When it comes to construction toys LEGO always seems to grab the limelight and take centre stage. But there is another name that offers something equally as dazzling and innovative and that’s K’NEX.
They are of course both very different as K’NEX is based on a rod and connector building system using wheels, pulleys and gears and the focus is very much on engineering and model building.
K’NEX produce a range of top quality education sets for the classroom to help children create, explore and learn and for Key Stage 2 and beyond they have a great little kit to help children learn about water and wind energy.
This 288 piece kit comes in a water-tight storage container which also stars in a few of the experiments as well. This bucket is also green which emphasises its green credentials.
The kit comes with a complete instruction manual that shows you how to use all the special pieces inside for making seven models.
Children can choose from building a windmill, a shuttle ride, a sail car, a wind powered water lift, a hydroelectric generator, a hydro car and a flour mill. This is an impressive collection of models that will easily engage children in hands-on and minds-on learning.
One of the real-world models a few of my Y4/5 children had a go at building together was the wind powered water lift. Yes they needed help and yes it took a few sessions but the results were inspiring. There were plenty of discussions about who should do what including a couple of stand-offs but teamwork prevailed as the bits and pieces started to engage, distract and teach. The children soon took possession of the kit and became quite protective of it but ultimately they were as proud as punch when it had been built using the very clear step by step instructions which are numbered and colour-coded. Of course the finale was to see the lift moving and the sheer joy children get when they watch something they have laboured over actually working in all its glory.
The model is a corker to try because the windmill part sits around the storage container which you fill with water. We used a hairdryer to get things going and it showed magnificently how wind power can lift water to power the mill which was received with much excitement and applause! Batteries are not included because this is wind power! Children then experimented with a desk fan and a hairdryer at different speeds and different positions to see if the windmill would move faster or slower. Children were captivated and what a great way for children to see a 2D design and set of instructions transform into a working 3D model with real purpose.
Of course you are not alone in your endeavours as the kit comes with a very comprehensive Teachers CD guide to help you plan and get the most out of the kit providing you with lesson plans and a walk through of what you need to do including questions to ask and suggestions for extending activities as well as the materials needed beyond the kit itself.
There are also response sheets for children, answers, templates and a glossary of terms with background information and helpful websites to explore further. The lessons stalwartly accentuate the engineering principles of design and systems thinking and children are tested to design flow charts and to trace the flow of energy through a model. It’s a fantastic accompaniment and provides everything you need.
This model inspired one child to go away and research the origins of wind pumps and she found out that they had been in use from at least the 9th century in Afghanistan and spread across the Muslim world, then to China, India and Europe particularly Holland and East Anglia in the UK. This led to a discussion how wind power has been used throughout history and that now it is seen as one of the solutions to the major problem facing us today – that of producing a sustainable renewable energy source. The past, present and future all covered from one model!
What I think is particularly striking about the models on offer is that once they are built they function in the same way as the machines they were designed to imitate. They also offer priceless opportunities to talk science and explore concepts such as force, motion, leverage, work, energy and efficiency. Pricing for this kit is keen and good value especially if you work out that the cost per piece is around 15p.
The pieces in this kit are precision made and very durable and they are perfect for building, investigating, discussing and evaluating concepts ideas and designs.
K’NEX is all about encouraging learners to imagine, build and play and that’s what this great kit did. This is a very dynamic and exciting way to learn scientific processes, how to optimise a system and appreciate the challenges and constraints these models face when scaled up.