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By Robby 10/31/02


What are Legos?

Where do Legos come from?

How do Legos work?

How do Legos change?

How do Legos change us?

How do we change Legos?

Why do we use Legos?

What are Legos' costs and benefits?

How do we evaluate Legos?

The future Legos



     Legos are a construction toy. There are many different pieces, which you use to build anything you can think of. You can build buildings, cars, planes, ships, space-stations and lots more. There are even Lego people to include in your Lego scenes. They are for people over three years old and there is even a type of Legos for kids under three.


 Where do Legos Come From?

     Legos were invented in Europe in 1955 by the Lego company. Lego means "play well" in Danish and "put together" in Latin. At the time when Legos were invented, Ole Kirk Christiansen was the president of the Lego company. Lego bricks were thought of and made a few years after the Lego company bought its first plastic. They quickly spread all over the world. They came to the United States in 1961. They have now been around for 47 years and are a popular toy for all ages.


How do Legos work?

     Each Lego brick has studs (bumps), on the top of them. They also have couplings (holes), on the bottom. The studs fit into these couplings and hold the two bricks together.


      Each stud is exactly the same size on every brick. The couplings on each brick are exactly the same size, too. There are also a few other kinds of Legos and here is how they work...

           (The RCX brick and Components)

     One of the other kinds of Legos is Lego Mindstorms. This type of Legos has Lego electric motors, sensors and even an RCX brick, which is a small computer and you hook up motors and sensors to it with special wires that send electricity from the RCX through them to the motor or sensor. Sensors take in data from their surroundings, processes the data, and then according to your program, either turns a motor on or off, makes a sound, or turns a lamp on or off. You use the motors to make your creations move and the sensors to help your creation do what you want it to do. First, you create a program for your invention. The way you program with Lego Mindstorms is by dragging icons into the order you want (on your computer). Each icon has a different command on it such as On A, which would turn on motor A. The sensor icons are like this: If Touch 1 = Pressed. Then you put an icon below that. For example, if you put an On B icon below the sensor icon, then when the touch sensor was pressed, motor B would turn on. After you finish dragging the icons into the order you want them, you choose what slot you want to download your program to. There are five slots. However, you cannot download a program to slot 1 because slot 1 is the test slot (during while you are programming, you can test motors, sounds, and sensors to make sure they work right). You then save your program, and download your program from the computer, out the Infrared Tower, and into the RCX brick. Then your creation is ready to go!


(Mindstorms Programming)


Here are the sensors

(From left to right: Touch sensor, Light sensor, Temperature sensor, and Rotation sensor)



      Another kind of electric Legos is Lego Dacta. It has a big Interface Board with eight motor ports and eight sensor ports. It has rotation sensors, temperature sensors, touch sensors, and light sensors. It has also has lamps and sound devices. You program Lego Dacta creations with special code. Here is a sample Dacta program involving some basic codes are:


On Blink = Tells the computer which program to use (Blink being the program)

TTO "lampb = Tells the computer to connect to whatever device you have selected (in this case it is lamp B)

onFor 5 = Tells the computer to turn lamp B on for however many tenths of a second you want (in this case it is 5 tenths of a second, half a second)

wait 5 = Tells the computer to stop a motor, stop a sound device, or stop a lamp for however many tenths of a second you want (in this case it is five tenths of a second).

onFor 5 = Tells the computer to turn lamp B on for however many tenths of a second you want (in this case it is 5 tenths of a second, half a second)

Off "lampb = Tells the computer to turn off whatever device you have chosen (in this case it is lamp B)

End = Tells the computer to end the program

      This program would make lamp B blink on, off, and back on, and would then be over. This is a very basic program. However, you can make much more detailed and complicated programs with greater effects. After you are done with the program, you hook up your motors, lamps, sound devices, and sensors to the Interface Board so the electricity can run into your devices and make the program work.




(Dacta Programming)

     The third main kind of Legos is for kids under three years old. These bricks are called Duplos. They are extra big so little kids can't put them in their mouth and choke on them. They use the same stud and coupling system as the regular, smaller Legos. They only major difference between the two types is the size of the bricks.     

