LEGO Mindstorms Robots

LEGO Mindstorms robot kits were the focus of the workshop last evening.  Although our robots had already been constructed by another class, we enjoyed the programming aspect of the kits.images

The programming software that accompanies the robots is fairly straight forward, especially if you have been experimenting with Scratch Jr. or any of the other beginning programming apps that I recently suggested.  The touch sensor and colour senor gave us an idea of how we could program directions for the robot in case of hitting a wall or following a path on a mat.

Our instructor had patience to allow us to experiment with changing many of the programming variables and testing out the results.

I am convinced that these robots, although costly, would be a great addition to any middle or high school setting.  As students watch the immediate effects of their programming changes, they are learning programming logic and design.

I will also learn how to build the robots and send them on various tasks to develop an idea of how far the robots and their programming goes but for now, it looks like they are a great investment. It was totally engaging and hands-on. I was absorbed by the learning and never looked at the clock.

I can imagine the excitement in a grade 5 or 6 class when these kits are introduced. It would be hard to concentrate on anything else.  I would suggest setting aside time each day to work on the building and equipping of the robots before the programming ever starts and having LEGO mentors from among your class to help facilitate those who are less familiar with the steps to build LEGO.

The kits offered amazing engagement for all of us.

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Programming Apps for Elementary School

Along with the literature promoting hands-on learning in a makerspace, there is a movement afoot to have kids understand programming.  It makes sense that if students are going to use Arduinos, Raspberry Pi microcomputers, and other programs for designing and inventing, then learning “coding” logic would be a extension of maker learning.

Coding also feeds into STEM as an additional way for students to augment their technology learning.

Daisy the Dinosaur is a good place to start. Although it is rated at ages 4 and up, a 4 year old would have to be a good reader.  Words like “repeat 5” and “shrink” would take a few minutes to distinguish from each other. It is a “drag and drop” app so controlling Daisy quickly becomes a game. Daisy is a free app.

Tynker is riding the coding wave as well with an app for the ages 9 to 11 crowd.  After solving some coding puzzles, a player can move on to building games.  Although the initial download is free, there are many in-app purchases to enhance programming of games in various themed virtual scenarios. Not limited to the 9-11 crowd, I found this app challenging and less intuitive than Daisy the Dinosaur.

ScratchJr, aimed at the ages 6 to 8 crowd seems to encompass my coding age.  This app is free and, for my coding ability, taught me more about programming than any of the others.  I could work through the various challenges with programming directives that appear like puzzle pieces. Although complex in results, it was the most intuitive to use.

In addimgresition to the app for ScratchJr and the website, books like Learn to Program with Scratch are beginning to hit our library shelves. For a beginner like me, this book gives me tips to go on using the program to challenge my coding ability.

Hour to Code and other initiatives may be a way to introduce coding into your classroom or school in a small way to see how it catches on.   Your students are already playing games, why not get a little learning in with the play. Coding apps may be an engaging way to start learning about programming.