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Monday, November 1, 2010

Review: K’NEX Education Intro to Structures: Bridges


Building your way to understanding the laws of the universe…sounds like a perfect plan for those kiddos who would much rather be building anything than sitting around reading textbooks. What better way to understand forces than by building structures and witnessing first hand how those forces impact the structures we live in, walk on and even drive across? K’NEX Education sets are not just toys, but tools for education.


K’NEX very generously sent me for review Intro to Structures: Bridges for grades 3-6. This set comes with 207 K’NEX rods and connectors, a divided case for keeping the pieces organized, an instruction booklet, and a teacher’s guide on cd.

I was impressed the instant I opened the case. I’ve had plenty of science and building kits in the past that came in nothing more than a cardboard box, leaving me to figure out how to store the bits and pieces until next time. Something always falls out of the box and gets lost, rendering the set unusable until you come up with a replacement. Definitely not a problem with this set. Unless the baby gets hold of it while the lid is off.

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Number of times the 18-month-old dumped the whole works? One.

As you can see, I need to play with this setup a bit more (but I’m too lazy to take it apart), to get those long green ones to fit. There was no suggestion for divider placement included (the dividers need to be assembled), so I winged it. I could have planned it a bit better. The divided sections make it easy to spot the pieces you need without having to sort through them. Fabulous!

The 207 pieces are just what you’ll need to build any of the 7 different styles of bridges included in the instruction booklet, from a simple beam bridge to an arch to a suspension bridge. Each type of piece is color coded, so you can see at a glance which pieces you need for each bridge. I found the instructions to be clear and easy to follow, but my 10-year-old said he would have preferred a more step-by-step approach. He had no trouble assembling any of the bridges, however, and his 6-year-old sister was even able to help. There is a paragraph on the type of bridge included with each set of instructions that can be read by a child at a 5th-6th grade level.

But what really makes this more than just a fancy, well-organized building set is the teacher’s guide, 94 pages of background material, lesson plans, worksheets, and web-links to investigate (always a plus in case you want to expand your study). My children (ages 5, 6, and 10) all learned about tension, compression, torsion and shear using the simple yet effective demonstrations suggested in the guide. The 10-year-old was able to build and test bridges and investigate what factors make a stronger bridge.

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A Bascule Bridge

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A Cable-Stayed Bridge

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Demonstrating a Cantilever

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A Suspension Bridge

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Testing an Original Design

We spent two weeks on this unit and enjoyed every minute of it. I love the clear lesson plans, the materials lists, extension activities and the thorough background material. As someone who enjoyed studying physics in school, I still didn’t have a clue where to start with the topic and K’NEX Education took away all the guesswork. No hunting around for experiments to use to demonstrate torsion, no thumbing through the dictionary or a giant textbook to define a word, it was all there for me. I also felt free to pick and choose from the lessons, rather than follow a strict schedule, giving me the flexibility to concentrate on areas we had not yet explored on this topic and to choose activities that could also engage my younger children.

That said, keep in mind the the teacher’s guide is definitely written with a classroom in mind. In addition to the expectation that you will have several students working in teams of 2-3, there are some materials required for some of the activities that the average householder won’t have lying around. Like 2 bathroom scales. Or a calibrated weight set that goes from 10 grams to 1000 grams. Some things you can probably borrow so you can do these activities in your homeschool. Others, you can definitely improvise.

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Testing a Beam Bridge

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Testing a Truss Bridge

Activities that require students to work in groups (there are also some demonstrations that would require a group of students) can be modified or skipped. This would be super for a co-op, as long as your group was able to afford multiple sets (you would need one set for every 2-3 students).

One caveat on the teacher’s guide: It is a 63 meg file (that’s huge, most e-books are less than a couple of megs), due to it’s graphic intensive nature. Some of those graphics are unnecessary, like the very professional page backgrounds and borders that look nice, but would drink up a lot of ink if you chose to print out the file. K’NEX obviously did consider this: the worksheets are very plain and simple, so have no fear there. The obvious solution is to read it off of an e-reader, but the large size makes it a memory hog and slow to load on my Kindle. Reading it directly off the computer, while doable, might be much less convenient unless you have a laptop. Another possibility might be to have it printed at an office supply store. I think I just might go ahead and print the whole thing on my B&W Laser printer which will minimize the cost.

Overall, I give Intro to Structures: Bridges an enthusiastic thumbs up…and I’m seriously thinking about buying another set from the K’NEX Education series.

Intro to Structures: Bridges is available directly from K’NEX for $34.00. That’s an awesome deal!

Other sets from K’NEX Education include math and geometry models, DNA models, simple machines, and more.

Disclosure: I received this product for free from K’NEX for review purposes. I received no other compensation.


  1. You get to review the greatest things. My kids are already belly-aching that we only review "school" items

  2. Awesome review. Gracie loves K'Nex too. :)


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