I have 2 grandsons ... we play with Legos a lot! I notice that Legos are in my older grandson's classroom. His teacher uses them for brain breaks. Legos capture students' attention ... kids gravitate to them. So could there be a better tool to use a math manipulative ... I don't think so!
A few months ago, I was offered the opportunity to review a piece of a new series, Brick Math. The Teaching Fractions using Lego Bricks written by Dr. Shirley Disseler and published by Brigantine Media/Compass Publishing. As far as engagement goes, this resource is sure to be a hit!
The content of this book addresses early fraction skills including recognizing fractional parts including benchmark fractions, finding equivalent fractions, and adding/subtracting fractions. The ten lessons in this book could be used to address Common Core standards in grades 3, 4, and 5. They could also be used to support struggling students in middle school. As a math tutor, I can see using these lessons with students in Grades 2 - 10 to reinforce a conceptual understanding of fractions.
Each lesson in this book outlines clearly what students will learn and why those concepts are important. The lessons are divided into two parts - a teacher demonstration with step by step instructions, and a student activity where students show what they have learned. The student activities are similar - they ask students, "Can you build a model that shows ___?" The work requires spatial-visual thinking. Students compare sizes of bricks, number of studs on bricks while computing with fractions. This combination of tactile work with spatial recognition reinforces the part to whole concept of fractions.
I can see where with some students the comparison of sizes of bricks and number of studs could potentially present some confusion. In teaching students to add fractions with unlike denominators, instructions say to "add bricks to each denominator until both denominators have an equal number of studs." Depending on the bricks used, the two denominators could have the same number of studs but look very different in size. While I don't think this is a reason not to use the bricks, I can see where the comparison of size with number of studs could be confusing to some students. I haven't done this lesson yet with students - I'm curious what questions students might ask!
A key focus in this series is the emphasis on multiple representations, modeling first with bricks, then drawing the model, and explaining in writing the processes used. The author highly encourages the use of a "Brick Math Journal." Using modeling - both physical and drawn - allows students to think through their computation carefully, and defend in writing their thought processes. Obviously journaling is a well-researched instructional tool, and using it with Brick Math can tap into it's benefits!
If you work with young mathematicians, you can view examples of Brick Math on Youtube. I recommend checking out Teaching Fractions using Lego Bricks as tool for building conceptual understanding of fractions! Brick Math clearly is engaging and conceptually sound. Students are sure to enjoy working with the bricks and learning fractions!