Thursday, June 25, 2015

Five Activities to Teach Fractions With LEGO

Image from learning blog JDaniel4's Mom
Although fractions can be frustrating for young students to master, studies have shown that understanding this material is essential for future math success. As such, there is much interest in the topic of how to teach fractions, especially to students for whom traditional approaches aren’t working. Introducing the concept with math manipulatives, such as LEGO bricks, can help many children become more comfortable with these complex concepts.

Before students are introduced to fractions in third grade, most children are accustomed to working with whole numbers. The concept of splitting a number into pieces can seem foreign and frightening. Nevertheless, by the end of fourth grade, students are expected to estimate, compare, compose, and decompose fractions and understand fraction equivalence. They are also expected to be able to explain these processes and their meanings and apply this understanding to more difficult mathematical equations.

Learning fractions represents a major milestone in a child’s mathematical education. Studies have shown that an understanding of fractions is a primary indicator of a child’s success throughout high school mathematics. If a child struggles with grasping this material, it’s likely that the child will continue to struggle with math throughout high school.

Teaching fractions with manipulatives is a tried-and-true approach to teaching these math skills. Manipulatives have been shown to increase understanding, reduce anxiety, improve attitudes toward math, and improve the long- and short-term retention of math concepts. This, of course, leads to higher test scores and greater excitement about math in general, as shown in Teaching Math Their Way. Using manipulatives can engage inattentive or easily distracted learners. Manipulatives can also be extremely effective in teaching ESL students and students with learning barriers.

Math manipulatives can be very expensive. Fortunately, LEGO bricks are a convenient, effective, and affordable alternative. Since students are usually already familiar with these items, using LEGOs can also help the child feel more comfortable and excited about learning. Since we typically first teach fractions to 3rd and 4th graders, beginner students are usually at the right place developmentally for mastering new concepts through this hands-on approach.

Five Activities for Mastering Fractions With LEGO Bricks

To complete each of the following activities, the child will need the base assembly, the fraction cards, and a substantial number of 1x4 LEGO bricks.

  1. Divide a base plate into several equal sections. Since each section must provide enough space to create a fraction in 1x4 bricks, the number of sections should be dictated by the size of the base plate being used.
  2. Stack three 1x6 bricks on top of each other. These bricks will hold the fraction cards upright while the child works the fraction problem. Create one stack for each section.
  3. Attach each of these stacks at the top of each section.
  4. Two rows below each stack, attach another 1x6 brick. This brick prevents the fraction card from sliding while the child is working.
  5. Use index cards and a marker to create the fraction cards. On the back of each index card, write a fraction (such as ¼) that the child can assemble with LEGOs.

Activity #1: Make the Fraction

Perhaps the easiest way to teach fractions with LEGOs is to have the child select fraction cards, insert them into the holders, and build them out of 1x4 bricks assembled flat against the base plate. The child should use two colors for each fraction. For example, in the fraction 2/5, a child should use five bricks – two of one color, three of another.

Activity #2: Vertical Fractions

Encouraging the child to assemble the fraction in different ways can help broaden an understanding of fractions. Explain that a fraction is the same whether the bricks are lined up horizontally or vertically. The fraction is even the same if the bricks are stacked on top of one another or assembled in some other shape. It isn’t the placement, but the division of parts, that matters. Encourage your child to assemble the fraction cards as towers or other shapes.

Activity #3: Find the Opposite Fraction

Every fraction is part of a whole. The remaining, or opposite, fraction is the amount required to complete the whole. For example, the opposite of the fraction 7/8 is 1/8. When the child is challenged to find the opposite fraction, it helps strengthen the understanding that fractions are part of a whole.

Activity #4: Simplify the Fraction

Use large fractions, such as 5/10, and ask the child to reduce the fraction to a smaller but equal number. In this example, it would be ½. If the base plate being used is small, the child may need to stack the bricks or clear the base plate of the original setup so that there is enough room to work the problem.

Activity #5: Vocabulary Test

Ask the child to use a specific color for the numerator or denominator of each problem. Allow the child to pick the color of whichever portion of the fraction you did not specify. As the child works each fraction under these conditions, he or she will build a math vocabulary and strengthen the recognition of these important terms.


Children who understand fractions are more likely to succeed in future mathematics. Repeating these activities often can help strengthen and reinforce these concepts. These activities can be scaled and adapted to accommodate more complex fractions and even equations as the child moves forward with mastering this material.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

How to Teach Sentence Structure With LEGO

 Learning new language skills, especially sentence structure, can be daunting for some learners. While traditional instruction is beneficial for auditory and some visual learners, kinesthetic learners require a more hands-on approach to grasp the material. Fortunately, there are ways to incorporate manipulatives such as LEGO bricks into certain lessons to engage these learners. This article on how to teach sentence structure with LEGO explains how to get started.

Complex sentence structure is something that students typically tackle in their late middle-school years. Learning these concepts helps students improve their reading comprehension and understanding. When these skills are mastered, students are better equipped to read and compose more advanced literature and essays.

Unfortunately, even a student who previously thrived in language courses may become overwhelmed when faced with complicated concepts such as coordinating conjunctions. The differences between some of these more advanced terms can be subtle and confusing. Teaching the material and then practicing the principles with more familiar symbols, such as LEGO bricks, can alleviate student anxiety and improve comprehension and offers a fun way to teach sentence structure.

