How to Build a Portable Lego Wall
How do you convert an old elementary school computer lab, lined with desktops, into a vibrant space that inspires innovation in students ages 4 through 14? With a budget of $500, I set about this summer to create a space that engages with students and empowers creativity. After adding some color to our walls, I continued my fixation with wall space transformations by building a portable Lego wall that would allow students to interact with the space.
Technically, this is a “Tech Lab,” but students need to feel inspired and empowered to do amazing things with the tech tools they have. A Lego wall is a fantastic way to empower students. With the placement of a Lego brick, even the youngest child can easily take ownership of the space around her. She can construct a building, build her name, leave a message, and undo her mistakes – and in the blink of an eye, the technology lab becomes hers.
Think of the empowerment
ownership of space!
Think of the empowerment bundled into ownership of space! When you own something, you are more likely to take pride in it, care for it, represent it, defend it, and share it with others. How often do we begin the school year with a conversation about sharing OUR classroom? And what actions do we let students take so that they feel ownership in their space? A teacher hanging student artwork on the wall is very different from students actively creating their own Lego art. How can we use these simple tasks to help students feel empowered?
With student empowerment in mind, I decided to place our Lego wall along the large window between the Lab and our Tech Office, so it provides a seven-foot wide invitation to own a piece of our tech lab. Below is a tutorial, so you can empower your students to take ownership in your classroom too!
Things you will need to create a portable Lego wall (these are all Amazon affiliate links):
1 roll of 3M Scotch 2090 Multi-Surfaces Painters Tape 2″
1 roll of 3M Dual Lock Reclosable Fastener TB3550 250/250 Black, 1 in x 10 ft (1 Mated Strip/Bag)
Elmer’s Tri-Fold Premium Foam Display Board, Black, 36×48 Inch – I bought qty 2 of 40″x48″ white boards. You will need enough to cover the area of your Lego Wall. Read step 3 below to determine size and color.
LEGO Classic Baseplate Bundle (3-Pack) – I used green 10″x10″ baseplates, but as you can see at the link, there are color and size choices. Purchase enough to cover the area of your Lego wall.
Amazing GOOP 170011 Marine Adhesive, 3.7 Fluid Ounces – Get the 10 pack!
Legos! I purchased this Lego 10697 Building Large Box Creator XXL, 1500 Pieces
Nota bene: I didn’t purchase all of these items on Amazon. Once I started the project, I was much to impatient to wait 2 days for more Goop. But I give you the Amazon affiliate links, so you know what to look for when you purchase.
Step 1: Measure your wall space to decide where you will hang your portable Lego wall.
Before purchasing my supplies, I did quite a bit of measuring. As I mentioned above, we have a long interior window that stretches seven feet wide and separates our Tech Lab from our Tech Office. This was the spot where I decided to mount the Lego wall. It is close to the ground, so even our youngest PreK students can comfortably create. And it is the only wall in our Lab that does not have a 2.5′ deep counter. I didn’t want students to have to reach over the counter or, knowing the age group, climb onto the counter in order to build.
The wall below the window sill is about 4.5′ tall, which includes 4″ trim. Rather than try to measure perfectly to fit the whole Lego wall, I decided to center it an leave a few inches on all sides. This meant the Lego wall would be approximately 6.5-7′ wide, 4-4.5′ tall.
Allowing for a cushion of space on all sides made a huge difference! I had flexibility in purchasing, so I could choose the less expensive sizes. And I didn’t stress if something was a little off when when I went to mount the layers. Hint: foam poster board is not necessarily exact in its measurements. Yes, it’s easy to trim, but you can see on the bottom of our wall that I left a little extra board below the Lego baseplates. I didn’t want to have the baseplates overhang and be unsupported in any area.
Step 2: Attach your tape and velcro to the wall and your poster boards.
This is the step that makes your Lego wall “portable.” Our Tech Lab has not gone through much renovation in recent years, so it has quirks. For example, the weakest adhesive on the wall will pull off the paint and leave you with an unsightly hole in your paint. Remember that this was an experiment, and it was very possible that I would be taking down the Lego wall in a few weeks. So I did not want to adhere the velcro directly to the wall for fear that I would ruin the structure of the building when it came time to remove it!
Although I did have a few “oops!” moments with the painters tape when painting our geometric wall, I also knew that it was the least likely to pull lots of paint off of the wall. So I measured the wall and foam poster board, figured out where the velcro needed to mount, and marked the line on the wall with a pencil. Then I ran a strip of painters tape across the top, bottom, sides, and center of the future Lego wall.
A note about measuring: Because the velcro is about 1/4″ thick and we are not trimming out the wall, you will be able to see behind the Lego wall a bit. You do not want your velcro to show, so make sure you measure in about 1-2″ from the edge of the foam poster board. Also, you will want to attach the inside edges of the foam poster board as well, so make sure you have painters tape and velcro running down the center of the wall, where the poster board seams will be. Keep in mind that the Lego wall will be heavy, so when in doubt, add extra velcro.
