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Knowledge Builder


The real world is our starting point for every project.

measuring with a ruler

Measuring builds number sense and ease with fractions.

Maps and timelines help kids place projects in context.

Learning Without Limits

Our Knowledge Builder program is a new kind of extended-day or out-of-school-time curriculum. Knowledge Builder devotes equal attention to supporting academic success, encouraging creative expression, and building confidence and self esteem. Among our many successful students are children with learning disabilities and children with limited English. Children designated gifted and talented have also found delight and challenge in our classes. The program includes take-home materials and activities that encourage family involvement.

 At the heart of our program are two eight-session classes: TOYMAKING and BUILDING BIG AND SMALL. These classes are supported by extensive teacher materials and training. In Toymaking, students use principles of mechanical engineering to design and build artistic and whimsical toys. In Building Big and Small, students use structural engineering principles to design and build large and small structures that are colorful, creative, and useful.

Research Based and Knowledge-Rich

Knowledge Builder is based on a long history of research showing the importance of background knowledge and vocabulary for virtually all kinds of academic achievement, including reading comprehension, mathematical concept development, and scientific literacy. Every class is packed with real-world knowledge. For example, in our session on folk toys, students learn about toys in early America (history). Then they make creative versions of two folk toys – a button spinner and a climbing animal. In the process, they learn tricks for drawing animals (art), how to draw a circle of a given radius with a compass (math), how to create a color-mixing optical illusion on a spinning disk (art and science), and why the illusion works (anatomy of the eye). Every session is like that – the engineering project serves as a focal point around which we build knowledge, vocabulary, and skills across subject areas, including math, science,language, history, and art.

Features of Both Classes

Immersion in multisensory learning: Color, images, and sound make learning come alive. Every session includes custom-made posters filled with real-world images germane to the day’s topic. The posters serve as a discussion guide as teachers facilitate students’ engagement with new concepts. Music enhances work time and create a lively atmosphere. Rich and varied materials and tools inspire students to do something special with their learning.

Multi-age adaptability: Our workshops have been used successfully with children in grades 2-5. That’s because the projects are designed so that students can build them elaborately or simply. Furthermore, the topics and background knowledge are structured so that they can be approached at any level, without prerequisites. We often teach multi-age groups, in which all the children integrate the material at their own levels while working together.

No cookie-cutter projects: Each week we teach students a new design technology, but what they do with it is up to them. In Toymaking, for example, a propeller-type rubber-band spinner might turn into a helicopter blade for one student, while another might make a butterfly with twin spinning wings. That flexibility keeps students invested in learning, and it also offers many opportunities for individual and group problem solving as students figure out how to make their ideas work.

Great materials and tools: We make our programs affordable without sacrificing the quality of creative materials we provide. We choose our materials carefully so students can make attractive, durable projects. We empower students with real tools they can use safely: diagonal pliers for cutting, hand-powered drills, and T-squares. Having better tools lets students work with a greater variety of materials, including wood and wire. And that adds up to learning you just can’t get with a sheet of plain paper.

Affordable: Buy complete startup student tools and materials for eight sessions for as little as $32 per child. Refill materials are even less - about $16 per child.

Fantastic Teacher Support: Our teachers' guides take teachers step by step through each lesson, and include background information to help make the most of each lesson. Project how-to videos show how to make each project in easy steps. We offer on-site training to bring your whole staff up to speed.

Download Toymaking Brochure (pdf)

Download Building Big and Small Brochure (pdf)

More information: call (301)560-1633 or e-mail workshops(at)biglearning.org.

Knowledge Builder's development was funded in part with a generous grant from the Carl M. Freeman Foundation.

child launches acrobat

Students learn about catpults in history and levers in science as they launch home-made acrobats.

balloon car

Children learn about Newton's laws of motion and wheel-and-axle assemblies


maya lin
Famous memorials and architects kick off a lesson on paneled structures




More Programs and Workshops

Our stimulating hands-on workshops rev up curiosity and teach practical and academic skills. Big Learning workshops take advantage of children's natural ability to learn from the real world. Kids love our creative and engaging activities. Parents and educators appreciate the serious academic content.

Each and every one of our activities helps develop children's skills and knowledge in areas including science, math, language, and the arts . Kids come away with practical skills, new knowledge, pride of accomplishment, and love of learning.

We offer lots of other series. You can find out about them on our Workshops for Programs page.

Want to host a family day? We also offer workshops tailor-made for parents and kids together. See our listing of Family FUN workshops.

Call for more information (301)560-1633 or e-mail workshops@biglearning.org.


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