lists beginner trails and moderate trails in the Ridge to Rivers system. And this website has specifics about the steepness of the system’s trails.

2. Carry A Map

It’s easy to get lost while you’re hiking -- and easy to wind up on a trail that isn’t safe for your skill level. On its Ridge to Rivers webpage, the city of Boise reports that many stores in the city have a Ridge to Rivers map.

3. Carry A Cellphone

Yes, we understand that you want to get away from it all when you go into Explorer mode. And you can by turning your cellphone off. Nevertheless, you need to be prepared in case there’s an emergency. You need to be able to call 9-1-1 and you also should bring with you a list of people you want or need to phone in an emergency.

4. Take One Step At A Time

No, that’s not advice on how to walk. What we mean is that you shouldn’t go from a life of no exercise to a rigorous workout in one day. Exercising beyond your physical conditioning puts you at risk of injury or a medical emergency. In addition, people who have been experiencing health problems such as chest pains or shortness of breath should consult a doctor before vigorously exercising.

5. Eat Properly

Thinking that dieting and vigorously exercising will help you lose weight is the wrong approach to exercising on Boise’s trails. Exercising properly requires adequate calories, which are a measurement of energy. Those calories come from eating. There are plenty of calorie charts that tell you how many calories you need to exercise lightly, moderately, and vigorously for specific periods of time. A lack of calories could cause exhaustion, which could cause falls and other mistakes. Also: Bring snacks in case you need an energy boost during your exercise.

6. Bring Water

You should drink 16 to 32 ounces of water before your exercise begins, recommends Men’s Fitness magazine. A lack of water can make you dehydrated and, thus, increase your risk of heart problems. The magazine also recommends bringing water with you and drinking water regularly while you exercise, even if you’re not thirsty. A sports drink if you’re exercising for more than an hour could also be beneficial.

7. Dress Properly

The city of Boise points out that checking the weather report is important so you can dress properly. If very hot weather is projected, dressing light is crucial. That also means putting on sunscreen and wearing a hat. In addition, hikers should wear boots “with a strong tread to prevent ankle injuries and falls,” recommends the Cleveland Clinic.

8. Follow Safe Trails

The city of Boise urges people who use the Boise River Greenbelt to “stick to” trails that are well-lit and to avoid shortcuts through alleys, parking lots, and wooded areas. Similarly, the state of Idaho asks people who use the Ridge to Rivers trails system to not use trails that are closed. There are innumerable other steps you can take to improve your chances of having a safe experience while exploring Boise’s fantastic recreational opportunities -- and many sources of information on safety tips. Here are two sources of safety tips -- “16 Outdoor Fitness Safety Tips” by Men’s Fitness magazine and “9 Tips for Safe Outdoor Workouts” by the Cleveland Clinic. Hopefully, following these safety tips will help you explore and enjoy one of the USA’s premier adventure meccas -- Boise. Good luck!!

Send Water Traveling This Summer

It’s that time of year again when families start planning their summer travels. Whether you are visiting us at the Discovery Center of Idaho or trekking to a foreign land – scientific adventure is to be had!

But did you know that water also travels?

Discover the science behind traveling water so you can watch water travel in between some summer trips of your own.

Scientific Secrets of Traveling Water

Traveling water requires three scientific principles: cohesion, adhesion, and gravity. Through a chemical bond, water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. These three atoms bond together to form water. When more than one molecule of water gets together, they bond, too. This is the process of cohesion. Adhesion, on the other hand, has to do with those water molecules staying together once they bond. As you know, water drips, which means it isn’t as adhesive as it is cohesive. Otherwise it would stay together no matter what. Now for gravity’s role in making water travel. Water uses gravity to its advantage to be able to travel more rapidly.

Send Water Traveling!

OK now it’s time to see this process in action and watch water travel. For this, we have a science experiment that you can do at home with simple items and inspiration by Steve Spangler Science.

You will need:
- 2 clear drinking glasses
- Water
- Food coloring
- 2-foot piece of string or thin yarn, light colors work best
- Masking tape or duct tape

Process
1. Begin by filling one of the drinking glasses with water. Add your preference of food color to dye your water. Choose a darker color, preferably one that shows up well against the color of string you are using.
2. Take the empty glass and one end of the string. Affix the end of the string inside the bottom of the glass using tape. Make sure the string is attached by gently pulling on it.
Place the glass with the string in the bottom on a hard surface.
3. Hold the glass with colored water and the other end of the string in each of your hands above the other glass.
4. Very carefully pour the water from the glass onto the loose end of the string. Hold the string taut during this process for best results.
5. Slowly pour the water so that it travels along the string and into the glass.
6. See how long it takes you to fill up the empty glass with your traveling water.

Continue the experiment using various liquids and types of string to see how well your water travels. Water experiments are just one of the super awesome ways the Discovery Center of Idaho can bring a little science into your home.

Enjoy!

6 Fun Science Activities You Can Do With Your Kids at Home  

Trying to teach your kids a science lesson over summer or for at home classes? Don't worry, because there are plenty of at-home science experiments that can teach kids a lot without requiring too much work (or deep pockets). Let's talk about some of our favorites and how they work.

  1. Studying Density

The great thing about this experiment is that kids can learn a lot about density and how it works at the kitchen counter...and then drink the experiments when you are through! All you need is a clear glass and then a drop or baster to insert liquid at different levels. Discuss how and why various fruit juices have different densities, and you have an ideal science lesson! The specific experiment we cited suggested pomegranate, orange, and white grape juice, but you have many other choices.


