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The City Journals

Channing Hall Eighth Graders Learn Engineering, Design Lego Kits

Nov 06, 2015 09:00AM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama

Draper - It may just look like fun, but it is actually schoolwork. 

About 25 eighth graders in Channing Hall’s design class made original projects with Legos, both with the actual bricks as well as virtually on the computer. 

“It’s cool,” said eighth grader Alayna Garff about learning the engineering cycle through creating an original Lego kit. “We made a dragon who has a gullet of gold. We kept the directions simple, so they can be followed easily, step by step.”

Teamed up with classmate Nicole Delangis, who suggested the dragon project, she said that they simplified the stash of gold.

“Sometimes it can be so confusing as to which piece to use, so we just allowed the gold or yellow bricks to be put wherever they want the treasure,” Nicole said. “This allows the kids to have fun and still be creative.”

The Lego kit project was introduced by their teacher, Rob Marsh, who wanted students to understand the engineering cycle.

“First, we had students research the Lego kit idea — what’s out there, what younger kids want — and justify if there is a need and what it is and how their idea can solve that,” he said. “We wanted the students to decide if there’s a need for new sets every year and if there is a demand for them. They could collect their data by visiting stores to see kits for sale and identifying their strengths and weaknesses, as well as interviewing second and third-graders to see what they like and what was fun and what isn’t.”

Marsh said he also wanted his students to identify any problems, such as too complicated of a design or directions that are confusing and not easy to follow.

After that, the eighth graders were to create their own sets by using Lego digital designer to see what they can put together, sketching it on Lego graph paper or putting the actual bricks together by hand. 

“Then, I asked the students to write directions so second graders could follow them. Once their kits are complete, the younger students test their kits and the eighth graders evaluate it,” Marsh said. 

Over the month of preparation time, eighth graders had specifications to meet with their final project, such as the number of Lego bricks they could use, the project needing to be completed in a certain about of time and instructions that contain simple language or photos so younger kids can follow them on their own.

“When I first taught the design cycle, I thought everyone got it, but as we went along, I realized they really didn’t understand the concepts. So I went back and racked my brain how best to teach this process. Then, I thought of Legos and realized everyone can put Legos together and it’s a hands-on learning opportunity that really sinks in,” Marsh said.

Plus, it allows creativity, he said.

“We have students working on houses, airplanes, a Slushie machine in a 7-11, an ice-cream Creamsicle, school bus, beach scene with a surfer, a dragon, a car…We’ll see what they decide works, what they can improve upon, if it will be marketable with global appeal or not,” Marsh said.

Another bonus is that the Channing Hall second- and third-grade students, who are acting as the test market for these Lego kits, are enthusiastic about taking the class when they’re older, he said.

 “They’re already talking about their projects they want to create when they’re eighth graders,” Marsh said.

Ashley Christensen said that when she and her partner, Claire Brooks, talked to 7- and 8-year-olds, they learned they were “obsessed with houses.”

So the two were planning to create a “really neat tree house with a Zip line” and other parts in a scene, when they realized it would be too complicated for that age group.

“We decided on a cool skit hut that offers the same idea, but simplified it for them to follow,” Claire said, adding that they used pictures and typewritten instructions for the younger kids to follow.

Marsh said that students gained understanding of the process while making the kits.

“I hope they learn the approach as they tackle future projects, whether they’re in high school, college or in life. They can access the problem, study it, come up with a solution, evaluate the outcome and improve upon it — not give up, throw up their hands or say it’s too hard,” he said.