LEGO MINDSTORMS – An ideal solution for teaching robotics at all levels
LEGO MINDSTORMS educational robotic systems provide a tailor-made solution of hardware, software and educational resources for use in classrooms, after-school club environments, and home schooling. Students learn to design, program and control fully-functional models and robots that carry out life-like automated tasks.
Teachers implementing a robotics program should consider the following:
1. Decide what it is that you want to teach using robotics
2. Choose a robot platform that is right for your instructional goals –
(Are you building a multi-year program or an introductory program? Are you going to engage your students in competitions? Does the robot platform choice need to grow with your instructional goals?)
3. Select a programming software that aligns with your instructional goals
4. Develop a curriculum continuum that makes sense for your schools learning objectives
5. Develop a professional development plan that will support high quality instruction for all students
6. Order kits, software, curriculum, and storage solutions – (Planning for storing your robots is important!)
7. Schedule training – (This can be self-paced via an online training course, or face to face training)
8. Dedicate time to practice building and programming with the new technology
9. Prepare lesson plans – (Comprehensive lesson plans are included in the Carnegie Mellon curriculum)
Steps to starting a LEGO Robotics program
Congratulations on your decision to start a robotics program! Whether you are a teacher, parent, coach, or an afterschool club leader, you’ll find lots of support as you move through this process.
Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy has compiled a comprehensive step-by-step plan to help guide you through this process. All of these steps are relevant to teachers, parents, coaches and club leaders. Teachers will also need to decide on the educational specific outcomes they are trying to achieve as well as how robotics aligns with their school district’s standards.
Step by step guide:
1. Decide what it is that you want to teach and how robotics will be an effective organizer.
Are you using robots to reinforce and teach math concepts, engineering competencies, programming, teamwork, or problem solving, or are you preparing your students for competitions?
2. Determine groups of students
Below are some ideas to consider when assigning groups of students:
• All work should be done in teams of 2 or 4 students per robot. Teamwork is a crucial skill in the modern workplace, and the challenges of the robotics activities lend themselves to group solutions.
• Odd numbers of students on a team can often lead to problems with one student being left out and not doing anything. Groups larger than 4 are generally too large for all the students to have something important to do.
• For classrooms, two students per robot is ideal; for clubs and teams, many coaches need to have a higher student to robot ratio based on resources.
• Some competitions, such as FIRST LEGO League, limit team size to 10 students.
• First-time coaches typically do well with about 8 students. If possible, recruit other mentors for your team to lead the subgroups within your team.
• Define roles on the team and have students change roles on a regular basis, allowing them to share responsibility for all aspects of building, programming, etc.
1. Engineer (Builder)
2. Software Specialist (Programmer)
3. Information Specialist (Resource Collector)
4. Project Manager (Manager)
• When participating in a competition that requires a research project, assign one team member as the lead.
• For classrooms, single gender teams are preferable; research has found that boys use an autocratic decision making process excluding girls from participating in many of the technical lead roles. For clubs and teams, single gender pairings are recommended, when possible.
3. Identify technical and logistical requirements
Below are some ideas to consider when preparing space for a robotics classroom:
• Robots – Robotics Academy recommends one robot for each team of 2 students. Also, the teacher should have several backup robots in case of emergency situations.
• Computers – Ideally, one computer for each robot / team of students. Most of the students’ activity will be independent and self-directed as they iteratively program / test / debug their solutions multiple times during each practice. Multiple computers will provide easy access to the programming language, eliminate “traffic jams” and inadvertently changing another team’s program.
• Classroom / Practice area:
1. Classroom – The space should be large enough to accommodate all the student teams, computers, practice tables, a projector for lessons, and storage area for the robots.
2. Practice – Required to avoid damage to robots and keep activities accessible to all students. At a minimum, the table should have borders to prevent robots from falling off. The FIRST LEGO League challenge table specifications (PDF) will accommodate a 45″ x 93″ surface.
3. Storage – To keep parts organized and accessible for teams, parts organizers are necessary. There are many options – portable organizers, drawer cabinets, boxes, caddies, etc. These are readily available online and at local hardware and crafts stores. Check out this presentation (PPT) for some storage ideas.
• Network – The software and curriculum will need to be loaded on each computer or available via the network on each computer. Programs should be included in the regular system backup or leader should make a backup to a separate disk or memory stick.
• Projector – Teachers will find it valuable to review videos, building instructions, etc. with the entire class.
4. Prepare a budget and funding
Below are some ideas to consider to budget a robotics classroom and find fundings:
• Classroom– A typical classroom budget will consist of robots, programming language, curriculum, materials, competition fees, etc. The final cost for your robotics program will depend on the size of your team, activities, etc. Here are typical costs to use when calculating your budget:
1. Robots – The Robotics Academy recommends one robot for every two students. LEGO Education is the exclusive supplier of LEGO Education robots.
2. Curriculum Licenses – Curriculums are sold by the classroom license. The Robotics Academy is glad to help secure a quote for you.
3. Storage – Storage bins and cabinets, if necessary.
Note: This is a must have for any teacher implementing a LEGO Robotics program. Your budget will be dependent upon the selection of the cabinet and bin combination that you choose. The proper storage compartments as well as classroom procedures will make teaching robotics much easier.
4. Practice Tables – Tables are roughly $100, white insert board for compeitition are roughly $12 each. The white boards can be found in the bath section of major hardware stores. They are 4’ x 8’ x 1/8” and will need to be cut down to 45” x 95” to fit within the borders of the competition table.
5. Optional – Competition registration frees, team shirts, supplies, awards and gatherings and others can tally up towards $300.