     There is also another kind of Legos. However, it is not made by the Lego company. This kind of Legos is called Mega Blocks. Mega Blocks are a copy and an immitation of Legos. They use a stud and coupling system, but sometimes, the size of the studs is a little different. Because of this, Mega Blocks don't stick together very well. There are also no electrical sets for Mega Blocks.



How do Legos change?

      Legos have changed a lot since they were invented. When they first came out, there were only regular Lego bricks. There weren't any sets. They also didn't have electric kits.

      There were no special pieces in the beginning of Legos. There were only plain old bricks like 4x2 stud bricks. There weren't any Lego people. There weren't any Lego wheels. There also weren't any transparent pieces or decorative pieces (such as Lego antennas). When you went to the store to buy Legos, you would buy a big bin full of Lego bricks and bricks only. However, since there were no special pieces or anything, Legos were pretty inexpensive. Even though there weren't any high-tec pieces when they first came out, Legos were still fun and really challenged your creativity and thinking skills!

      There were no themed sets when Legos first came out. Thus, there were also no themes. There wasn't Lego Soccer or Lego Racers. This might have been better than having sets because sets make people only want to make things by directions and then they aren't being as creative.

      Legos were very simple when they first came out and, of course, there were no electrical sets. There was no Lego Mindstorms or anything like that. These sets have only just recently came out. You program Lego robots to move and do stuff with Lego Mindstorms. Although electric kits make Legos more fun, Legos are still a lot of fun without them. The Lego company probably made electric Lego kits so kids could learn about programming a gear ratios. Also, electric sets would allow kids to have cars that moved without being pushed. This would allow kids to create a lot more things and would be really fun to. Because kids would see the electric sets in stores and think they were cool, they would probably buy them. Then the Lego company would make more money. So, the Lego company was probably motivated to make electric sets because of money and making buyers happy.

      Legos have certainly changed a bunch. Now, there are lots of different sets and themes. There are thousands of different pieces. There are even really cool electric Lego kits. Legos will keep on changing and getting better, or worse. They will probably get better by making lots of new kinds of sets and kits. However, the way they could get worse is maybe in order to create these pieces, it might take special factories that pollute the environment a lot.


How do Legos change us?

     Legos change people and especially kids in many ways. Lego Technic kits and Lego Mindstorms teach kids about mechanical advantage, gear ratios and how real things work in life. Regular Legos teach kids how to build walls and houses just like in real life. Duplos give little kids head-starts in building. Legos also help adults study things or make designs of things that are really going to be built.

     The Legos that change kids the most are probably Technic and Robotics Invention Legos. These Legos teach kids about how things work in real life. These kits use motors, gears, sensors, pulleys, wormgears and lots of other special pieces. Kids can learn about Mechanical Advantage and gear ratios. They learn how to make a vehicle have torque (power), or speed. They get to experiment with things and figure out what works and what doesn't. After they have made their creation, they get to program it on the computer to do what they want. For example, you could program a Lego car to start going forward and put a touch sensor on the front. If the touch sensor hits a wall, you could make it so the car goes backwards after it hits. Technic kits teach kids how to use gears, motors and sensors just like in real live cars or robots. They could help kids get a career in programming or building robots and other things. They could even become an electrical engineer if they played with Technic motors and sensors. Technic kits help kids learn and could help get them a good future too.

     Regular Legos also help kids and teach them things. With Legos, if you want to make something strong, the best way is to overlap the bricks, just like in a real live brick wall. This could help a kid become a builder. The kid would have wall building skills, so he/she could build a lot of different kinds of buildings and could get a good career such as an architect or a builder.

     Duplos also effect kids. Since they are meant for little kids, they can give these little kids head-starts in building. When the real little kids are playing with Legos, they won't really know how to build things using the overlap method, but as they get older, they will probably continue to play with Duplos and will start learning how to make things stronger. Eventually, they will probably buy regular Legos and start to play with those. And after that, they might start playing with Technic Legos and get into programming. That way, these kids could learn how to build good, strong buildings and get a career in building, architecture or something else related.

