Why are you not using LEGO's standard "EduBot" Robot?

Briefly, we found the LEGO's EduBot was not appropriate for our 2-hour sessions.

The reasons were:-

1)      The good thing about building the EduBot is that the build only occurs once, and all activities after that are programming, using the same robot (sometimes with minor modifications). This is good if your class is mainly interested in learning programming.

The classes to which I mentored were more interested in creative activities related to building and teaching their Robots to do what they wanted, in a hopefully fun-filled (non-judgemental) environment. Programming the Robots was only one of a number of skill-related objectives of these sessions.

2)      The difficult thing is that, even though the directions with the Educational version are excellent, with my students about 1 group in three or four had errors in the EduBot that had to be corrected later – and since the Edubot was so complicated to build, this was difficult. Some of the groups (especially ones containing only city girls with little or no “build it” experience) gave up.

Our classes were typically 25 to 30 or so children, with 10 NXT kits if the School was lucky. This meant groups were typically bigger than the more ideal group size of two students. With student groups of three, often two were working, and one felt left out and actively distracted the others so that they still felt part of the group! Under these circumstances, built time was slow - see comment 3) below.

3)      With my students, first time builds for the EduBot varied from about two to four hours. Used in a weekly parent-student session that lasted only two hours, a build time of more than two hours meant that each NXT kit could only be used for one course at a time. These kits are expensive, and it would be preferable if they could be used on more than one School course a week.

Build time varies enormously. I have been told of experienced students putting the Edubot together in 16 minutes. You may be lucky, but our first-time neophytes never achieved anything like this time (see comment 4) below).

4)    Many boys, particularly those from Country Schools, were quite happy to treat long build times (e.g. of the EduBot) as an interesting activity in itself. By contrast, many girls, particularly those from City Schools, found building fairly boring and wanted their Robot to actually "do something" - some students lost interest long before the EduBot build was completed.

The feedback I received was that city-raised girls of this age were interested in fashion, music, relationships (e.g. of "celebrities"),  clothes, shopping etc.. They had never built anything in their life, and so when faced with LEGO were well out of their comfort zones. They also seemed to have a sneaking suspicion that this was probably "boy stuff" and thus was probably not for them.

To attempt to fit these activities in to their experiential background, we presented these MindStorms-based activities as the students taking the role of the teacher, and the Robot being the student. This approach had two advantages - firstly the students knew (probably all too well!) what a teacher did - and generally relished the idea of their being the teacher, and being in charge for a change! Secondly, if the Robot didn't do what it was supposed to do - it was the silly Robot's fault wasn't it(!) (this helped in making the environment non-judgemental & fun; the fact that "mistakes" didn't matter helped uncertain students become less inhibited when approaching an unfamiliar LEGO building challenge).

Changing these sessions to using very simple quickly-built Robots meant that quickly-bored students actually received some feedback from a Robot that they had taught to do something during their very first session. In practice, this seemed to help a lot in increasing their motivation and previously-nascent enthusiasm. This especially seemed a relevant factor in classes that had a high proportion of city-raised girls.

Courses using our approach in some Tasmanian Schools:-

1)      These sessions initially used three different robots, each of which is relatively simple and quick to build.

2)      Robot1 (thanks due to Tufts University) can be built by an experienced student in about 10  minutes and an inexperienced and nervous student group in about 40 minutes. We found our parents & students could get a good result (build a robot & get it to move independently) in a first 2 hour class even when: portion of the class arrived late because they could not find the room, time had to be taken from the session for the usual first session course announcements, incorrect enrolment details had to be corrected, the inevitable technology problems occurred and had to be sorted out, nervous parents had to be reassured that even through their children were little geniuses at LEGO, the parents COULD keep up if they talked with their children during the activity and were prepared to learn with their children, and so on…

Robot1 was excellent as a starting Robot, but could not be used for many Challenges as it had problems turning corners.

3)    Robot2 (thanks due to Dr. Damien Kee) was used for later challenges that required maneuverability . Even though more complicated to build than Robot1, confidence gained with Robot1 meant that build time for Robot2 was about the same as for Robot1. Robot2 was used for many of the subsequent activities.

4)      Robot3 (thanks due to Miss Clare Neilson and her students at Margate School) was later used mainly because Robot2 covers a lot of floor area, and the Arenas that would fit in my car are of limited size. I am a voluntary mentor at several schools, and I use Arenas because they save preparation and clean-up time, leaving more useful fun & learning time in a session. Robot3 is a smaller Robot that is better for some of the later sessions that are more challenging than the early ones.

5)      The NXT kits could be used in more than one School course a week. The short build times meant that even if the other classes were using different Robots, these simpler Robots could be re-built at the beginning of each session and there was still enough time left over to complete a Challenge. I found that, towards the end of a course, the deft  and nimble fingers of my students could re-build these Robots far faster than my older and  fumbling fingers could manage...

6) We found that the many re-builds gave the students much more confidence when it came to tackling later challenges that are "free build" such as Robot SUMO & Minesweeper. It also seemed to give the students more confidence when they were challenged by competitions such as the Tasmanian RoboCup and First LEGO League. These competitions gave both the students & their parents a lot of fun - and if our experience is anything to go by, participation in these competitions is to be thoroughly recommended!

Our approach seems to mostly work for us. We won't guarantee it will work for you, but if you want to try it, that is fine - we'd be interested to hear about your experiences & how things went for your students - graeme@computer.org will find me. Have fun!

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Tutorials - LEGO MindStorms NXT Robots - www.DrGraeme.net