Thinking outside the box: A look into LEGO organization and sorting

Whether you have a classroom full of bricks and RCXs or a brand new set of  Technic beams and NXTs, teachers who use LEGO materials all have a common problem—how to organize those all of those pieces. So, how do you organize your pieces? LEGOengineering.com surveyed 133 educators from around the world on how they store their pieces. Reviewing the results, we found that educators are using two main methods for storing LEGO pieces: bins and kits. While both systems have their advantages and disadvantages, we see that educators are finding creative ways of mingling the systems to meet their own needs.
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Why kits?  In case you were unclear, kits are the LEGO Mindstorms original boxes. Obviously, this is the most convenient (and most popular) method of organization. It requires no additional cost, and kits stack conveniently for trouble-free layaway.  Many of the educators of older students (high school, college) use the kits as students may find it necessary to take their creations home over a weekend.  Kits also aid in accountability.  A number of educators said they sign out a kit to a group of students for the semester.   This allows teachers and students to know exactly which pieces are missing from which kit, and which students are responsible for the missing pieces. Kits are naturally divided into sections for a more organized arrangement that can make it easier to find and use pieces.  However, for many educators, while they like kits, the existing LEGO kits don’t do the job.  Some dislike the sturdiness of the boxes (which don’t survive falling of the table) and others prefer finer sorting compartments.  A number of alternative storage boxes (tackle boxes, craft storage containers) were recommended that you can check out in the sidebar.

Why not kits? If you’ve ever tried sorting pieces into kits, you probably know it’s a tedious and time-consuming task.  Sorting a LEGO MINDSTORMS Education Base Set (NXT) with 431 pieces can take many students an hour or more.  Younger students in particular can have a difficult time sorting all the accurately pieces in a timely matter. The quality of student sorting often leaves teachers with multiple kits to organize on their own.  One teacher reported sorting kits every Thursday night in the summer while watching his favorite TV shows.

Kits can also be confining.  While it’s a great challenge to work with in the confines of the kit, often students who are newer to LEGO building need just one more wheel, beam or brick to make their creation work.   This is particularly true for more open-ended projects done without building instructions.  Moreover, students are often really excited to have the freedom to build whatever they have in mind.  Over 60% of the survey respondents said they regularly allow students to use extra pieces, while many of those in the “Other” category said they have a classroom box of LEGO pieces or a box of lost and found pieces that they will let students use for special projects.

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Why bins? Bins are an ideal option for fast and easy sorting.  Bin systems typically have containers where pieces are sorted by type (i.e. a whole container for beams or a whole container for pulley wheels). 23.4% of participants in the survey claimed to use communal bins as their main organizational method. Bin systems help to avoid the tedious task of keeping track of which pieces are missing from which kits by having communal resources.  Bins allow for faster and easier sorting and more flexibility in students designs.  If a student needs just 2 more beams to make their design work this can be easily accomplished (without having to worry which kit they came from)

Why not bins? When you start purchasing your organizational method, it can get a little expensive to purchase all the storage containers.  In addition, many classrooms just don’t have the space for a bin system. A bin system can also be difficult to manage for educators who teach in different rooms or have to share the materials with other teachers. With a bin system direct accountability for lost pieces is virtually impossible. An instructor could realize that three motors are missing, but would have no idea which student had used the missing motor last.

Kits and Bins? One of the interesting results of the survey was many teachers reported that they have created their own systems — alternatives to the traditional kit or bin storage. Several respondents reported that they make custom kits (or mini-kits) for students. A mini-kit generally consists of pieces that are in short supply or that the teacher wants students to be accountable for.  A typical NXT mini kit might contain the NXT, motors, sensors and wires in a small plastic storage container.  Students generally receive a mini-kit they are directly responsible for but use the classroom bins to get the beams, bricks, and connects that they need. This system retains many of the benefits of both bins and kits.  Students have the freedom to “think outside the box” but are still accountable for expensive pieces.  Similar to the bins, mini kits and bins rely on having enough pieces to have well-filled bins and complete kits.

Accountability? Regardless of their organization system, educators all responded that it was important to have students be accountable for LEGO materials.  Many respondents said they used the “trust and honor” system, encouraging students to take good care of their kits.  A large number of teachers reported that each group was responsible for a kit (full or mini) and inventory was taken at the end of the semester.  Teachers generally had a small fee for missing pieces or allowed students to replace them from the classroom lost and found kit.  Some charged all students a lab fee to cover the small pieces that are lost each year.  A few teachers had a contract that students and parents signed (see an example in the side bar) to convey the student’s responsibility in taking care of the materials and the costs for materials.

Survey says?  There’s no one perfect way to organize your classroom collection of LEGO materials. We hope this article has given you some insight into organizational possibilities that may help you organize your collection.

Bins Kits Bins & Mini Kits
Easy Clean Up
Fast Clean Up
Easy Student Accountability
Encourages Creativity & Support Open-Ended Design
Requires Minimal Space
Facilitates Sharing Materials With Other Educators
Low Set-Up Cost

Summary Table

Resources

Sample Classroom LEGO Contract

Article by Olivia Teytelbaum ( olivia@legoengineering.com  )
and Merredith Portsmore ( Merredith@legoengineering.com)

Results Generated by Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com)

 

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