Working with Lego Mindstorms

Late last year, our Rotary donated two of the Lego Mindstorms EV3 Education sets to the library for use by our young adults (ages 10-18). I’ve now run three programs using them and have learned quite a bit. Although it had a bit of a rocky start, I’ve learned enough now to feel confident in ordering some more of their sets – this time the Wind Mill, Simple Machines and a few other parts that will both allow more kids to participate at a time and also do more with programming then just making a robot drive.

Our kits came in right around Thanksgiving and I took them for the holiday to play test them and figure out what I was doing to some degree. We built a robot and used my iPhone to make it go. My first program was schedule for January. I set up four computer stations with coding websites and also set out the two kits with the base robot directions. I allowed 10 kids and 8 signed up. Two of them worked on one of the kits the whole time, creating one of the non-base robots (a dog) but were not able to complete it in the hour we had. A third kid took over the second kit to make a robot of his own invention, which was very creative and worked surprisingly well, but allowed for no teamwork. I also had problems now having two devices for two robots and getting them to sync to the proper robot. Mostly, the kids fooled around with scratch and scratch games on the computers. So, in all, a mixed success and I decided to try things differently for my second planned program.

My second program went better. I allowed 8 kids, did not put out the computers and had them build the base robot. My group of four 10-year-olds gave up and just made funky things with the pieces, some of which would move when attached to the robot’s ‘brain’. The second group of older kids managed to make the base robot and used my iPhone to drive it around. Still, not a lot of programming, but a lot of creative invention and teamwork. I was happier with this one but still wanted to try and fit some more of the programming in.

The third program was by far the best. I premade the base robot for both and added a couple of the extra sensors and bits. I also discovered that, although my iPhone can only get the Lego Mindstorms base app – set for the public EV3 set – iPads can get the Lego Mindstorms Education App for free, which allows for scratch-like programming. I also managed to rename my robots so that the ‘brains’ can differentiate the devices. One robot got the iPad and the other the iPhone so they could see the difference in control between the two types of programming. Halfway through the hour session, the two groups switched to use the opposite robot and device and I was also certain to make sure each kid got equal time with the controller device.

I’ve found that I’m still learning as much as the kids, but my initial: oh no, I have made a terrible mistake that I felt after the first program went so wild and no one had real interest in the robots because of the difficulty to build them has definitely faded as I’ve learned more about the kits and what my kids are interested in and capable of. I think that getting the new smaller kits will also make it easier for kids to both build and program in the hour I have for most programs.  Although I’m not sure they’d be my first choice for a robotics option now, with the benefit of hindsight I’m glad we got them because they do offer a variety of great options for programming – engineering through building, coding, teamwork, invention, innovation and more.


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