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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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/.