     Legos don't only help kids; they help adults too. If a scientist wants to study a specific landform (such as a mountain) without actually being there, he/she can make a model of the mountain out of Legos. They would have to make it accurate, but they would then be able to study the mountain. This is one way Legos help adults. Another way Legos help adults is by helping adults make designs of things. For example, if someone is going to build a house, an adult could make a design of the house they're going to build out of Legos and then build the building while refering to the design they built out of Legos. In this way, Legos serve as additional information besides a blue-print. And, adults also play with legos, just like kids.

     The last and obvious thing that Legos help people do is have more fun. Kids have fun building lego inventions and figuring out how to build it so it won't fall apart. Adults have fun playing with Legos and figuring out how to build a building with them.

     Legos change kids by helping them have a good career or by helping them have fun. Legos change adults by giving them a good way to plan how to build things. Legos also help adults have fun. Legos definitely change us a lot.

How do we change Legos?

      People change Legos sometimes. Sometimes, we need to make a change because of safety. Sometimes, we think it would be better if we made a certain change so we make that change. And sometimes, we change the kind of Legos we have so more people can play with them. Also, people change Legos by making good advertisements for them. 

      Usually when a new product comes out, things happen with it and we need to change it. This was so with Legos. Lots of little kids were choking on Legos and sometimes dying. This was a serious problem. So, a Lego rule was made for safety. Now, printed on every box, is a notice that says: CHOKING HAZARD, NOT FOR CHILDREN UNDER 3 YEARS OF AGE. This way, people are warned that there is a choking risk for little kids. So, if someone buys Legos for a kid under three, it is at their own risk. This rule was made to make Legos safer.

      Sometimes, people think if we change something in a certain way, it will make that thing better than it was before. So, we change it in that way. With Legos, at first, they were just plastic blocks that you stacked on top of each other. Then, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, got an idea. What if Legos stuck together so they didn't fall down too easily? So, he invented a system that would make all the bricks stick together. It was called, 'the stud and coupling' system. The way it works is, there are studs (bumps) on the top of each brick and couplings (holes) on the bottom of each brick. The studs fit into the couplings and hold the bricks together. This way, if one of your Lego creations gets bumped, it is less likely that it will break.

      Sometimes, we change things so more people can use them.  Because regular Legos are for kids over three years old, that meant that little kids could not play with Legos.  It was safer, but they still couldn't play with them.  So, the Lego company decided to make Duplos.  Duplos are Legos, only they are much bigger than regular Legos.  Because they are so big, it prevents little kids from puttin them in their mouth.  That way, they can't choke.  Duplos use the stud and coupling system and are great for young kids.

      Marketing is a big part of changing Legos. By having good advertisements and good marketers, Legos can become more popular. If Legos are more popular, the Lego company makes more money. This only happens, though, if the marketing is good. So, the Lego company hires professional marketers to help them. These marketers change Legos a lot! If there were no marketers or no good marketers to advertise Legos, they might not be as popular. If they weren't as popular, the Lego company probably wouldn't bother to make as many sets. If Legos were extremely unpopular, the Lego company might even stop making Legos all together. That would be a major change for Legos!           

      We have changed Legos a lot in the past.  We are changing them right now.  And, we will probably change Legos in the future.  We change them because of the reasons above and other ones.  We change them to make them better and safer.



Why do we use Legos?

      People use Legos for many reasons. People use Legos to have fun. People use them to help them. Also, people use Legos to teach.

      The most common reason people play with Legos is to have fun and to entertain themselves. This is a reason why almost everyone uses them. You can build many things and it is very fun to be able to create almost anything you want. People with electric kits can entertain themselves by having an electric robot perform a trick for them. Most kids usually only use Legos for fun and to make them HAPPY!

