Lego Mindstorms Education Base Set review
In 1949, Lego began building interlocking plastic bricks, and as a result changed the face of children’s toys. It’s still going strong today, with Lego Harry Potter being one of Christmas 2011’s biggest sellers. Where, though, does Lego fit in when it comes to education? What is the educational value of getting children to connect blocks together? Well Lego’s Mindstorms sets answer both these questions: Lego and education fit just perfectly, and this combination could have huge educational benefits in your school.
It also couldn’t come at a better time, now that the ICT curriculum is under fire for being boring. What Lego has developed is something pupils of all ages will continue to benefit from while remaining excited and stimulated.
Mindstorms is brilliant for many reasons. First, it’s based on a toy with which most children will have had some experience at home. They won’t need to familiarise themselves with it, as they’ll already know how it works. Second, it takes the standard Lego formula and uses it to enable children to learn the principles of both programming and simple robotics.
Mindstorms also successfully fills a gap that many teachers identify when trying to deliver the ICT curriculum; one of control. Control is often a tricky area to teach. It requires either specialist hardware or uses programming software that many children (and most ICT teachers) will find complex and intimidating. With Lego Mindstorms, children can write quite sophisticated programs – but they’ll be unaware that they’re doing it. Using Lego Mindstorms looks and feels like play.
The Lego Mindstorms 9797 NXT education set comprises an intelligent 32-bit control block, three motors, a variety of fiddly little parts and connectors, and a set of sensors. These sensors allow your models to detect colour, light and shade, sound and collisions. You can even use them to control a robot arm to play ball games.
As with all Lego products, the construction quality is high. From the moment you open the box it’s apparent that this isn’t a cheap model-making set: the pieces feel robust and well made, and the kit comes with all the wiring, connectors, sensors and battery packs you’ll need.
Putting together models isn’t a challenge. Even though some of the components can pull off some sophisticated feats, they all snap together in the classic Lego fashion, and even the connections have been designed for fitting easily. The pictorial instructions provided explain what the various bits do and cover some simple projects. Certainly, none of the children that worked with the kit had any problems deciphering the illustrations.