16 December 2013

LEGO Mindstorms: First Impressions

Mrs. Franks and I met last week to prepare for the new STEM class that will start in January. A friend suggested calling the class Supertechs since our nickname is the Superstars. Not a bad idea. Part of that class will have students working with LEGO robotics. We have both Mindstorms and WeDo kits, but  we've only explored the Mindstorms at this point. We began by sorting our pieces and installing the software. 

It's nice to have everything so organized. Fingers crossed it stays that way.
The software looks a little intimidating at first. It seemed like there was a lot on the screen. But it does do a good job of walking you through some practice exercises step-by-step. There were two instances when we felt they left out an illustration in an instruction, but both times we figured out what we needed to do. 

The first two training exercises are pretty simple, having the robot make a sound and display an icon. The third exercise is where things become interesting. Whereas the first two exercises have three or four steps at the most, the third exercise has twenty-three steps! You end up with a really cool looking robot that moves forward and then turns to the right and moves a bit more. That's all the exercise requires, but we spent the rest of our time adding steps to the programming and having our robot try more maneuvers. 

The first build.
It took longer than I expected to create our robot. But in building it, I learned some valuable lessons that I can share with the students. One tip is to get all the pieces required in a step before you start assembling that part of the robot. This allows you to be certain you have all the necessary parts, nothing missing and nothing extra. Second, be sure you have the correct pieces. There are some very minor differences between the pieces and sometimes you won't realize you have the wrong piece until several steps later. 

And I also learned that I'm definitely going to be searching for more times to get students using the robots. I predict that students will want to come work on their projects whenever they can, probably even during recess. It's hard for kickball to compete with robotics.

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