(This is part 3 in a series of Makerspace Wishlist posts. See Part 1: Electonics and Part 2: Technology and Robotics for more. Please note, this post was originally written in 2014 and some products may have changed or been discontinued since then)
When it comes to engineering tools, there’s really two major juggernauts: K’nex and LEGO. I like both for different reasons. Both are fairly intuitive and have a very low threshold for getting started, and both have amazing possibilities. K’nex works best with larger models, moving parts, geometric shapes, vehicles etc. LEGOs work best with smaller models, structures, etc. But both can do pretty much anything a creative mind can think up. Plus, if you have a 3D printer, it’s now possible to print adapters that let you use both together (or combine with TinkerToys, Lincoln Logs, Duplo, etc).
K’nex is an engineering tool made up of sprockets and rods that connect and snap together. The K’nex Education website has a lot of great information for educators, and they’re frequently seen at tech conferences too. The packaged education kits are great if you need to have a direct curriculum tie to get your materials (and the instructor materials in these can be awesome), such as for a grant, but in general you don’t get a lot of parts for the cost. If you’re looking to create a free-building area in your Makerspace, I recommend starting out with some general building sets and a motor pack or two so that students can make things that move. Avoid leaving out the instruction manuals – that tends to sap creativity. Instead, let students dream up their own ideas.
- K’NEX 375 Piece Deluxe Building Set $17.54
- K’NEX Classics 50 Model Building Set $30.99
- K’NEX Education – Motor Pack $26.41
Everyone knows and loves LEGOs, and they’re perfect for Makerspaces at any grade level. I have some tough middle school students who would never touch a LEGO set at home yet are delighted to play and tinker with them when they come to the library. LEGOs have insane possibilities for Makerspaces – just a quick search on Pinterest for LEGOs can give you a crazy amount of ideas (my LEGO Pinterest board already has 80 pins and is growing everyday). Stop-motion animation, marble runs on baseplates, LEGO walls, LEGO tables, etc. Just make sure you figure out a storage solution early on so that you aren’t stepping on LEGOs everyday.
- LEGO Education Wheels Set 4598357 (286 Pieces) $44.87
- LEGO Education Doors, Windows & Roof Tiles Set 4587438 (278 Pieces) $40.95
- LEGO Education Brick Set 4579793 (884 Pieces) $54.95
- LEGO Green Building Plate (10″ x 10″) $4.99 (get a lot of these)
- LEGO Education Community Minifigures Set 4598355 (256 Pieces) $49.91
(LEGO suggestions borrowed heavily from this post by Teen Librarian’s Toolbox)