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Set 9632 review

For the past 10 years, I've been teaching LEGO classes based on the Dacta 1030 simple machines set.

With the advent of the LEGO NXT, I was hoping that LEGO would release a simple machines set that incorporated studless beams and other elements from the NXT set. It's my contention that these elements are not as familiar to most students who have built with LEGO retail sets, and thus there is a big jump from ordinary LEGO play to building with the NXT.

The Science and Technology Set 9632 is a new set from LEGO Education aimed at elementary students ages 9 and up. The curriculum guide points out that it was designed to be used by non-specialist teachers. It's low-tech, and the curriclum guide seems very user-friendly.

I've been previewing a set for a couple of weeks. It's been fun to build the models. They are sturdier than similar models with studded beams. Last weekend, I was able to watch a group of kids play with the set for the first time. They had a blast. Most of them built one model from the booklets and then went on to free play -- mostly making cars that rolled down a ramp and across the room.

The set comes with 25 booklets. The first provides a general overview of building techniques and simple machines. The other booklets provide directions for 12 different models. Wait a second, you say. There are 24 booklets for 12 models? That's right. Each model has two booklets.

The projects are set up so that students can work in pairs, with each building part of the model. LEGO calls this "Buddy Building." Booklet 1A is the chassis for the street sweeper (it looks a little more like a lawn mower) and booklet 1B is the sweeping mechanism. Once each part is built, the two sections are joined together.

The best part is that each model comes with some great ideas for modifications that will extend the activity and lead to further inquiry. What happens, for instance, if the gears that drive the sweeper are switched? What happens if the sweeper has more arms? What happens when the gear drive is replaced with a belt drive?

One of the model cars has a flywheel mechanism. It was funny to watch the kids put that on the ramp and wonder why it rolled down so slowly. The extensions for that model include directions for replacing the flywheel with wheels of various sizes, along with directions for an off-center flywheel.

By building the models and doing the related activities, students will cover gears, pulleys, levers, cams, friction, kinetic and stored energy, magnetism, and more. Measuring is a key skill for science, and the activities lend themselves to developing this skill. The extension activities lead to a lot of "what happens if . . ." questions.

Overall, I'm impressed.

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