      Some people use Legos to help them do something. Some people use Legos to help them make a model for something. For example, if a kid needs to show a scene from a book he just read for school, he can make a scene out of Legos. Another example, is if a scientist wants to study a landform such as a mountain, he can make an accurate model of the mountain, and then study it without having to actually go to the mountain to study it.
      Other people use Legos to help them make a design for something they are going to build in real life. Say an architect has to design a kitchen for someone. He can build a replica of the new kitchen with Legos. He can then draw the design on paper and give it to a builder who will build the kitchen. In this case, Legos help the architect visualize the kitchen better than if they only used paper and a pencil.

      People can also use Legos to do something for them. If they have Lego Mindstorms, they can build a robot that brings them food (they would have to have a lot of pieces!), a robot that pushes buttons for them (like the buttons on a TV remote), or a robot that reminds them to take a pill or vitamin with a friendly beep that doesn't stop until they have taken the pill. People can also use Lego Mindstorms to do many other things for them. Some of these things that the robots do, only lazy people and handicapped people would need or want (like the remote-button presser robot). However, whatever way you use Legos to help you, they can help a lot.



      The last main reason people use Legos for is for a curriculum in school. There are two types of Legos, which are especially designed for classrooms. These types are Robolab and Lego Dacta. Robolab is the same as Lego Mindstorms except it has a few more pieces and comes with more than one RCX brick so it is better for classrooms. Lego Dacta uses a BIG RCX brick called the Interface Board. They both are used in classrooms to teach kids about how gears, pulleys, motors, and sensors work. Kids also learn about mechanical advantage. In this part, kids learn that a small gear on the motor shaft, connected to a big gear, gives a vehicle tork (power, but not always speed). They also learn that a big gear on the motor shaft, connected to a small gear, gives a vehicle speed (fast, but not always powerful, so if a vehicle with speed gets to a hill, it might not be able to go up it). The kids also learn how to program their vehicles, which gives them programming skills.

      Legos are used by people for many reasons. People use them for fun, for help, and to learn for the most part. However, there are lots of other small reasons people use them.

What are Legos' Costs and Benefits

     There are many costs and benefits of Legos.  They are dangerous in some ways.  They are good in other ways.  Sometimes, you have to consider if you should buy them or not.



1. Little kids can put regular Legos in their mouth and then choke on the Lego. Sometimes, they can die from choking on Legos. 1. Legos give kids a good, fun alternative instead of watching TV or playing video games.
2. It takes big factories to produce all the Legos. These factories pollute the atmoshpere. 2. Legos can be used for a fun curriculum in school that is very helpful in teaching kids about mechanics.
3. Lego sets are very expensive, so not everybody can afford them. 3. Legos help people study things or places by serving as models of that place or thing. They also can be used to design things.
4. Since Legos are so popular, other companies have regonized this success and have made their own versions of Legos. So, if someone new to Legos goes to buy Legos, they might accidentally buy an immitation of Legos. So, they could be getting ripped off. 4. Legos give kids early mechanical skills and building skills that could help them get a good career later on in life.
5. Each Lego set has the pieces in it divided up into sections. The pieces are divided with plastic bag-type things. The plastic is harmful to the atmosphere, animals and little kids can suffocate with them, and they are a waste of plastic. They are made so that when they need certain pieces for a certain set, they can just whip out the right bag of pieces. 5. Legos give kids and adults something fun to do.
6. Some of the Lego pieces in sets are very small. Because of their size, they can get lost easily. Sometimes, they get lost in the carpet. Then, when you are walking on the carpet, you might step on that piece and it HURTS! Also, then you don't have that piece anymore and some small Lego pieces are really cool. 6. Legos allow people to be very creative and allow them to use their imagination.

How do we evaluate Legos?

     People evaluate Legos in many different ways. Different people evaluate Legos in different ways. Here are the main things people look at when evaluating Legos:



     This is probably the most important thing to look at when you are evaluating Legos. This is because if they are not too safe, than they are probably not good. There are two different kinds of safety that you need to look at. 

