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When you have a reputation as solid as LEGO’s, expectations run high – so I approached this resource expecting to be suitably wowed, and found that LEGO Education has cleared the bar again.
The Simple Machines Set and accompanying Activity Pack (sold separately – download a preview from the link above) have been designed to support primary professionals in teaching children about gears, wheels, axles, levers and pulleys. It enables young learners aged 7+ to work as scientists, designers and engineers, helping them get to grips with how simple and compound machines function in everyday life – from nutcrackers to fairground rides.
This impressive collection features 16 principle activities, four main activities and four problem-solving activities that are guaranteed to challenge and stretch pupils, whilst promoting a range of scientific enquiry skills. The principle models are designed to help children understand the rudiments of simple machines through hands-on experience, before moving on to create the main models.
The teacher’s guide for the Activity Pack is as good as anything I’ve ever seen for helping pupils get the best out of a set of materials. It contains over 100 pages of information, advice and ideas that have been expertly put together to support specialists and non-specialist alike, and comes across as very thorough, highly informative and comprehensive.
There are overviews, detailed notes, hints, ‘Did you know?’ sections, photos, pictures, drawings and illustrations. On top of that, there are also recommendations galore, learner worksheets and detailed curriculum planning.
These are all professionally presented – through some are, if anything, perhaps too business-like. I think the learner worksheets need to be differentiated more, and could certainly benefit from being made more child-friendly – perhaps using illustrations of some of the excellent Minifigures that LEGO Education has to offer.
As things stand, the sheets are maybe a little too dry for some users, with language in places that’s too difficult to access for many young learners or those with developing literacy skills.
However, the activities that children can engage with are excellent. They include building a merry-go-round, a popcorn cart, a go-cart, wheelbarrow, catapult, railway crossing barrier, crazy floors and a crane.
One thing’s for sure – these models will test your children’s building skills, collaborative skills and patience, which is why it’s essential to acquaint yourself with the component parts first and build the models yourself if you want to avoid getting egg on your face. This might be time-consuming, but you’ll get to experience first-hand any potential obstacles and problems – as well as the delight of making something that actually works.
Undertaking the assembly will also give you an opportunity to appreciate the time it takes to build a model, while factoring in discussion time, the completion of learner worksheets and planning of extension activities for more experienced builders.
If you have ever had the chance to visit a LEGOLAND site – whether in this country or abroad – you cannot fail to be impressed by the potential of LEGO as a building tool. The models are stunning, incredibly inventive and a real advert for creative design and engineering excellence. When children start building more complicated models themselves, they’ll quickly get to appreciate that machines require real application and lots of hard work – but also that the effort is worth it.
THE VERDICT: A well-oiled machine
Simple Machines will challenge, excite and stretch your pupils, as they take a hands-on approach to learning about gears, levers, axles and pulleys. Having read through the teacher’s guide, I felt like I’d studied for a Masters in Engineering by the time I’d finished and could have built the London Eye single-handed, such was the confidence it inspired…
Reviewed by John Dabell
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