There are many types of students who can benefit from tactile learning. One study showed that students who struggle with dyslexia or attention disorders may find it easier to focus on manipulatives than written words. In the study Gifted Achievers and Gifted Underachievers, researchers demonstrated that underachieving students, who are capable but often refuse to participate, are also more likely to engage when tactile materials are used.

Manipulatives, such as LEGO bricks, have also proven effective in helping English language learners understand difficult language concepts, as outlined in Teaching Techniques for the ESL Classroom. Another study in Advances in Physiology Education concluded that nearly 20 percent of students identify as tactile and kinesthetic learners, who grasp new concepts best by doing something rather than reading or listening. As a result, students in nearly every classroom can benefit from using LEGOs to master language concepts.

A fun way to teach basic syntax and sentence structure is by using LEGO to represent the various components and their relation to one another.

Preparing for the Activities
Prepare for the activity by separating the LEGOs by color. Each student participating in the activity will need several of each color. Provide an explanation of the color code to each student. Although the color code can be modified depending on the type and quantity of bricks you have available, a suggested code is outlined below.

  • Black LEGOs represent independent clauses, or groups of words that include a subject and a verb to form a complete a thought. An independent clause is a sentence.
  • White LEGOs represent a dependent clause, or group of words that contains a subject and verb but does not express a complete thought. Dependent clauses often start with a dependent marker word, such as “when” or “although.”
  • Yellow LEGOs will be divided into two groups by size. Small, two-stud yellow bricks will represent a coordinating conjunction, such as “and” or “but.” Four-stud bricks will represent conjunctive adverbs, such as “accordingly” or “then.”
  • Red LEGOs must be sorted according to size. The number of studs on the bricks will determine what the red brick represents. For example, a period can be represented by a one-stud brick, a comma is a two-stud brick, and so on.
  • Blue LEGOs represent subordinate conjunctions, such as “after” and “unless.”
  • Green LEGOs represent a pronoun, adjective, or adverb.

Assemble the Sentences

Supply each student with a list of sentences and enough bricks to form them correctly.

Before the students begin to work independently, it might be helpful to demonstrate a variety of sentences. For example, the sentence “I sat.” would be represented by a black LEGO with a single red LEGO at the end. “I love English, but I hate math” would be represented by a black LEGO, a two-stud red LEGO, a two-stud yellow LEGO, a black LEGO, and a single-stud red LEGO.

Fix the Sentences
Students who frequently make writing errors may benefit from creating tangible representations of run-on sentences and incomplete fragments. Identify where the problems are and show the students how to correct the sentences with punctuation and other pieces. For many students, this kinetic, tactile approach will be much more effective than simply learning the rules or revising their writing.

Rearrange the Sentences
As students begin to identify parts of the sentence as building bricks that can be manipulated, encourage them to restructure sentences in different ways. Encourage the students to move dependent clauses to different positions in the sentence and experiment with different types of conjunctive words and phrases. As they experiment with this, the students will learn to master a variety of effective sentence structures that can add variety and quality to their writing.

Students find learning with LEGOs entertaining and educational. Although this method of teaching may seem unconventional, the hands-on approach offered by LEGO lessons caters to the specific learning needs of many students who may otherwise be overwhelmed by traditional teaching methods.

Did you enjoy these activities for teaching basic syntax with LEGO? Share on social media and spread the benefit to your friends!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How to Teach Multiplication with LEGO

Image from Frugal Fun for Boys
Learning math in a lecture setting can be challenging for children who are more visual or tactile learners. Even students with excellent listening skills and a firm grasp of math concepts would benefit from including a hands-on, visual learning approach, along with other methods for teaching this foundational math skill. If you’re wondering how to teach multiplication concepts to children, this can be a great place to start, or a fun way to reinforce classroom learning.

The LEGO 3-D Multiplication Graph

This fun way to teach multiplication is a fantastic addition to your math teaching arsenal. The LEGO 3-D Multiplication Graph is perfect for children who like to learn with their hands or through observation. It’s also great for most any child in bringing home these concepts in addition to other math learning activities. We recommend this method for any child having difficulty attempting to learn the concept of multiplication in a traditional manner.

Concepts this activity helps to teach include: multiplication, division, grouping and the commutative property.

  • Standard base plate
  • 75 red 1 x 1 bricks
  • 60 blue 1 x 1 bricks
  • 45 yellow 1 x 1 bricks
  • 30 orange 1 x 1 bricks
  • 15 green 1 x 1 bricks

  1. Label your baseplate by taping paper beneath the plate and writing the numbers you're multiplying. In this case, we'll be covering (1 to 5) x 5. Skip a row of studs between each number. [steal pic]
  2. Explain to your child or student how to build out the rows in the graph. The numbers along the bottom show how many groups to build. The numbers along the left show how many numbers will be in each group. 
  3. The first vertical row will be all one color (red). It contains a single group for each number 1-5. 
  4. The second vertical row will have two colors and contain two groups for each number 1-5. And so on. 
  5. Ask questions and make observations as you go along. For instance, the "tower" sizes on the second vertical row are: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10.
As you build out the graph, you'll also notice that each tower has a tower of corresponding size in a corresponding spot. For instance, a tower composed of 3 groups of 4 will be the same height as a tower of 4 groups of 3. This is the commutative property, or the ability to rearrange a pair of numbers in a math operation to get the same result.

What other observations can you make? Build out the rest of the graph, and view the final result from different angles. Solicit observations from the participant(s).

Did you like our post on this fun LEGO multiplication game? Consider creating a Pinterest board for learning activities and pin this post!

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