  1. Seed Dissection

Seed dissection is a great biology experiment! The key is finding seed pods that haven't opened yet so that you can cut them open and talk about how seeds develop and the different ways that they travel once they are ready to break out. Our cited option deals with cattails because they are large and easy to find in the Boise area. If you can’t get cattail seeds, use any larger seeds that you can find – even pine cones can teach a lesson when used correctly.


  1. Inflate a Balloon with Gases

If you want to teach about gases and how they form, this is a fun little experiment that only requires a bottle, a balloon and a simple funnel. The goal is to create a scientific reaction that creates gas, which then inflates a balloon. This works with the traditional baking soda and vinegar, but also with experiments using yeast and other common kitchen ingredients.


  1. How Plants Breathe

Plants absorb carbon dioxide and exude oxygen...but how? This project, great for warmer weather, involves locking plants into plastic bags for around half an hour to create different levels of condensation that lets you to judge how plants "breathe" and talk about plant biology.


  1. Balloon Greenhouse

This fun project allows you to examine how weather and light affect plant growth with a hanging balloon filled with soil and seed growth. It's a long term project ideal for studying many lessons throughout.


  1. Create an Electromagnet

Ready for some engineering science? Study how to make a magnet with simple household materials like a battery, nail, and copper wire. This is a great way to talk about electromagnetic forces and a great lead into how motors work!

Family Science and Nature Outings in Boise

Are you looking for local trips for you and your kiddos to enjoy nature – while also helping them learn more about science, local wildlife, and the environment? Here are several ideas to consider for a day trip in the Boise area...or even repeated visits if it becomes one of your favorite places!

Visit the Botanical Garden

The Idaho Botanical Garden is an excellent option for younger children who may not be ready for a full trip out into the forest, but still want to learn more about plants and ecology. It’s also a great way to deviate from the usual city park outing. The plant collections, conservation efforts, and events at the Gardens are very detailed. And The 30-acre space is easy to navigate with smooth greens and plenty of rock paths leading through the gardens.

Check Out the Fossil Beds

There are several options for fossil beds, but one of the most popular is the Hagerman Fossil Beds, which includes hikes, drives, and a center for exploring how fossil beds work. This one is usually an easy winner, since kids love fossils and will learn about geology at the same time! Just remember that some of this exploration can get hot and demanding during the summer.

Pick a Hike in the Boise National Forest

For older kids and teens, there's nothing like a refreshing hike in the forest to check out some local beauty and explore what nature has to offer! There are 2.5 million acres here, and we encourage you to look into the trails and pick one with great views of the surrounding landscape. If you like hiking in the snow, parts of the park are also open in winter and make for great snowshoeing while reviewing how the landscape changes between seasons.

Explore Geology with Table Rock

Table Rock trails are available during the warmer months and offer unique access to some incredible geological views, while still being a classic Boise destination. The hikes here can be more challenging, but the views on a clear day are amazing. Plus, it's easy here to segue your kids into talks about geography, geology, and how Table Rock developed.

Choose a Body of Water

One of our favorites for families that want to spend a day out is the Arrowrock Reservoir, but there are plenty of nearby lakes and rivers to explore! If you want to focus on the nature part of the trip, try setting some specific challenges, like how many ospreys the kids can spot on the trip, or how many fish they see jumping.

Start a Geocaching Adventure

Geocaching refers to communities that hide surprises at very specific coordinates across the country for others to discover using GPS location systems and careful coordinate plotting. It's a great way to teach about geography and navigation at the same time. It's also a long-term hobby that's easy to do as a family!

5 Ways Science Connects the Community

It's sometimes easy to look at science as something distant. A discipline that doesn't really affect you or anyone you know directly, except maybe at a visit to a local museum or planetarium. But the truth is that science is a living, active member of the community too! Here are just a few ways how science connects and benefits your community.

Preserving Local Landmarks

A park doesn't become a park or stay a park without some help! Science is involved in these precious local landmarks and their preservation. That doesn't just mean raising awareness either. Let's say a local park, like Julia Davis Park, gets overrun by geese (which wouldn’t be surprising!).How should the geese be removed? Should the city somehow remove all the geese, or will that cause future problems that geese are preventing? Is it possible to get rid of geese but not the ducks? Well, science has the answers! That's why parks and recreation reports are one of the valuable contributions science makes to keeping your favorite parks and landmarks beautiful.

Energy Use and Management

A community is defined by how it uses energy. From nuclear power plants to wind farms and hydroelectric dams, large energy sources come to define the communities around them. However, energy policies backed by science and research also change how a community approaches vital issues like air and water quality, zoning, and construction requirements. Just like how Boise is powered by green hydroelectric energy, for example. With scientific input, communities can solve pollution issues, create more attractive buildings, and use the local landscape to its advantage. In other words, science can be beautiful.

Preserving Local History

Archaeology, anthropology, paleontology – these disciplines and many others are all about exploring history and preserving valuable evidence of the past. Without science, we wouldn't have fossil beds, historical landmarks, or knowledge of how the nearby land was settled. We wouldn’t have Sue, the world’s largest T-Rex fossil on record! Not only would this affect tourists, but it would also be bad for the families growing within those communities, who would never know why their location is unique and worth valuing. Communities are made all the better when they understand and appreciate their history...and that's where science comes in handy.

Professional Development for Teachers

Scientists do give talks at schools, and of course higher-level educators are often scientists in their own right. But there's another, more subtle way that scientists affect the overall education of a community: They help train teachers. That's right, the community of scientists is actively involved in teacher development courses where they teach the latest methods and classroom projects to help impart scientific knowledge to children.