Lego Mindstorms Education Base Set review

Price when reviewed

Most of all, one thing is clear. Children love using the kit, and this enjoyment makes them more persistent in finding a solution to any problem that crops up in their path. As teachers, we’re always looking to foster independence and a good approach to problem solving, and Lego Mindstorms can help pupils develop not only ICT or programming skills, but these other qualities as well. It leaves pupils enthused and eager to do more. If you want to respond to Michael Gove and his boring ICT curriculum jibe, then Lego Mindstorms could be just the droid you’re looking for.

How a Year 4 class built their own robot

Lego Mindstorms scales up well to secondary school-aged students, but it has a lot to offer younger children too. As part of our testing, we worked with six Year 4 children, all aged eight or nine and at various academic levels in ICT. Choosing a project from the book supplied with the basic kit, we opted for a robot that could spot obstacles and move out of the way.

Step 1We started our project by constructing the robot; it seemed silly to present the children with the completed unit, as then they’d have no input in the finished device. All the students were familiar with Lego, but initially they did find some aspects of the kit difficult to negotiate.

There are some fiddly small pieces, and often finding the required one from the tray can be time-consuming. To add to the confusion, one block was displayed as black in the instruction book when it was actually blue in the pack.

Step 2The group worked well to build the project from scratch, and it was particularly pleasing to see them communicate with one another to complete the task.

As teachers we’re often looking for new ways to get children to interact, and Lego Mindstorms worked very well in this regard. In fact, really intelligent conversation was fostered, with children explaining to each other how the various parts fit together.

Step 3Once built, we programmed the intelligent brick directly with the instructions to get the robot to avoid obstacles. The children agreed that it worked fairly logically, although a couple of them found the small screen difficult to use.

When the robot was activated and the children’s efforts successful, they were all very pleased.

Step 4We then moved to the computer to use the NXT programming language to get our robot to follow new instructions. Even those children at the lowest end of the recommended age for Lego Mindstorms managed to get to grips with it quite quickly. As a class we had already used Flowol and Scratch control software, and this was similar enough to not be scary. Being able to download programs to the robot presents a whole new dimension to the task. At the end of the session, all the children were eager to use the Lego again. They felt they had really achieved something.

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