Teaching United States Landmarks with Legos

I love to teach social studies. More specifically, I love to teach about american history and government. I have a degree in American Political Studies with an emphasis in the American Legal System. After college, I worked as a lobbyist for the state supreme court. It was the perfect job for me at the time. After having four kids, my heart changed and I found myself longing to spend my days with kids. It was a long path, but I eventually found myself teaching third grade. It is exciting to share my love for government and history with my students. However, I find that it is the subject that is most often cut due to the lack of time and an overwhelming number of standards to teach. I work hard to squeeze it in as often as possible. The last thing I want, is for social studies to be boring for my students. I go out of my way to include hands-on learning activities that excite my students. They are well worth the extra time.

My school does not require the third grade to teach about United States landmarks. But MANY of my kids have never left Arizona. And those who do travel, have only been as far as California. Only a couple of my students had ever been to the east coast. I knew that I needed to find the time to "travel" across the United States with my students. And that is how the Lego United States landmarks project was born.

I knew that my students would be more motivated to read, write and learn about the landmarks if I allowed them some collaborative time to build the landmarks after their research. They would also be more likely to remember the landmarks long after the unit was  complete. 

The first step was to acquire a lot of Legos, accessories and building mats. I wrote a Donors Choose project and my friends, family and sweet blog readers helped me to get the project funded in a week!

The next step was to find text and resources to help my students research some of the most famous  landmarks in our country. I searched and searched and was about to write my own when I found THIS unit. It is written my sweet blog friend Arisbeth from Sailing into Second. It was exactly what I needed! 

Each day we "traveled" to a different landmark. Students worked  collaboratively to read and research about the landmark.

When I felt that the groups had done sufficient research, I pulled out the Legos. You should have heard the happy squeals on the first day. Actually, they squealed every day. Legos just do that to kids. (It is sort of the same squeal that teachers have when they walk down the pen aisle.)

Music makes everything more fun, so we had to have some patriotic songs playing.

I allowed kids to choose their own groups. They looked  at me like I had lost my mind. But they chose amazing groups! And they were so focused and on task! Groups were given the challenge of using their Legos to build a model of the landmark we had learned about that day. The models were pretty amazing!! Let me show you a few.

The White House...

The Lincoln Memorial...

I thought that the Liberty Bell was going to be too hard to build. Boy, was I wrong! I think they did their best work on that day!

I took pictures of each group holding their masterpiece for the day and turned it into a slideshow. We showed the slideshow for parents at our last open house. It was my way of keeping the student work without having to keep all of the model built. I had a mom come up to me at the open house and  thank me for teaching the landmarks. She said that her daughter really wants to visit Washington DC now. That is what this is all about!!!

I could have just had my kids research landmarks. But would they remember their work? Maybe a landmark or two. When I gave them time to build it, I helped to create a lasting memory, a fun time at school and practice at collaborating. I challenge you to plan some hands-on social studies units for next year. Summer is a  great time to write a Donors Choose project for those activities! If you need some suggestions and tips for getting a Donor's Choose project funded, check out THIS post that I wrote on the iTeach Third blog.

Happy planning!