• Potential Funding Sources – Be sure to acknowledge your sponsors at every opportunity, e.g. print their names on your team shirts, etc.
1. School district
2. Local businesses
3. Local non-profit organization
5. Connect with other educators
Below are some ideas to considers when wanting to connect with other educators:
• Find another robotics team in the area and ask to attend their practice sessions. This is a useful way to observe and make notes for first-time coaches.
• Robotics Academy
• Robotics Educators Conference
6. Attend teacher training
Online and On-site training programs are available from the Robotics Academy. Visit the Teacher Training page for up-to-date information on the next training sessions.
Selecting the right hardware
LEGO NXT Hardware
LEGO EV3 Hardware
NXT – Graphical Programming Language
EV3 Programming Language
EV3 Programming Language
Selecting the right Programming Language
LEGO Robotics provides the ideal technology to teach Computer Science, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. LEGO is also used as the building system in multiple robotics competitions. One of the first choices that you will need to make is what software you will use.
Note: There are many other LEGO programming languages available. The languages shown above are the ones that the Robotics Academy has studied and developed resources for classrooms for.
Competition Note: FIRST LEGO League only allows the NXT Graphical and the EV3 Programming Languages in competition.
The LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Software is a graphical, block based programming language that enables students to program both LEGO EV3 and NXT robots. The EV3 programming software is also compatible with Robomatter’s Virtual Brick simulation software.
ROBOTC Graphical is an intuitive icon-based drag and drop programming language that is designed for beginning programmers. This environment enables teachers to begin to teach students about sequencing, conditional statements, sensor feedback, and loops. This environment is perfect as an introductory programming language, but is not designed for intermediate or advanced programmers.
ROBOTC Natural Language places basic motor commands like moving forward and backward into easy to use functions that empower the student to quickly enable a simple robot behavior. Natural language also enables the programmer to call sensor commands like “untilRotations” which control how far the robot travels, or untilDark, which controls how long the robot will execute a behavior. Natural language provides a scaffolded programming environment between ROBOTC Graphical and full ROBOTC.
ROBOTC is a powerful C-based programming language with a Windows environment for writing and debugging programs, and the only programming language at this level that offers a comprehensive, real-time debugger. ROBOTC is a cross-platform solution that allows students to learn the type of c-based programming used in advanced education and professional applications.
The LabVIEW software is used by engineers and scientists for measurement and control systems in industry. LabVIEW for LEGO MINDSTORMS includes VI’s, or blocks, specifically for interacting with the LEGO MINDSTORMS hardware. Use this software with the Virtual Brick to also program virtual robots in the Robot Virtual World software!
Choosing the right curriculum
The Robotics Academy has developed multiple curricular tools for LEGO hardware platforms and been testing them extensively with teachers since 2006. The table below allows you to preview the curricular tools.
The Introduction to Programming the EV3 Curriculum is a curriculum module designed to teach core computer programming logic and reasoning skills using a robotics context. The curriculum consists of three chapters (Basic Movement, Sensors, and Program Flow) and each chapter is broken into units that teach key robotics and programming concepts. Additionally, there is a huge amount of support for teachers competing in Robotics Competitions for the first time included in the teacher’s guide!
The Introduction to Programming EV3 Curriculum is a curriculum module designed to teach core computer programming logic and reasoning skills using a robotics engineering context. It contains a sequence of 10 projects (plus one capstone challenge) organized around key robotics and programming concepts.
This multimedia curriculum is an ideal tool to introduce robots into the middle or high school classroom. It provides teachers with an engaging program to teach STEM concepts utilizing the LEGO Mindstorms NXT Robots. Students learn how to program basic robot behaviors using motors and rotation, sound, light, touch and ultrasonic sensors. Fifteen in-depth research lessons are based on real-world robots. Step-by-step videos teach students how to use the programming language, build robots, basic robot behavior, use of sensors, robot competition, etc.
The second series in the Robotics Engineering line of products. Robotics Engineering Vol. 2 – Guided Research takes students through several STEM-based projects, and also goes through the entire engineering process using an Engineering design projects. Programming lessons are included that teach students about programming using the more advanced blocks in the NXT programming language.
Use LEGO Robots to teach scientific principles around speed, heat, sound, and color. Students will design and develop robotic prototypes that will use powerful features built into the NXT to collect data and report it back in the form of graphs and tables. Students will use this data to form conclusions that cement their understanding of these important and technological concepts. The culminating engineering activity is a robot bridge inspection project.
The NXT Video Trainer 2.0 is a multimedia curriculum designed to teach behavior-based programming to students, teachers, and coaches alike, using the LEGO MINDSTORMS Education NXT Software. In a classroom or workshop setting, it is also designed to act as the teacher’s assistant, driving primary instruction with over 70 short videos, animations, and built-in Check Your Understanding questions that allow learners to work at their own pace, freeing up instructors to provide more strategic assistance.
Teaching is a craft and every teacher does it differently. This curriculum is designed to teach “engineering process” and “programming”. The Robotics Academy has developed this curriculum to help teachers to teach and students to learn those competencies. The Robotics Academy is committed to helping teachers use robotics to teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The Virtual Brick allows you to program virtual robots in the Robot Virtual World software using the same programming languages as you can to program real LEGO robots. This allows students additional practice programming and when used appropriately can help students increase their understanding of scale and rate two BIG IDEAS in mathematics. The Virtual Brick works with the following LEGO compatible software: NXT-G, EV3,and LabVIEW for LEGO MINDSTORMS. The Virtual Brick looks and acts like another LEGO Brain, or Brick to these programs.