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Useful articles and how tos.

Using Lego Mindstorms in the Classroom  

                  October, 2013
These have been around for ages, but we had to write something about them, after all its one of the things that got us started.

We will do a quick summary of why Lego is great for ICT Lessons– there are plenty of other articles on the web that go into lots of detail.

In a nutshell:

Quick to get going
Here at Restech, we think that getting things to switch on and work, should be simple. Over the years that we’ve been running robot workshops for schools, we’ve found both the hardware and software to be almost flawless on Windows (though we admit the Mac version needs some serious fixes, and there were some glitches with Bluetooth a while back.)

Once the software is installed – which takes mere minutes – you can plug it in and download your first program in seconds, perfect for the classroom.

High Engagement
Although we write that with a bit of hesitation, because the Lego itself will capture students’ attention, and if done right they will love putting parts together and figuring out the programming side. But we also know, from first hand experience, that many students can also find the technicality of it quite daunting, and so are likely to switch off and find an ‘easier’ distraction.

How to fix that – its about knowing your students.

Easy to program, but can also complete sophisticated projects with it
Its really easy to write simple programs, for example if you just want to get your robot moving, or do a quick demo with a sensor there are some preprogramed examples, or, because its drag and drop based software, you can drop in a few blocks and get a good demo on the go in less than a minute.

Having said that, you can still do really sophisticated projects, there are a huge of array of sensors (although you do have to purchase most of them separately) and the programming includes, variables, raw data values, and more recently a PID control block, which means your students can do some really intelligent, interesting and wacky stuff: walking robots, arms and cranes, biscuit dispenser, mini factories, Rubik’s cube solver, toilet flush…

Long/Short Term
From a Teaching point of view, one of the advantages of using Lego Mindstorms, is that you can plan out a project that can last several weeks, or if you want to use it as a treat or a break from normal lessons, its quite easy to set up a few challenges and get your students working on it for a single lesson, or during activity week for example.

So all round, it’s a nice set to have in the classroom and can be a part of your ICT curriculum or used as a supplement.

There a few negatives to consider:

Cost: Upfront this can set you back £3000+, depending on how many kits and extras you want
Maintenance: You will end with pieces missing and worn out parts which cost money and time
Prep: Depending on how you’re using the kits it will of course add to your prep time – at the very least remembering to charge the  batteries!
But overall, the benefits do outweigh the initial cost and extra work and it can make a really nice addition to your lessons – the joy that it gives students and the laughs that we have had are absolutely priceless.