We visited the LEGO Nature Connects special exhibit at the Houston Zoo last week and it was a most exciting and informational surprise! Our primary reason for visiting the zoo was to trade something at the Swap Shop (more on that later) but as we approached the entrance, Z was bouncing and pointing at the banners for the LEGO-made exhibit.

Nature Connects is a project by LEGO genius Sean Kenney. If you are a LEGO fan (or share your home with one) you may recognize his name from his many “cool” books. We’ve certainly enjoyed them over the past few years.

The exhibit inspired us in several ways. We, of course, talked about the animals, where they live, their habitat, and conservation status. We also talked about our favorites and marveled at how much work went into making each statue. As we looked at the first few, we began comparing. How many bricks did that use? Which one used more? It took how long to make it?!

My mind naturally went to the mathematical concepts of understanding and comparing numbers in the hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, and hundred thousands. These larger numbers are difficult for anyone to manage and especially so for children. But this exhibit is a perfect way to translate the abstract huge number into something tangible.

There’s opportunity to talk about place value (hundreds, thousands, ten thousands….), to estimate and compare (Do you think this is more than 50,000 bricks? This one is about 100,000 more bricks than the other. Which one took the most time to build?), and to make inferences (Do you think the more bricks there are the longer it took to build?)

The Black Rhino statue is a really perfect way to start a discussion about how artists use their work to make statements. At first we thought maybe it was just built that way, but as we looked more closely we realized there was a deeper meaning.

The Black Rhino isn’t the only endangered animal on display. We learned about Whooping Cranes, which I had no idea had nearly gone extinct in the 40s. As more and more animals face extinction, I think exhibits like this one will be vital in telling their story in a really high-impact way.

Extension Learning

There’s definitely a lot you can do to extend learning from this exhibit. I *don’t* recommend attempting to try all of these, but here are a few ideas:

Mathematical Thinking

  • Use the numbers of brick quantity to explain place value and expanded notation.
  • Compare quantity and time spent and put them in order from least to greatest. (Maybe place them on a number line or graph.)
  • Estimate and make observations about how many more or less one statue has than another.
  • Discuss scale and decide if statues were enlarged from their true size or not.
  • Add the number of bricks and hours spent to learn the total.
  • Convert the number of hours spent to days/weeks.

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Arts and Creativity

  • Discuss the artist’s purpose. Why were these animals chosen? How are they represented?
  • Learn more about Sean Kenney and check out his books.
  • Build your own statue garden using LEGO or other supplies.
  • Compare different sculptures with these. What are different materials that can be used? What are the challenges of different materials?

 

The Sciences

  • Discuss which of the animals are pollinators and why that’s important.
  • Where on Earth do these animals live? (Put them on a map!)
  • Compare their habitats.
  • Discuss conservation status and the efforts to prevent extinction.
  • Learn about what happened to the Dodo.

 

And if you’re not near Houston, you can look for Nature Connects exhibits in other cities around the world.

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