Economics Lesson Plan: Lego Assembly Line Activity
Unless you are teaching an AP Economics class, you probably aren’t going to get a lot of students to read Adam Smith.
Thankfully, there are ways that you can introduce some of the important concepts from Classical Economics without going right to the source.
One example is the division of labor. Although it seems like common sense now, Adam Smith was the first to introduce this concept on a wide scale. In his book Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, Smith describes the efficiencies that can be gained in producing pins (not the ink kind, but the pointy kind) by breaking up the labor into specific stages.
When I cover this topic, I like to have the students demonstrate the difference firsthand by assembling Lego people.
The premise is simple: divide the classroom up into two groups, teams and individuals. The teams work together to make Lego figures (I use simple Lego people) as quickly as possible, while the individuals make them on their own. Ideally, the process should take 5-7 steps. After a given time period, work is stopped and the groups count up their output.
Typically, the groups are able to produce much more than the individuals. Once the benefits of the Division of Labor are apparent, the class engages in a discussion of productivity, focusing on things that could be done to make the workers more productive (use of technology, training, etc.).
In addition to building the Lego people, students can read an excerpt of Smith’s work regarding the Division of Labor here. Instructors may also wish to incorporate the Department of Labor’s information on Labor Productivity.