Simple Machines

In January 2012 this year, two Canadian 17-year-olds launched a LEGO man into the stratosphere using a weather balloon and attached a GPS tracker and several cameras to capture the journey. The plastic astronaut reached 80,000 feet. LEGO is literally everywhere and it continues to inspire young and old alike.

When you have a reputation as solid as LEGO’s, the expectations are high – so I approached this resource expecting to be suitably wowed. In this case, LEGO has cleared the bar again.

The Simple Machines Set and accompanying Activity Pack (sold separately) have been designed to support primary professionals in teaching children about gears, wheels, axles, levers and pulleys. It also enables young learners aged 7+  to work as scientists, designers and engineers, helping them get to grips with how simple and compound machines – from nutcrackers to fairground rides – function in everyday life.

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 have ever seen for helping pupils get the best out of a set of materials. It has over 100 pages of information, advice and ideas that have been expertly put together to support the specialist and non-specialist alike. It is very thorough, highly informative and comprehensive. There are overviews, detailed notes, hints, ‘did you know?’ sections, photos, pictures, drawings and illustrations. That’s not to mention things to talk about, recommendations galore, learner worksheets and detailed curriculum planning.

These are all professionally presented and, perhaps, too business-like in some cases. If anything, I think the learner worksheets need to be differentiated and would certainly benefit from being more child-friendly – perhaps using some of the excellent Minifigures LEGO has to offer. As things stand, the sheets are too dry for some users and the language is too difficult to access for many young learners, or those with developing literacy skills.

However, the activities children can engage with are excellent. They include building a merry-go-round, popcorn cart, go-cart, wheelbarrow, catapult, railway crossing barrier, crazy floors and a crane. One thing is 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. Although this will be time-consuming, you get to experience first-hand any potential obstacles and problems as well as the delight of actually making something work. This will also give you an opportunity to appreciate the time taken to build a model, factor in discussion time, complete learner worksheets and plan extension activities for 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 get to appreciate that machines require real application and a lot of hard work, but the effort is worth it.

Our 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 the teacher’s guide, I felt as though I had a Masters in Construction Engineering and could have built the London Eye single-handed, such was the confidence it imparted.

Pie Corbett