Lego Mindstorms NXT Activities: Building Robots that Solve Problems

My son got his first Lego Mindstorms NXT when he was in Kindergarten. Yes, at that age, most of the building is a parent-child process, but I definitely didn’t mine. We built vehicle after vehicle – the tribot, the scorpion, and many creations of our own. He learned the basics of programming logic, loops and if-then-else statements. He also learned the importance of planning and testing in the software design process. After a few months, though, his Mindstorm lost its luster. There are only so many times you can build their predesigned robots, make them pick up a red ball and perform tasks on the test mat. It just got boring and he moved on to different things. Until… I found some other great ways to use the Lego Mindstorms technology that made his robotics kit exciting again! He got back into Mindstorms and since then, we’ve continued to find tools to make the Mindstorms NXT and the Mindstorms NXT 2.0 exciting again. We can’t wait for the EV3 to come out this Fall!

Two Great Books For Practical Lego Mindstorms NXT projects

Lego Mindstorms are just fun, hands on learning. We have read a couple of Lego Mindstorms books that you might be interested in.

Lego Mindstorms NXT: The Kings Treasure and

Lego Mindstorms NXT: The Mayan Adventure

These are wonderful books by James Floyd Kelly that help teach practical (or somewhat practical) applications for Lego Mindstorms technology. The books follow the adventures of Evan and his uncle, who is an archeologist. Evan uses his Lego Mindstorms kit to solve problems in his adventures with his uncle. For example, in The Mayan Adventure, Evan needs to build several Lego Mindstorms projects that help his uncle enter and explore a Mayan temple. I have used this book as a guide for home school projects with my children and also to teach classrooms of third and fourth grade students, working in groups. The books are engaging, exciting and very accessible. These projects have students buzzing around the classroom, solving problems together, and putting their math skills to practical use. They encourage listening comprehension skills because students have to solve the problems that I read from each chapter. And honestly, it’s just great to hear students talk in loud excited voices about any assignment. The books come with some downloadable worksheets that can be used to help students in the process of planning their robot and step by step instructions for possible solutions that students can follow or base their ideas on.

Some Tips For Using These Books

1. Download the worksheets using the link from the book. They are so important to the design process.

2. Don’t just let your students dig in! Usually, I promote students exploring the materials without grown up intervention. In this case, however, I have found that many students get overwhelmed and quickly develop a self defeating attitude when faced with all of the parts in a new Lego Mindstorms NXT kit.

3. Show students an example of the robot that you will be building. Keep the example as simple and accessible as possible and invite students who feel overwhelmed by the process to examine and copy from the example.

4. Lead students through the entire step by step design process before letting them begin building their robot. I have found that it is easier to go through the programming logic as an entire class to figure out what the robot needs to accomplish. Again, it can be done either way, but with third and fourth graders, it is harder to keep them excited about the project if they feel like it is too difficult for them.

I love Lego Mindstorms for the excitement they add to the classroom, their group work applications and the sense of accomplishment that students have when they share their final projects. This is only one of many applications for this amazing teaching tool! Stay tuned for more posts about using Mindstorms in the classroom, participating in the First Lego League, and the upcoming Lego Mindstorms EV3! And please, if you have a practical classroom or home school application for Lego Mindstorms – comment on this post! We would love to hear it.

Quick Update: The EV3 is out and it’s a much needed upgrade from the NXT!

Here is a great YouTube page for tutorials and information on the EV3

And… Lego has released the EV3 Space Challenge and Activity set to help teachers easily integrate the EV3 in the classroom. Check it out here!


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