LEGO In Schools
by Greg Intermaggio
While there are certainly many products that offer kids an opportunity to learn
the principles of robotics, we can all agree that LEGO deserves a crown and a
medal for all its given to roboticists of all ages throughout the years. LEGO
MINDSTORMS NXT is an educational kit comprised of a stable robotics platform,
making it easy to prototype, build, program, and modify robots with powerful
hardware tools like ultrasonic sensors, and software tools like the NXT
programming environment. The software kit — a set of 46 programming tutorials —
is completely visual. There is not a single written instruction, but rather a series of
images and videos that serve to explain the program in impeccable detail.
If you’re a school with Mindstorms kits and you want to
compete and learn even more than you can in the
classroom, there are many great competitions you can
go to. This article will cover three of these events, two
of which are annual events — RoboGames and First LEGO
League, while the third — LERN — is a new event which
will consist of several events throughout the school year.
Every year, thousands of people flock to San Francisco,
CA. They come with a purpose. They are the efficient ones.
They are the critical thinkers. They are the ones who you
call when you need something fixed. But for this weekend,
they are the competitors in the annual RoboGames, which
takes place every June at Fort Mason.
What makes RoboGames special is not only that it is
the world’s largest open robotics competition, but that it
has a special allure to it. At RoboGames, robotics no longer
becomes the obsession of the antisocial geek, but the
obsession of everyone who gets within 100 yards or so of
the building. The excitement starts with the slamming and
crashing of 340 pound robots smashing each other to
smithereens, and the cheers of a thrilled crowd as their
favorite robot wins a gold medal after the fight.
Once they’ve been drawn into the astounding fracas
of the ComBots events at RoboGames, the casual onlooker
is intrigued and often inclined to pick up the hobby,
themselves, but where to start?
Interestingly, a significant number of competitors at
RoboGames are under the age of 18. What used to be a
hobby for only the most tech-literate geek has become an
opportunity for a father-son weekend activity, or a crack at
something educational. What sparked this change was not
only a changing attitude in the 21st century towards a
tech-centric future, but also the new availability of products
that allow kids to learn fundamentals of engineering,
programming, and robotics in general while not overloading
them with too much information or mechanical parts that
are simply too hard to work with without prior experience.
This year, RoboGames will be hosting a total of five
LEGO events, all of which are available in the junior (< 18)
class. These events are LEGO LineFollow, LEGO Bowling,
LEGO TubePush, LEGO Sumo, and LEGO Open.
Oddly, what seems like such a straightforward and
perhaps even boring LEGO event is often one of the most
intense, fun, and even emotional ones. LEGO LineFollow is
exactly what the name implies: Contestants build and
program an autonomous LEGO robot to follow a black line
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