Lego Mindstorms Education Base Set review
Once you have built a model, there are two ways to program it. The first method is through using some simple menus, a handful of navigation buttons and a small monochrome screen on the front of the control block; all the sensors and functions of the Mindstorms kit can be accessed without ever connecting anything to a computer. This is good for younger children who may struggle to see the connection between what happens on a computer screen and what the device in front of them is doing.
However, to get the most from Mindstorms you need to hook up the control block to a PC via a USB or Bluetooth connection and run Lego’s NXT software. Annoyingly, this isn’t included in the basic set; it has to be purchased separately. However, it’s worth budgeting extra for, since with it you can create quite sophisticated programs on a PC, then download them to the control block for execution.
Programming is simple. Instead of coding, it uses a series of intuitive icons that stand in for each sensor or motor. To write your code, you simply drag and drop them into place. Different colours represent the different functions, with all the usual IF, THEN, REPEAT statements shown visually. By combining conditional statements (if the sensor senses this colour) with actions (move this motor a set amount), you can create some surprisingly complex programs. Children quickly grasp the concepts behind controlling the Lego model, and it isn’t long before they’re doing quite amazing things with their self-built robot.
This enables you and your class to really get into the world of ICT control. Projects can range from simply designing a vehicle that will follow a light or a coloured line, to designing a robot that can find its way out of a maze. Your projects can be simple for younger children, using only one sensor type at a time, or they can be more advanced – there’s scope to do both.
The suggested project in the pack is getting a robot to use all its sensors to play with a ball, locating and manipulating it to score goals. For some children this will be an exciting challenge, and one they won’t find either impossibly difficult or tiresomely easy.
The box itself states that Mindstorms is for ages 8+, and generally we’d concur. We tested the kit with both a Year 3/4 class and a Year 5/6 class. The younger class took longer to get to grips with construction and programming, but they still got plenty out of building and programming their model. The older children came up with more sophisticated ideas and programs, and succeeded in all the tasks they were set.
If you’re dealing with secondary school-aged children, don’t worry; it’s clear that both the complexity of the construction and that of the programming can be adjusted to suit the level of the child; some of the projects you find online will challenge even the more gifted and talented students. And the beauty is that, being Lego, there’s nothing to stop you going off the prescribed Lego plans and devising your own devices and machines. This is certainly a challenge from which older pupils will benefit.
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