The humble LEGO brick may seem like nothing more than a small rectangular chunk of plastic built for playtime. In reality, these little bricks have long been regarded as an excellent tool in helping children to build spatial awareness, proportional awareness, and so much more. Today, LEGO has become a key player in helping young students to understand abstract math concepts by making those concepts more tangible and easy-to-understand. This is known by educators as LEGO math.
LEGO math hasn’t just been shown to bridge the gap in understanding with abstract concepts. They have been proving to promote a more positive attitude towards solving math problems of all types. They also encourage perseverance and teamwork, something any educator would agree is paramount in a student’s overall well-being. LEGO’s are an amazing hands-on resource that engages children who often feel intimidated by new math concepts. These little rectangles allow students to feel both comfortable and motivated in tackling new math challenges with ease.
How can you best utilize LEGO math in your classroom? Below, we’ve rounded up some key ideas for implementing LEGO math with your students. The goal is to touch on the myriad of ways in which these colorful bricks can build-up math skills and provide a bit of comfort when key concepts feel overwhelming.
Ideas and Concepts For Teaching Math With Lego
One of the most versatile aspects of using LEGOs in teaching new math concepts is that these little bricks can be utilized to help a variety of learners at all levels. Use these bricks for students just learning to count or even those who are moving on to multiplication, fractions, and more. Let’s take a look at some core ideas for teaching math with LEGO.
1. Teach Numbers with LEGO Duplo Blocks
For young students, the most obvious math goal in place is learning familiarity with numbers and counting from 1 to 10 with ease. This is typically a core goal for preschool-aged students or even those who are about to enter kindergarten. Introducing these young students to numbers and counting to ten is the foundation in which these children will build their entire math career. Yet, many students struggle to feel engaged when learning numbers, often feeling frustrated instead.
This is where LEGO math can be a lifesaver for parents and teachers alike. Start by picking up a pack of LEGO Duplo Blocks. These blocks are a bit bigger than your standard LEGO, which is ideal for smaller hands. Once you have your bricks, you have a few options for teaching numbers and counting. The first is to create counting number mats for DUPLO using one of the many free printables online. These mats will encourage students to line up bricks to form the numbers on the mat. Eventually, they’ll garner familiarity with how each number looks.
Once the student is familiar with the numbers, they can create the numbers with the LEGO math bricks using a LEGO baseplate. You can also choose to write numbers on the side of each DUPLO block and have your child learn how to line up the numbers in order. From there, you can have them count each brick. This is a nice tangible way to help young students to connect with such an abstract concept like counting without the frustration that can often accompany new ideas.
2. Teach Counting On With LEGO Duplo
For young learners, practicing counting on can be difficult in theory. Yet with the help of a LEGO DUPLO starter set and some dry erase markers, you can teach 2+ age children to count to 20 with ease. All you have to do is write the numbers from one to 20 on the flat size of 20 DUPLO bricks with the dry-erase marker. Start with the brick labeled as number one and roll a dice. Kids can then add the number indicated on the dice with bricks to their stack.
The goal is to have the numbers in the correct order. The idea is to have the children race to see who can correctly get their stack to 20 the fastest. As children learn more numbers, you can incorporate more and more bricks to your game. This is a great way to teach counting on up to 100 without the often boring repetition that comes with memorizing such a core practice.
3. Teach Multiplication and Division with LEGO
Any teacher primarily focusing on second or third-grade math knows that teaching key concepts for multiplicative thinking often involves the tedious process of drawing or building arrays. That’s because these arrays are fundamental in teaching the principles needed to teach multiplication successfully. Of course, just as building such arrays and examples is frustrating for teachers, learning multiplicative concepts is often overwhelming for students. Utilizing LEGO math is an easy tool to help students explore the fundamentals without frustration.
Here, students and teachers can utilize standard LEGO blocks to explore square numbers, area models, multiplication properties, and abstract concepts like factoring. You can utilize LEGO baseplates in a variety of colors to help with commutative properties, division, multiplication, and so much more. Multiplication can be difficult to grasp, but if students can see in a tangible way how these properties work, concepts suddenly become much more clear.
4. Teach Place Value with LEGO
One of the most important concepts a young learner must grasp is the idea of place value. Place value is the value that is best represented by a digit in a number based on its position within that number. While it seems easy in theory, teaching this to students is often an exercise in patience. However, LEGO math can make understanding and introducing place value a far more simple process. All you need is a place value mat (you can purchase or make these yourself) and a classic LEGO brick set.
