Robotics and Coding with LEGO
I am a big LEGO® fan. Since my childhood, I have greatly enjoyed using this construction toy. The endless possibilities presented by this system of interlocking bricks and how we can go from the most simple creations to the most complex ones is what fascinates me about it. During my workshop Strategies for Exponential Success with ELLs, I show participants the different possibilities when using LEGO bricks in the classroom. I have decided to create a series of articles on this blog to show you different options when using LEGO bricks in education. On this first part, I want to focus on robotics and coding with LEGO.
In 1998 the LEGO Group launched a new product that got my attention, it was called LEGO Mindstorms. This was a hardware-software platform produced between the LEGO Group and the MIT Media Lab led by Dr. Seymour Papert (more of him in future posts) and his Epistemology and Learning Research Group. In fact, the LEGO Mindstorms product line was named after Dr. Papert’s seminal book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas, which I strongly recommend reading (even after all the years that have passed and how technology has evolved since its publication). The idea behind LEGO Mindstorms was providing children with the possibility of creating programmable robots based on LEGO bricks. The system included an intelligent brick-computer that controlled the system, a set of modular sensors and motors, and multiple Lego pieces from the Technic line to create the mechanical systems. The original brick computer could run a program written with a visual programing language running on a PC, and the final executable file could be transferred to the brick-computer via cable. The user would write a program to control the interaction between the sensors (touch, light, sound, and proximity) and two motors. For me, this was fascinating, especially because I have read Mindstorms and other books from Dr. Pappert a the time. In 1999, I travel to Boston and I had the opportunity to meet one of the researchers of the Epistemology and Learning Research Group and ask her about using robotics and coding when teaching different learning subjects. I will be covering some ideas in this area in future posts but for now, I want to present you with the tools. The LEGO Mindstorms system has evolved a bit since its initial version and today’s sensors are for color, touch, infrared, and the system also includes a remote infrared beacon. Additional sensors such as a gyroscopic sensor and servo motors are also available. Using the latest version (EV3) users can write the code on a computer or a mobile device and transfer the final executable file via Bluetooth. When using LEGO Mindstorms along with a lot of LEGO pieces, you can create simple robots or extremely complex robotic creations.
15 Years of LEGO MINDSTORMS
Today, many school districts are using LEGO Mindstorms as part of their curriculum for STEM education, but to be honest, the price tag of a Mindstorms EV3 set could be a bit high for many people: ($349). I own a Mindstorms set that I use as part of my professional development workshops, but I was extremely excited last year when LEGO announced the launch of a different and more affordable robotics set. LEGO Boost ($159). This is the new line created by LEGO to allow younger children explore the possibilities offered by robotics and visual coding. It is a great set that I have been using since last year with my two sons (4 and 7 years old) to introduce them to the basic ideas of coding and robotics.
Boost comes with the Move Hub, a large white and gray brick with two built-in motors that serve as the central processing unit or brain of your creations; it also includes one motor, one light/Infrared sensor, and 847 different LEGO pieces. Just like Mindstorms, children can use a visual programming language to write the code that can be transferred to the Move Hub via Bluetooth. To use this programming language, you need a compatible tablet (iOS, Fire OS, Android and Windows 10).
The main reason why I use LEGO Boost (or just LEGO bricks in general) is that it helps my kids develop their creativity. They have the opportunity to create something tangible which started with a simple idea. However, when adding robotics and programming they are combining engineering, technology, and logical thinking skills. The visual programming tools offered by Mindstorms and Boost are an excellent way to teach my kids the fundamentals of coding. I genuinely believe that coding is a vital skill that we should all learn in today’s society. Teaching coding to my kids is as important as teaching them to read or write.
LEGO BOOST Robot Unboxing – The Build Zone
If you still need some persuasion on this idea, I want to invite you to listen to Dr. Mitchel Resnick, a former student of Dr. Papert, as well as a LEGO Papert Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences and researcher at the MIT Media Lab, where he leads the Lifelong Kindergarten research group:
Coding as the New Literacy – Mitchel Resnick
So, if you are motivated to start teaching coding, you can start with the wonderful tool mentioned by Dr. Resnick called Scratch (I will be covering this and other free and paid tools for coding in future posts) or start combining coding and robotics when using LEGO Boost or LEGO Mindstorms. If you want to start exploring these tools, here are some useful links:
- – Buy LEGO Mindstorms at Amazon
- – Buy LEGO Boost at Amazon
- – Robotics and Coding at LEGO education
- – Leaning programming with LEGO Mindstorms EV3
- – Introduction to Programming EV3 – Free Curriculum at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy
Please visit the workshops section on my website to learn more about my professional development workshops. Thank you and happy coding!