Recently my division purchased several sets of Lego Mindstorms EV3. As I have had lots of fun teaching students to code in an hour long coding club a la “Hour of Code”. I decided to investigate further. Upon opening the box and downloading the free software I began building my first model. My son was eager to help out and we chose the dog as our first build. As it turns out the Dog model is a long and complicated build, and not really a great choice in terms of learning the basics of coding. If you just want to build something and install stock programs it is worth trying out and my kids did love it, however as I said the coding piece is far more complex and not something I recommend for a group learning to code.
If your goal is to instruct students how to code and apply coding to real world applications then I recommend the car build in the next video below. In this build you can write short code strings which you can edit as you like. There is value in starting with the basics as like any language starting with the simple units and building up will ensure success and limit frustrations. Kevin Briggs does a great job of providing the basic build instructions, and has a series of video’s on his channel that progressively add coding skills and explore various sensors from the Mindstorms kit.
The software has a bit of a learning curve and it wasn’t immediately obvious to me how to build or program the project as the software assumes that you have a rudimentary understanding of each of the “modules” used to code it after you complete the build. Luckily there are some great tutorials available by Kevin Briggs, and in hindsight I wish I had watched his videos before beginning my build. Trust me watch his video’s first, the first five give you the basics.
His software is a little different from the version I downloaded in August 2017 however a Group Called W.A.F.F.LE.S (a school Robotics club created a software orientation video which is excellent.
There are many step by step Mindstorms tutorials on the W.A.F.F.L.E.S robotics Lego Mindstorm Tutorial page which I recommend keeping in mind when you have a question about programming. http://www.wafflesrobotics.com/fll/fll-resources/
Here is a video tutorial to help you build your first robot
One fun aspect of this robotics kit is that each student can build their own code and run it on the same robot, which means that you can have fewer of these kits and only use the robots when they want to test their code. The only obvious drawback of this approach is that they would not be able to customize the build, but in my recent experience the coding will provide plenty of immediate challenge and reducing the number of kits will help your school budget go further, these kits are not cheap.
This kit has so many parts, and it will be important to have a supply list so that you can keep track after each use and ensure that you have years of building success with your kit. I’m thinking of laminating these sheets and using them as a checklist for the groups each time they use them to ensure not pieces go missing. Check out this sample checklist.
After you follow Kevin’s tutorials you may want to build in a purpose, and sumo has always been a favorite at my school. Here is an example of someone’s class having a sumo event as a culminating event, to test their robots and programming skills.
What else can they do?
So what’s next? These kits are very flexible in application and because of the variety of sensors and complexity of projects the sky is the limit. Students from grades Four to University can find success and enjoy working out solutions to real world challenges. In fact the first build and coding projects replicate with the Rumba robot vacuum does. What I plan to do is conduct my yearly hour of code group and add the Robotics piece at the end of the sessions, to provide a deeper and more real experience for our students.
Contact me if you have any questions or tips on twitter @csgamble