LEGO® Atoms and Molecules: Chemical Reactions
The LEGO Chemical Reactions lesson introduces students to molecules, atoms, chemical notation, and chemical compounds (or reinforces these concepts) through an engaging hands-on wet lab, and LEGO models of atoms.
This lesson is offered as a 3-hour field trip lesson at the MIT Edgerton Center. Click the link to sign up for a field trip.
For educators wishing to teach this lesson in their own classroom or after-school program, we provide the following documents. The LEGO Sets were updated June 2012 and the current documents are listed below. Earlier Versions are listed separately at the bottom of the page.
- Teacher's Guide (includes list of materials, a lesson description, and suggestions for classroom use: three to four 45-minute classroom lessons.)
- Student worksheets – color
- Student worksheets – black and white
- Student worksheets – Answer Key
- Color laminated LEGO Layout Mat and Atom Key (print with no scaling and flip on short edge if using a duplex printer)
- Color laminated LEGO Reactants and Products" (print with no scaling and flip on short edge if using a duplex printer) (Documents updated Jan 28, 2011. If you have trouble downloading these files, please click here or email mindandhandalliance @ mit.edu.)
- Video of Wet Lab. This 7.5 minute video may be useful for teachers to view prior to doing the wet lab with their students. It can also be useful to lead students though the steps. It shows the results of the optional "Part E) Further Experiments" (p. 2 on student worksheet. p. 11 in teacher's guide) if the teacher does not have time to do this with the class.
Please see the Teacher's Guide for a list of supplies needed for the Wet Lab. Many of these can be purchased at local stores. We obtained our phenol red from Sargent-Welch.
The LEGO bricks can be used for our Photosynthesis lessons as well. The Color laminated LEGO Layout Mat and Atom Key shows the LEGO bricks we recommend for this lesson, the chemical reactions lesson, and other lessons we hope to post soon. We chose these bricks because they can be used to illustrate a number of chemical and biological concepts. Their colors match those commonly used in other chemical models, though other colors may be substituted. The layout mat can also be used as an easy clean up tool to check if students have all of their bricks.
Building blocks (such as LEGO) can be purchased from toy manufacturers or the LEGO.com website. You might also arrange a LEGO brick donation with your local PTA. We have put together complete classroom sets of LEGO bricks, laminated sheets, and all of the documents above. It costs us $350 to build each set, and so that is the donation we ask. If your school can't afford this, we may be able to find grants to cover your costs.
Contact us if you would like to learn how to use the materials at our next workshop, or if you would like a complete classroom set of materials including LEGO bricks. Click here or email mindandhandalliance @ mit.edu.
This lesson is appropriate for children ages 11 and up.
An interactive video called "Recognizing Chemical Reactions," starring Dr. Kathleen Vandiver (inventor of this lesson) and produced by BLOSSOMS (see below) can assist you in teaching this lesson. A video of the teacher's guide and a written transcript can be found here.
BLOSSOMS (Blended Learning Open Source Science or Math Studies) is a collaborative initiative seeking to begin to develop a large, free repository of video modules for high school math and science classes created by gifted volunteer teachers from around the world, seeded initially by MIT faculty members and by partnering educators in Jordan and Pakistan.
This lesson meets the following items of the Massachusetts State Frameworks for grades 6-8, Physical Sciences Strand: Elements, Compounds & Mixtures):
5. Recognize that there are more than 100 elements that combine in a multitude of ways to produce compounds that make up all of the living and nonliving things that we encounter.
6. Differentiate between an atom (the smallest unit of an element that maintains the characteristics of that element) and a molecule (the smallest unit of a compound that maintains the characteristics of that compound).
8. Differentiate between mixtures and pure substances.
7. Give basic examples of elements and compounds.
10. Differentiate between physical changes and chemical changes.
You can also use the LEGO Chemistry activity to supplement other subjects that students may have studied. Some additional topics include:
• Conservation of matter: as the students complete the LEGO portion of the activity, they will see that every atom of the reactants is used to create the final products
• Exothermic vs. endothermic reactions, or conservation of energy: the reaction of these chemicals is a surprisingly exothermic one.
The LEGO Chemistry lesson can serve many purposes in your curriculum:
- •An exciting introduction to a chemistry unit
- •A review when beginning a unit which uses previous knowledge of chemistry
- •An enrichment lesson after the students have an initial understanding of molecules and chemical reactions
- •A culminating lesson after students have completed a chemistry unit.
LEGO® Chemistry starts with students doing a wet lab in a bag. The lab is from the GEMS guide “Chemical Reactions”,
which uses some fairly common materials for some very uncommon reactions.
Students work through combinations of all or some of the materials to determine
which were responsible for particular reactions. We go over proper lab
procedure for a chemistry experiment, although not lab writeup.
We next go over some vocabulary pertinent to chemistry, and chemical
reactions. It is at this time that we explain that each LEGO®
brick represents one atom, and that different color LEGO® bricks represent different
We discuss molecules, mixtures and compounds. Students practice writing
chemical formulas (although not equations). Finally, using the
LEGO® bricks, students will model the original chemical reaction from the wet lab, and can see how the atoms recombined to make new molecules.