LEGO is a very versatile and popular toy and there are simple strategies for how to teach math with LEGO bricks.
When a child learns, they will use three methods to experience what is being taught. These areas are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. The first two are fairly self explanatory, a child will need to either see or hear respectively. The last is more interesting since it involves the use of touch.
In a child’s formative years, they are constantly handed things to play with. A ball, blocks, pen and paper all teach us kinesthetically. So for many, it is jarring when that component of learning is removed. Math in particular has no real world basis. Instead children are forced to imagine weights and measurements or just see a picture.
Now how can LEGO bricks help with this void in your student’s life? Simple, it gives that child a real-world object to feel. You may not realize this, but LEGO bricks are a living system of mathematics with every piece. This comes from the fact that it is a system. This means that the elements will need to work together in order to build. It does this through precise and regular measurements.
Math within the LEGO BricksToy
Take for an example a baseplate. A normal sized one has thirty-two studs for its length and width. These can be viewed as a way to explain “Areas” since the formula is length times width. The result is all the studs on the plate (1,024 studs).
Now examine the basic plates and bricks. A plate is one-third the height of a standard brick. These are fractions and all you did was notice their basic composition. You of course can expand upon this and build using multiple pieces. Each piece represents one more in a whole. So something seventeen pieces big can teach in base seventeen for its fraction.
Perhaps the children you need to teach require a higher form of mathematics. You can now use the elements in a more complex manner. For advanced geometry you can explore volumes as well as have kids formulate proofs using the pieces. Trigonometry is also an option with gear rotation or complex shapes that can be calculated.
This system of interlocking bricks makes an excellent replacement for graph paper. As in the regular lines of graph paper, the studs on each piece represent a consistent unit of measurement.
Counting beans or blocks often serve the purpose for a hands-on example. This same principle can be applied using basic bricks. However, when it comes to having a real-world analog to show your students, the LEGO bricks will far surpass anything beans can produce.
A good example of this is your basic scale model. A minifigure can nicely represent your child in the experiment. Then you can ask if you know how tall the child is and how many bricks/plates that equals (usually four bricks) and how many bricks high the building is- As you can see, it will bring word problems to life that just doesn’t happen with other methods.
It will also make a very engaging project for school as seen in this video animation using LEGO bricks. By combining math with one of their favorite toys, you not only get them learning mathematical concepts, but they begin to appreciate how the toy works.
Outside the Classroom
Learning math inside a classroom environment is one thing as children expect to have to tackle subjects like math in that setting. What you want is to have them apply those skills outside the classroom. This might mean it’s time for a field trip.
The LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Dallas Fort Worth has a facility built for just such a purpose. Teachers can inspect the facility beforehand as well as have an instructional meeting with the employees. Currently, they feature a special class on Pablo Picasso that covers curricula like math and art.
Once this is ingrained in every child, their toy box can continue teaching without any help. By associating the toy with learning, it is impossible for them not to think about the lessons they’ve learned. That’s something you can count on.
Read more about a system of mathematics
Carlo Pandian is a freelance writer interested in LEGO, creative play and teaching, and has previously published on Age of Autism, Bricks of the Dead, and The Rock Father. He has an ongoing interest in finding new strategies for how to teach math with lego bricks.