Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How to Teach Chemistry with LEGO

LEGO are a classic toy that kids and adults are captivated by. Although LEGO provide inherent opportunities for learning, when they’re worked into a teaching curriculum, they can really help students grasp certain concepts. The following chemistry lessons incorporate LEGO to provide tangible teaching opportunities and are ideal for students ages 11 and older. Each lesson builds on the last and gives students a way to physically represent atoms, molecules, and chemical reactions.

Chemical Reactions

In order to understand chemical reactions, students must be familiar with molecules and atoms as well as what happens when they are combined. While students will notice that chemical reactions typically create gas or a change in color, this lesson helps them recognize that new molecules are created in chemical reactions as atoms get relocated.


Lesson Objectives

This chemistry lesson will teach students:
  • that elements combine to make up all matter
  • the difference between a molecule and an atom 
  • examples of elements and compounds 
  • the difference between pure ingredients and mixtures
  • the difference between chemical and physical modifications

Lesson Summary

  1. Students begin the lesson by creating chemical reactions in a plastic zipper bag. This gives students the opportunity to see that common ingredients can have unexpected reactions when combined.
  2. After seeing the actual chemical reactions, students will re-create them using LEGO bricks. Each color stands for a particular element, and the bricks are put together to represent the molecules that make up an atom. Students will rebuild the bricks as they use them to represent what happens during a chemical reaction. 
See the whole lesson and materials from MIT’s Edgerton Center.

Photosynthesis 

When they undergo photosynthesis, plants and other organisms convert carbon dioxide and water into fuel using the sun’s energy. This lesson will help students build a model of the chemical reactions that take place during photosynthesis so they can visualize how the molecules change into fuel that can be used by the plant.


Lesson Objectives 

During this lesson, students will recognize:
  • Chlorophyll-containing plants create glucose, or sugar, from water and carbon dioxide molecules using sunlight to spark the chemical reaction.
  • Plants release oxygen during photosynthesis.
  • The energy created during photosynthesis can be used right away or stored for later use.
  • Sunlight is the primary source of energy for all ecosystems.

 Lesson Summary 

  1. Students will use LEGO bricks to build water and carbon dioxide molecules. They will be able to refer to layout mats and cards that provide specific instructions for building each molecule.
  2. Students can compare the written chemical notation with the model of the molecular structure to get a visual of why the notation is represented as such. 
  3. Students take their models of water and carbon dioxide molecules and disassemble them, reassembling them into glucose models. While they do this, they learn that the sun’s energy transforms water and carbon dioxide into glucose during photosynthesis. 
  4. Students are asked to notice which bricks are left after the water and carbon dioxide are used to create glucose.
See the whole lesson and materials here.

Molecules in Air

Air changes as it undergoes chemical reactions that emit pollutants. The molecules that make up healthy air have a particular balance. However, when combustion releases additional carbon dioxide molecules into the air, it can affect temperature and climate.

Lesson Objectives 

This lesson will help students learn:
  • Although they can’t see the molecules in the air, the concentration of those molecules affects the environment and public health. 
  • Fossil fuels undergo a chemical reaction when burned with oxygen.
  • Humans are contributing to climate change and pollution by burning fossil fuels.
  • Other pollutants are created when fossil fuels are burned without enough oxygen.
  • Humans can prevent air pollution.

Lesson Summary 

  1. Discuss the makeup of air. 
  2. Students will use a layout mat to create models of oxygen, nitrogen, water, and carbon dioxide using LEGO bricks. They will then use the appropriate concentration of each molecule to build a model of air. 
  3. Students will explore combustion by using the LEGO bricks to model how carbon dioxide is formed when fossil fuels are burned, discussing how carbon dioxide contributes to air pollution. 
  4. Explain what happens during incomplete combustion, when other pollutants are released into the air. Discuss how this affects health and how this type of pollution can be prevented. 
See the whole lesson and materials here.

Check out more LEGO learning and fun at the BRICK Marketplace blog.