I have been teaching Lego robotics in the summer for almost a decade now and I never tire of teaching it. The new students start by learning the name of the parts and what they do, as well as a simple program using the computer-graphical interface. They quickly advance to programs with loops, sensors and parallel processing. My classes this summer included students who went ahead on the first day because of previous knowledge. They used the sensors, which give input to the main brick, or “brain,” to make decisions in the program. To keep them challenged after that, I also threw out daily challenges, such as “Who can make the tallest robot?” or “Who can use the third motor?” We only had a week, but my students met every challenge I gave them with grace and even with extra features. At the end of a week, we had a dance contest, and one student even figured out how to use the third motor to make a John Travolta-like movement. I was blessed with kind, polite students who had no trouble sharing, for the most part. Because of my continuing interest in gifted education, I recognized students who were so sensitive they had trouble saying their name in front of others, or who were easily offended by team members. I foster an attitude of collaboration in the classroom, and to my knowledge there is no bullying, but there are team members who do not take turns with the various aspects of the class, and I sometimes have to switch teams after a day or two.
What they are learning, however, is some solid computer programming. The programming language used by Lego Mindstorms is Logo, created by the MIT professors Daniel G. Bobrow, Wally Feurzeig, Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon. At its inception in the late sixties, it was a small triangle on a computer screen that could draw. It has evolved into a language used by universities and , of course, Lego.
As a former computer science teacher, I no longer teach the firmware available in each brain. Some students are happy just doing that and never stretch to try the software. To use this program, blocks I want my students to learn are placed onto the sequence beam by clicking and dragging. Blocks are responsible for movement, sounds, pictures, and they teach such computer topics as loops, switches, and iteration. Students who are not familiar with concepts surrounding files learn to name the files with a unique name, save their work when they are done, close the window so no one changes their program, and to open a saved program. These classes are for gifted students ages eight through fourteen. They provide a fun challenge with some socialization with other gifted children. Sometimes lifelong friendships are formed. It is expensive to own a kit, hundreds of dollars, so it is not really easy for a family to purchase, but I think the kids gain the most from the priceless social interactions.
If you live in the Chicago area, this class is offered by the Center for Gifted in Glenview, Illinois.
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