Thursday, January 17, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Lego Mindstorm

With the start of the new year, I've been slowly sorting through our closets and cupboards in yet another winter's bid to be better organized.  I've been clearing out science kits, and picture books, and trying to decide what we might still use and what we've finally completely outgrown - when I came across our old Lego Mindstorm NXT 2.0 kit.

It's an old enough set to be discontinued now, but still in pristine shape (not a great testament to it's value for us).

We bought it for our oldest, one year when our school spending had been unusually low leaving some splurge ready surplus right as a career placement test suggested he might have a future in robotics (which I think now, could have been more an indicator that he was going to have a future interest in reading science fiction books - but hindsight and all that).

We'd seen a similar kit at the state fair, and he had enjoyed fiddling with it, but there the robot was already built and it was just a matter of following some very simple steps to program it to move around a little track.   Once we had a set ourselves T (then 12 or so) lost interest after the first few design hiccups.   He was interested in having a robot like the one on the front of the box, but not so much in building or programming one.

A year ago we pulled it back out, and the younger girls (then 11 and 13) played with it for a day or two, until I realized they were just building with the Legos, and scooped it back up before the pieces disappeared off into their sets.

Finally, tonight I decided I would give it a try to see if there was something particularly difficult about the instructions, that might have stymied the children's interest, or if I should really give up on the dream of having STEM scholarships ahead.

I dumped out the box, loaded up the software, and started building the initial little vehicles (the instructions walk you slowly from simple vehicles to the big upright, walking, talking robot).

I ran through three or four models, messed up, back-tracked, problem solved, thoroughly absorbed and enjoying myself.  The instructions are picture heavy, as you might expect from Lego, but not difficult, and there is a lot of room for experimentation and adapting of projects, though it doesn't lend itself well to group projects, but is more of a one person, working quietly and alone, type kit.

A couple of the children did join me at the table (my oldest even looked in for a minute, mumbling about how he really should build that thing once and for all), and I thought maybe there might be a spark of interest in one of them.  But it turned out, they just couldn't stand the chaos I had created by dumping the parts and pieces out all over the table, and once they had organized it all...

… they wandered away again, without even a backward glance.  The kit is just fine, if a little expensive, it just happens that when it comes to engineering, I have a pack of project managers.

Maybe they could clean the closets.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

1 comment:

Ticia said...

I had a Mindstorm set I got Jeff back when we were first married, and it sat there similarly. Of course, his was pretty much build a remote control robot. I've always wanted to try out the robotics sets that had programming built into it but have been leery because of the cost.