     The first kind of safety is for how safe it is for people. Legos are pretty safe and there are warnings on all Lego sets that say Legos are for kids over three years old. However, sometimes, kids under three get Legos anyways. The main hazard of Legos to little kids is choking risk. If they are supervised, the choking risk shouldn't be too high because you can stop them before they even put the piece all the way in their mouth. But, if the kids are not supervised, they might put the Legos in their mouth. They then can choke on the piece, and if no one realizes for a long time, that kid could die.

     The second kind of safety of Legos you need to look at when evaluating them is how safe they are for the environment. There aren't too many harms to the environment that Legos cause and they aren't too big, but they are still harmful. The two main hazards to the environment from Legos effect the atmosphere. The first one comes from the Lego factories. It takes really big factories to produce the millions of Legos made each year. These factories pollute the skies and help contribute to global warming. The second main hazard from Legos also effects the environment. The Lego pieces, (as discussed in Cost and Benefeits) there are seperate packs of pieces in Lego sets. These packs are packaged in plastic packaging. The plastic can suffocate pets and little kids, it harms the atmosphere and also contributes to global warming, and it is a waste of plastic. This category is probably the first thing you should look at when evaluating Legos.


     This is not as important as other things you need to look at when evaluating technologies, but it is still a factor. When using this to evaluate a technology, it usually tells you whether the technology will make a lot of money or not. If a technology isn't too popular, it probably isn't going to make as much money. However, sometimes, this is not true. Sometimes, if you are evaluating it when it first comes out, it may not have had time to earn popularity. You have to consider this when you are evaluating a technology to see if it will make money. Sometimes, the "shopping crowd" doesn't recognize a good technology when they see one. This may be because they don't notice it or it doesn't have a flashy packaging that stands out, or if it has poor advertising. Usually, popularity doesn't have much to do with whether a technology is good or bad.


     Are Legos affordable? This is an important question to ask when evaluating Legos. Why? Because, if only a few people can afford Legos, then all the other families in the world won't have the opportunity to play with Legos. Also, then Legos wouldn't make much money either. Legos are expensive, but not too expensive that almost everyone can't afford them. They have to make a profit and that's why they cost as much as they do.

How well do Legos work in comparison to other brick making brands?

     This is a very important question to ask when evaluating Legos.  This is because you need to know what brand of blocks to buy when you are shopping.  You need to know if one type of bricks stick together better than another kind.  Otherwise, you might buy a kind of bricks that barely fit together and don't come apart once you get them together.  That is why this question is important.  Mega Blocks, for example, don't stick together very well and when you get them together, they don't come apart.  Legos are the first kind of bricks of its kind and, surprisingly, work the best.  This is surprising because usually with toys, it seems they come out with better versions as time passes.  However, Legos are an example of a technology that is better than the newer versions of it.


     We need to ask about this when we are evaluating Legos.  If a mother is shopping for a type of bricks for her child, she needs to know, which type of brick will give her kid the most freedom to build anything.  For example, if a kid wants to build a plane out of bricks, maybe one type of bricks doesn't have any of the pieces the kid needs to build the plane, but another kind has all the pieces the kid needs.  The mother would certainly want to buy the type that has all the pieces needed to build it.  So, if you are buying a type of brick, try to find out which kind has a bigger variety of pieces.  Mega Blocks have a lot of pieces, but Legos probably have more.  Legos have a lot of variety, but there are other kinds of bricks too which have a lot of pieces.  But, I would recommend buying Legos if you're looking for flexible bricks.


     When you are evaluating Legos, you need to look at if there are other brands that have a lot more better pieces.  If another brand has better pieces, a kid would probably go for that brand.  So, you need to look at all the sets made by each brand and then decide which brand is better.  Mega Blocks have people who's arms move outward instead of just around.  Nilo makes really huge baseplates.  Legos have lots of space pieces.  You need to see which brand has more and better pieces, but also, you should interview kids about which pieces they think would be the most fun to play with.  Then, you should make your decision.