Once you have attached the painters tape to the wall, attach your velcro to the painters tape. I suggest that you keep both sides of the velcro attached for this step. It will be easier to mount the foam poster board later if the velcro is holding strong.
You have officially set up the portable feature of your wall! When you want to move it, just un-velcro the Lego wall! If you want to remove it permanently, slowly peel the painters tape (with the velcro attached to it) away from the wall – the painter’s tape should prevent the velcro from pulling the paint off your wall. Or you can leave the velcro on the wall to wait for the Lego wall’s return.
Step 3: Attach the baseplates for your portable Lego wall to the poster board.
To prepare the Lego wall, find a well-ventilated area. This is going to get stinky. Lay out our foam poster boards next to one another, just as they will hang on the wall. Then lay out the Lego baseplates on the foam poster boards, just as they will be glued.
I used 10″x10″ Lego baseplates, and two 48″x40″ foam poster boards. This meant that I would have 4 Lego baseplates going up. And I could fit 10 Lego baseplates going across, 5 per board. As I mentioned before, the poster board isn’t exactly 48″x40″, so there was 1/4″ extra along the bottom, and 1/4″ short going across. This was perfect for the horizontal, because the plates hung over one piece of foam poster board onto the other piece about 1/4″. I was worried the seam between the boards would be obvious, but this overhang helped hide it perfectly.
With regards to the extra foam poster board along the bottom, or the base plate overhang on one side, I could have trimmed the base plates or the foam poster board. But this was an experiment, and I don’t trust my ability to cut straight lines! So I was ok with the small edges. Still, check out the “What I Would Do Differently” section below for more on this issue.
Once I had laid out the boards and baseplates, I flipped over each baseplate and applied the Goop to both the foam poster board and the back of the baseplate. I had checked with my local hardware store, and they assured me that the Goop would adhere plastic to paper, and would not eat through the foam poster board. Just make sure you follow the directions, letting .the Goop cure briefly before attaching the baseplate to the foam poster board.
This project took a lot of Goop – close to 20 oz – and it SMELLS like industrial adhesive, but it worked like a charm. In no time, the baseplates were attached to the foam poster board and they were ready to mount.
Step 4: Attach the Lego wall with the velcro.
Once the boards of baseplates were ready to mount, I pulled the paper off the back of the velcro, exposing the adhesive. Then I attached the foam poster board, one board at a time. Lining up the baseplates that overhung the foam poster board in the center helped ensure that the boards were straight. As I mentioned before the foam poster board and baseplate combo is heavy, so I used my weight to put pressure on the velcro and held it for a couple of minutes to make sure the adhesive backing on the velcro cured to the foam poster board.
Step 5: Get building!
Once the everything was mounted to the velcro, we were ready to build! I had bought a XXL box of Legos to get things started, but soon teachers were donating Legos that had been sitting in their cupboards. So definitely ask around from parents and teachers before making a big Lego purchase!
What I Would Do Differently
Remember that this project was an experiment, and I had no idea if it would work! In this picture, you can really see some of the imperfections:
A few things I would do differently next time:
- Trim the foam poster board. In fact, I could still do this. The 1/4″ of white foam board that you can see at the bottom has always bothered me, and now it is getting grungy too.
- Use bigger foam poster board. If I wanted to leave a little extra foam poster board edge around all of the sides – sort of like a border – I wouldn’t use white foam poster board. There are lots of colors to choose from that wouldn’t show the dirt. I think black could be spiffy, and maybe even allow for some chalk writing around the edges. A border would also make the Lego baseplates stand out and give it a mounted look.
- Ditch the painters tape. I like that this is portable, so I think I would keep the velcro. However, the painters tape is beginning to lose it’s adhesive, so the top right board is starting to bow out a bit. The wall is still very sturdy, but if we didn’t need to worry about stripping the paint of the wall, I’d ditch the layer of painters tape.
- Prevent bowing. You can see some seams, which will always happen because the baseplates have a slide curve to them. But the seam down the center is pretty obvious, and it’s cause by the bowing of the foam poster board underneath as the painters tape weakens. The seam doesn’t bother me, but I do plan to remove or strengthen the painters tape which will help fix this.
- Trim it out. If there were going to be a permanent feature in the Lab – and it still might! – then I would trim out the edges and ditch the velcro. However, I’ve seen Lego baseplates mounted on plywood and then attached to the wall, and I don’t think I’d do that. I like the lightweight foam poster board.
Let’s take one more look at that picture….
This time, look past the flaws in that picture and check out the art! I call this experiment a success! The Lego wall was definitely the most expensive part of our Tech Lab makeover. The total for supplies, including the XXL box of Legos which cost about $90, came to just under $200. But it was absolutely worth it. As you can see in the picture, the students love building horizontally and have been getting creative with their “sideways” structures. Once the novelty begins to wear off, I’ll mount some Lego challenge cards. But for now, it’s fun to watch their creativity flow! It’s a great way to give students ownership of the lab and invite them to think creatively.
Comment below: How does your space empower students to think creatively?
Don't miss my next post!
Enter your email to have my next post delivered right to your inbox.