From there, have students separate the LEGO bricks by ones, tens, and other place values. For example, if the number you wanted to represent were 57, the student would place five, 10-brick towers in the ten’s column, and seven individual small bricks in the one’s column on the mat. This is a simple, tangible way for students to visually and tactically understand place value in a pretty apparent way.
5. Teach Fractions with LEGO
Of all the math concepts that tend to trip up and overwhelm students, fractions are arguably the worst. Even the best students tend to look at fractions like a dog with three-heads, especially once a teacher starts talking about adding fractions, wholes, and fractions of a set. To offset the anxiety that tends to revolve around fractions, tangible learning is a must. While pattern blocks can work, LEGO math works better and boasts more possibilities for engagement.
For example, you can use the different sized standard LEGO bricks to show concepts such as one whole, one-half, one-fourth, one-eighth, and three-fourths. You can then take these differently sized lego bricks to demonstrate adding or subtracting fractions by putting legos together or taking them apart.
Learning Fractions with LEGO book
If you’re not sure where to start, you can pick up a book on learning fractions with LEGO math. This will help deep dive into all of the key ways in which fractions can be taught using these simple rectangular bricks as an aid.
6. Teach Addition and Subtraction with LEGO
You have to walk before you can run, and you must know how to add or subtract before you can get into more demanding math concepts. LEGO math provides a simple and easy way to teach both concepts in an engaging way that gives students a tangible representation of how each concept works. Here you can either use a Classic Brick Box or larger DUPLO blocks to teach basic principles. In our opinion, DUPLO blocks tend to work best for grades two and below. To make the most of your LEGO math for addition and subtraction, start by printing some LEGO addition/subtraction cards onto cardstock.
These can be found via a simple google search. Each card will have a certain number of colored bricks that will need to be added or subtracted to another visually represented stack of colored bricks. For example, some cards will have three red bricks plus five blue bricks. The role of the student is to put three red bricks together and then five blue bricks together in separate stacks. Then they add the bricks together—the same works for subtraction. LEGO mats can come in handy here.
7. Exploring Data (Mean, Median, Mode) with LEGO
Abstract concepts like mean, median, and mode can prove a bit frustrating to students since all are various ways to express an average. When finding the mean, students are taught to add all of the data in a set together and then divide that number by the total number of data points involved. It isn’t the most daunting concept, yet most students struggle to understand the reason why this method is vital in finding an overall average.
By visually representing mean via LEGO brick towers of disparate heights, students can see with their own eyes how “mean” or average is best represented. Here, you only need standard LEGO blocks in a few key primary colors. We like to stick with the classic set here. Once a student understands “mean” or “average,” getting a grasp on the range, mode, and median is more easily grasped.
8. Teach the Time with a LEGO Clock
One of the best ways to utilize LEGO math that is often overlooked is the concept of telling time. In our digital world, too many students struggle to understand how analog clocks work. LEGOS can help to bring the clock to life and make the concept easier to understand. Here, you’ll need to start with a few medium or small-sized LEGO baseplates. This can be any color you choose.
Then you’ll need a few of the long thin LEGOS from the standard set to form the hands of the clock. You’ll also need a small flat square to place them upon so that the hands can move. From there, place numbers around the base plate to form the numbers on a clock. Give students time and have them correctly place the clock hands to the correct time using the LEGO clock. This allows children to get a hands-on feel for how clocks work while familiarizing themselves with the numbers on the clock face.
LEGO Math Best Practices
Before diving into the world of LEGO math, there are a few best practices and tips to bear in mind. After all, so many students associate LEGOs with playtime or downtime. The most important distinction you can make right out of the gate is that these particular LEGOS are for exploring not playing. How can this be accomplished when all most students want to do is build imaginary worlds with their little bricks?
Before any LEGO math lesson, give students a chance to explore their bricks. This means let them play around for a while, even if all they do is build castle towers and pretend worlds. Giving this sanctioned block of time will allow them to settle down when the actual math gets involved. Once this time to explore is done, let them know that the LEGOs are now for school, not play. Of course, this is often easier said than done.
Another best practice to bear in mind is how you’ll store your LEGOS. Don’t just dump them all into a LEGO storage case and call it a day.
Instead, separate your bricks into plastic bags or bins based on each lesson. Store any additional flashcards, math mats, or base plates into the correct bin/baggie with the perfect number of bricks. This will save you plenty of headaches and frustration down the line. It also allows students to practice concepts on their own during free time. All they have to do is select a bag or bin and get to learning LEGO math!