     One of the factors to finding which brand of bricks is better, is which brand is the most functional.  For example, if one brand can be used for building and making models, but another can only be used for models, the first brand is probably better.  Most types of bricks have many uses, but some bricks work better for these uses.  For example, Mega Blocks work better for building than they do for making models.  Legos work well for both, but they too work better for building.  However, beecause Legos have so many pieces, you can make pretty accurate models of things.  There are also other kinds of bricks that probably work better than Legos for making models.  So, if you want to find out which type has more pieces, look around for different types of bricks.

Costs and Benefits

     This is another one of the most important things you should look at when you are evaluating Legos, or any other technology.  If a technology has more costs than benefits, it is probably not too good.  If a technology has about an equal amount of costs and benefits, then it is probably a pretty good technology.  If a technology has way more benefits than costs, than it is probably a really good technology.  However, these three rules are not always true.

     As seen in Costs and Benefits, Legos are well balanced.  So, they are either a good technology, or a really good technology because most of their costs aren't too bad and some of them are rare.  Also, the benefits are strong.

      So, if you are evaluating Legos, remember to use these questions.  You should probably look at Safety first.  There are also many other questions you could ask.  Maybe, you could even try contacting the head of the company that makes each type of brick.

The Future Legos

Click to see the Timeline of Legos

     I think Legos will have changed a lot 40 years from now.  There will be many new pieces. There will be new things for Lego Mindstorms.  There will be a lot more things you will be able to build with Legos.

     I think there will be thousands of new Lego pieces forty years from now.  I think that there will be lots of new types of wheels and bricks.  There might be wheels that allow Lego creations to drive in water.  Maybe these wheels will stick to the floor under the water so that the vehicle is completely underwater and can just drive along.  There might be Lego bricks that are really long that might be used for making a really big Lego building, without using too many pieces.  There might be bricks as big as 50x2 studs!  The Lego people will also be really different.  I think the Lego people of the future, will interact with you!  They might move their arms and legs.  That way, they could pick up stuff, walk over to a new place, and drop off whatever they picked up.  You might be able to program them to build a Lego creation for you!  They will be really cool.

     For Lego Mindstorms, I think there will be many new electric pieces.  First of all, the motors will be much more powerful (but you will probably still be able to program the motors to not use as much power).  There may be special "jet" pieces that make your creations fly.  The RCX bricks will probably be different too.  I predict the RCX bricks of the future will have a lot more sensor input ports and a lot more motor output ports.  I don't think that the RCX bricks will be much bigger though.  They might even be smaller with the extra ports on the side of the RCX.  Then, the Brick would be a different shape.  There will be a lot more programming options and you will be able to do advanced programming, too.  There will be new sensors that will allow you to do new things.  For example, there might be an altitude sensor for your inventions if you put a special "jet" on your creation.  Then you could program that invention to start flying down towards to the ground if it reached an altitude of say, 15 feet.  Because of the addition of these new sensors, there will be a lot more programming options.  You might be able to program a light sensor to tell the difference between two shades of blue that only differ a little, tiny bit.  You might be able to program a touch sensor to sense any weight at all that comes on it.  So, if you put it under a Lego floor that moves down a little bit when stepped on by a Lego guy, when that Lego guy steps on it, even though he doesn't weigh that much, you can make the floor do something like move upwards if it was serving as an elevator.

      There might even be a special machine you will be able to buy that allows you to design and create your own Lego pieces.  (It will be really expensive when it first comes out and the price will probably stay the same for a long time afterwards.  Also, if you buy it, it will probably come with enough plastic to make a few of your own Lego pieces, but after you use up that, you will have to buy your own plastic, which will be expensive also.)

      After the addition of these pieces, you will be able to build a lot more creations with Legos, both electric and non-electric. With the new electric pieces, you will be able to build planes and strong-sensing robots. With the non-electric pieces, you will be able to create really cool Lego buildings and ships. Even if these changes I predicted don't happen, Legos will still have changed A LOT, 40 years from now!



 2010 KnowledgeContext


Teaching Young People to Think About Technology