Saturday, January 12, 2008

Organizing Your LEGOs

Marc Couture from Wisconsin asks:

Do any of you who have NXT kits and use them to teach robotics to classes have an organization system for keeping parts in order?
Has anyone developed sorting guides for different trays?
I would appreciate knowing about any experiences and suggestions from those who have had to deal with this.

Responses on the FLL Partner Listserve:

Tom from Maine:
Hi Marc,
We've been sorting/organizing for years. First with the RCX and then with the NXTs.
We use the large boxes for large items (wheels/long connector rods/basic bricks/NXTs and chargers/motors).
Then we use Plano or Shimano lure boxes (clear plastic, rectangular boxes of varying sizes, with adjustable dividers). We've gotten them online, from WalMart, from Dick's Sporting Goods, and from local fishing supply stores.
The medium size (8-1/2 x 14 x 1-3/4") and the larger (9-1/4 x 16 x 3") seem to suite best.
We use a boxes for:
axles and barrel connectors
angle connectors
small bricks (1x1, 1x2, up to 2x2)
small plates (up to the 2x4 plate)
NXT connectors (not sure of the names...)
Misc (people/flex tubes/doors/windows...)
Shimano website for their utility boxes:
Plano website for their utility boxes:
Hope that helps,

The large boxes I was referring to are the ones the NXT or RCX kits come in. They are a good size and stackable.
We use them for:
large 2x plates
large plates (bigger than 2x)
bricks (bigger than 2x4)
Connecting arms (larger than 5 hole)
Beams (larger than 1x4)
We've got about 25-30 kits and we only use the trays (from the kits) when we have to sort. Since they are prone to disruption and hence need for resorting, we don't use them with groups or kids.
The Plano/Shimano (or other brand) boxes are not very expensive. If you buy more than a few kits you should invest the 40-60 dollars it would take to get a small pile of these utility boxes.
If you go looking for boxes locally, I recommend that you make sure the lids can fold back all the way (so you can put another box on top of the lid). We got a few one time that would only open slightly past vertical and then you have all your parts laid out with lids sticking up in the air (not very neat).

Thomas Bickford
Maine Robotics

Thanks, I've picked up some Plano trays as well. What I was thinking about doing was to create new templates (like what come in the NXT kits) for the Plano boxes that show students what goes where and the proper inventory quantitiy so that any child at the end of a program can conduct a quick sort and inventory of what they have. Does this seem practical? Of course once I move parts from the NXT kit into other trays the original templates are no longer accurate and should be reworked for the revised items and counts. Just trying to determine if it is worth it. Seems like in the long run it would pay off. Also looking to see if anyone out there has a system they have tested and proved efficient.

Hi Marc,
I've been using such a system for RCX classes and summer camp for several years, and more recently for NXT classes. You can see the system I use at:
I also have building instructions with parts lists keyed to the storage system, so the kids can find their parts quickly. I've found that having a storage system like this makes it possible for kids to complete an entire robotics project (and put it away) in a 2 hour class period, which is important for many of my classes.
Steve Putz

I see lots of good methods folks have answered with already and I have some comments below. I would like to say when I instituted 'points' for each team this made more difference that the details of the sorting method, although a good sorting method was necessary too.
There were points available at the end of each session for teams that got all the parts back in the correct bins, enforced by a scan by me at the end of each class. And then I had small rewards for the team with the most points after a few sessions. The competition to get a perfect cleanup score was fierce!

I had a system with printed pictures for each compartment, similar to Steve but not as advanced. I love Steve's small boxes in a big box so you have small bins for small parts. The key to those systems I found after about 4-5 iterations was 1) Similar parts together in a bin, but what is similar is the key. Group by function for parts that the kids know what they do like wheels. Group by type for most 'vanilla' LEGO, but sometimes you need 2 bins, separated by size so a 2x2 isn't lost at the bottom underneath 2x10s. And group by appearance parts that
kids won't know what they do at a glance (or like most LEGO has multiple functions); for example all the shaft connector pieces. Also, note that the box you choose should have shallow compartments, ideally with rounded corners so fingers can get small parts out.

And finally, maybe a better solution is to click similar pieces together but so they come apart eaily, I just found this gem of an article about sorting LEGO. This would allow much more accurate estimate of what was missing each time too since the height of stacks would be consistent.

Will Scarbrough

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