Teacher, students bring math to real life with Legos and new Mount Si High School

[Article written by contributing writer /intern, Paige McCall]

All students learn differently. Certain manners of teaching that work for some can leave others feeling left behind. MSHS 10th grade math teacher, Brian Tawney, understands this more than anyone. He realized he needed a more interactive project to work on with his students in order to teach them math to the best of their abilities, and prepare them to use these skills after graduation.

The answer to this problem? LEGOs.

When Mr. Tawney saw that his students were having trouble writing down math problems and thinking about how to work them out on paper, he decided a more hands-on approach was needed. Already a fan of building things out of LEGOs, he realized this could be the perfect manner in which to get his kids more involved in math, and make it easier for them to actually be able to see what these numbers represent and what the calculations do.

In deciding what to build, he used the ongoing remodel of Mount Si High School as inspiration, and is having his students work to build an entire scale model of the new high school. They started with the part of the school that will be staying the same, the football field. He had the students go out and take measurements of the parts they’re going to build, and then do conversions using cross multiplication to figure out how big to make the school model, as well as how many/what types of LEGOs they will need.

For the rest, they will read blueprints of the new school and then do measurements and more conversions. The great thing about this project is that there are plenty of different math applications used in order to build this: area, volume, perimeter, cost, and conversions (to name a few). And then, when the project is complete, the students will have a lasting example of something they did with math.

Mr. Tawney is excited that “they will be able to walk through the school and see their creation and be able to say ‘I built that!’”

Often times kids feel frustrated with math, like it’s something they’re forced to take, but believe they’ll never use in real life. By giving kids a way to actually use the math skills they learn in class to create something more tangible, it can inspire them to take more of an interest in their math classes, and even pursue it outside of school.

The community has been great about supporting this project. Numerous kids from the school have donated their LEGOs. Mr. Tawney is the freshmen football coach, so the Mount Si twitter account tweeted out a link to the project on DonorChoose.org and through that he received several donations, as well as 5 huge tubs of LEGO bricks.

Mr. Tawney says that this has been a very exciting project to start, and he hopes to keep the momentum going, as they have to do a lot of separation of Lego bricks and preparation before getting to begin on the actual building. He also hopes to set up a YouTube account soon so that he can post time-lapse videos of the class building the model – not only to document their work, but to show off the dedication and determination of all these students taking on this project.

Feel like donating some legos or keeping up with the project’s progress? Visit: www.donorschoose.org/project/lego-scale-model-of-new-ms-high-school

Good Luck, Mr. Tawney and students!


Mr. Tawney’s MSHS math students using legos to build the new MSHS to scale.


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  • I’m curious why he’s looking at full retail priced sets. These can be picked up used off of ebay for significantly reduced prices (less minifigures / minidolls) – or even buying specific parts in bulk from Bricklink. There’s also multiple, free (unless licensing restricts them to personal use and not educational), computer programs that let you build virtually: Lego Digital Designer, Bricklink’s Stud.io, LDraw, and others found with a quick google search.

  • Living Snoqualmie