The Lego One-Scoop Challenge

Aaron Volner May 2, 2016, 1 comment

In the One Scoop Challenge, teens were given a paper latte cup and a giant bin of legos and tasked to take only one cup's worth of lego's and see what they could build with it. Teens had to make use of every piece in the cup. Platforms were designated as free pieces since they gave more creative freedom and were too big to fit in the cups anyway. Outside of these rules the teens were allowed to direct how the activity would proceed.

In my case, the teens chose to work in teams and turn the program into a Boys vs. Girls challenge as well. They asked if they could have only one scoop per team or one scoop per person on a team and were told the latter was fine. One teen who was interested in what others were building but not in building themselves was designated as a judge.

One of the nice things about this program is that you can impose as much or as little regulation and guidance on the teens as you deem necessary.

Note on Cost:  In our case this program only cost us the price of the cups because we already had a large bin of donated legos we use for other programs. If you were starting without any legos you might be able to find local parents whose kids have outgrown their legos willing to donate them to the library. If you cannot get legos donated you can expect to spend $50-$200 to get yourself set up with a large bin of basic lego bricks and platforms etc. for a program of around 10 teens. If you expect more than about 10 teens at the program this cost could be higher.

Type: Self-directed
Age: Middle school
Optimal size: 6-10
Estimated cost: $1 - $25
Planning time: <30 minutes
Frequency: One-time

Learning outcomes

  • Through the one-scoop aspect of the challenge teens practice making efficient and creative use of limited resources. Teens can apply skills gained through this program in other areas, projecting the thought processes necessary to succeed in the challenge into other tasks. Academically (e.g. projecting the skills into making efficient use of available information sources when researching a topic for an assignment), when entering the job market (e.g. making creative use of staff and available supplies to complete a work assignment) and in their personal lives (e.g. working within a limited budget to cover personal expenses and build savings).
  • By giving teens leeway to decide most of the rules for the challenge they are forced to take initiative in its structure and execution. Taking the initiative in structuring a task with and for a working group is an important skill for teens to take forward into the workforce. It will be of particular application as teens take their first steps into the realm of leadership and are given roles where they will be guiding the activities of others.
  • By choosing to work in teams the teens also had to use teamwork and cooperation to make sure everyone got input into the final design and that new additions wouldn't accidentally destroy the piece as a whole (This happened and forced the boy team to start over from scratch).
  • Teens are forced to learn from their peers’ mistakes and support the learning of their peers from their own mistakes when design decisions don’t pan out. By helping the group learn as a whole, teens are able to turn the challenge into a learning experience and practice the skills of utilizing peers’ strengths to complement their own efforts and identifying where best to apply their own knowledge and skills to support the team, both important to success in a 21st Century economy.
  • Teens are forced to be flexible in how their own ideas and desires are executed in the final design and adapt their concepts to fit with what others on the team are doing. This skill will carry over into the workforce when teens may be working on a project as part of a department or project team and need to work as only one contributor to the final product outcome.


  • Make sure you have Legos and scoops for the challenge.
  • Decide on what your base rules will be for the challenge, the ones the teens don’t get to decide for themselves. Examples of other rules that I didn't use but could be incorporated are:
    • Every piece must have a purpose in the design. (i.e. if you're building a spaceship you must be able to say that this part here is a sensor tower or a gun turret and not just have random stacks of bricks stuck on to make sure they all get used)
    • Specific judging criteria such as most creative, largest, etc. Or you could use a theme such as cities, space, monsters, a house etc. and judge by who best embodied the theme.
    • A time limit.
    • Designation of minimum dimensions (e.g. Must be 4 inches tall or taller).
  • Facilitate the discussion with teens to make the program self-directed. This need not be a difficult or painful process. Start by indicating that the teens can do what they want but have some decisions they need to make. Saying something like, “Other than that you guys can do what you want; are there any other rules you want to have?” is a good way to initiate this discussion. Not initiating in this way may lead to teens simply going into “free build” mode with the Legos and no real direction or goal behind the program. You could end up with each teen operating under a different assumption of how the challenge is working. Indicate that not only can they set their own rules and boundaries for the activity but it’s expected of them and teens will usually jump at the opportunity. Further facilitate by making sure that each idea put forward by the teens is heard and reacted to by the others before letting them make the final call. For example, “Okay, you three want to work boys vs. girls. What do the rest of you think of that?” Don’t let the group fall into the trap of whoever speaks first gets their way or you may end up, for example, with the two biggest personalities deciding everyone is going to work in pairs when the rest want to work individually or in two large teams. Once I got them started, my teens asked plenty of questions of me and the group to solidify the goals and outcomes of the program such as one speaking up and asking if they had to use all the pieces in their scoops or not. If these are not forthcoming, you can ask those types of questions yourself to stimulate further discussion and help the teens refine the outcomes they’ll benefit from.
  • Decide whether you will let participants see each other’s work while they are building. My teens decided they didn't want the teams to be able to spy on each other and erected a short wall of bean bags chairs so they could build on the floor and keep their creations semi-secret.


Teens were asked how they would rate the program, Poor, Average, Good or Excellent.  The program was consistently rated Good and Excellent. They were also asked what would have made the program better. While most said the program was great the way it was, one teen suggested they would have liked to have a time limit imposed on it.

When asked what they felt they had gained from the program one teen remarked they felt they had gained some insight into working as a group and the importance of having one or two people in charge of a work group to make sure things were added on smoothly rather than, “everyone just throwing things together how they want, so it breaks because the part one person adds doesn’t work with the others.” As a group they did express that they felt they would be able to do better at the challenge in the future as a result of having worked at it once.

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