LEGO® Mindstorms Home Kit vs. Education Kit

LEGO® Mindstorms Home Kit vs. Education Kit

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What homeschooling family wouldn’t want a LEGO Mindstorms Kit? Even if you aren’t hardcore into engineering and robotics, this set of materials can do a lot of really cool stuff. When families get serious about buying a kit, one of the questions we get is which one? The robotics kits are packaged and sold in two main ways- the retail home kit and the education kit sold through LEGO Education. Let’s learn more about these kits with LEGO® Mindstorms: Home Kit vs Education Kit.

Features of the LEGO® Mindstorms Home Kit

LEGO® Mindstorms Home Kit vs. Education Kit

The home kit is available through both the LEGO.com site and places like Amazon. You won’t need to go through LEGO Education to get this kit. Here are some of the features of the home kit:

  • Comes with an infrared sensor- measure the distances of reflected objects and can read signals from the infrared beacon
  • Includes an infrared beacon or controller- think remote control
  • Color sensor- shines a light on a surface and measures the reflected light back to measure the color or brightness of a surface. It can also detect how much light is coming its way.
  • Touch sensor- a loose button that can be pushed. It helps the robot to move away from an obstacle or to perform certain tasks.
  • There is no ultrasonic sensor
  • Has some fun pieces which are purely for cool design purposes

Sensors are hooked up to the Mindstorm computer to perform tasks. The touch sensor can help a robot escape an obstacle while an ultrasonic sensor can help the robot to avoid an obstacle. The sensors allow the robot to interact with the world around it. Your student will do the programming so the sensors can maximize the robot’s abilities.

The cool thing about the infrared sensor and its beacon is that you can remotely control your robot. How is that not fun? The Education kit lacks this sensor and beacon because it’s not allowed in FIRST LEGO League competitions.

Benefits of the LEGO® Mindstorms Education Kit

LEGO® Mindstorms Home Kit vs. Education Kit

So, what does the education kit have that the home kit does not? Here’s a brief list we’ve come up with:

  • Ultrasonic sensor- sends out ultrasonic waves to bounce off objects
  • Gyroscope sensor- measures the robot’s rotational motion and changes its orientation
  • Turntable type gear- this is a large gear which anchors a part to another so that one can move and the other stays still
  • Large rubber tires for the robot
  • More parts- the education kit comes with a larger volume of technic pieces which are the pieces LEGO developed for more articulation among parts. There aren’t really bricks in these kits. Your kids have worked with Technic pieces if they’ve built things with moving parts.
  • Kit is limited by FLL rules- the base education kit doesn’t come with anything not allowed in FLL competition.

The Best LEGO® Mindstorms Kit for Your Homeschool

So, what is the verdict? Which kit is best for homeschoolers? Our vote is the home kit! Here are some reasons why we like this kit:

  • Availability of Books– most of the books you find on Amazon and other retail outlets are written for the home kit. Is that a big deal? It can be. Since the parts lists are not the same, you may find yourself without essential items for a build.
  • Price of Accompanying Resources– the books sold in the retail world are at a price point most families can afford. Especially if you are new to Mindstorms, you want to get resources to go with it that you can easily get through the library or bookstore which give you a head start on working the Mindstorms kit.
  • Education Curriculum– curriculum written for the education kit is much more expensive and it’s classroom oriented with its pieces and directions. You may find it’s not as easy to implement in a homeschool setting. Plus, the cost is prohibitive in many cases.

Our recommendation is to purchase the home kit and add pieces from the education kit as you need them or would want them. You can buy the sensors separately and you can even buy a parts kit from LEGO Education which is what we’ve done. This way, you get the best of both worlds and your base kit is one that will allow you to use books rather than a strict curriculum.

You want the the kit to work for your family for many years of discovery at any age. These kits are a fantastic investment and they grow with your kids well into high school.

Other LEGO Mindstorms Posts at Blog, She Wrote

Resources for Teaching with LEGO® Mindstorms

We get a lot of mileage out of our Mindstorms kits. We have an education NXT kit and an EV3 home kit. Plus, our kids are deeply involved with FIRST LEGO League which my husband coaches. We have a lot of experience with Mindstorms. Here are some other posts you might enjoy.

Resources for Teaching with LEGO Mindstorms– Books and websites devoted to working with the Mindstorms kits.

Benefits of Using LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool– So, what’s the big deal? What can your family gain from using Mindstorms? Find out here!

FIRST LEGO League Science, Technology, & Teamwork– A look at an FLL competition team and some of the missions the team worked on that season.

Next up in the Mindstorm series will be lessons and ideas for using the kits in your homeschool. I’ll be sharing lessons about gears, using sensors, and even characterizing a robot. I hope you’ll join me!

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How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

When we think of science instruction, we often think of textbooks and curriculum with labs and lots of formal quizzes and activities. Given my professional background (biology teacher with a masters degree in curriculum and instruction), I am quite familiar with the conventional paradigm of science education. I’ve learned that all my structured training for classroom science, doesn’t translate well to our homeschool. We love to study science as investigation. Over the years I’ve shared activities from our brand of science instruction, but I often hesitate to blog about our science because I don’t want to intimidate people. Science is a lot of fun and I’ve recently renewed my goal to share with you how we approach science (hopefully) in a way that will make it very accessible to other families regardless of your science background. How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists is how our fourth grader (and youngest student) loves to learn science best.

Benefits of Teaching Science with Biographies

How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

We are a long time unit study family and have always followed interests and learned about interesting people along the way. However, our fourth grader, Joshua, has always been extra interested in the people behind the science. I was hoping to revisit unit studies I’d done with his older siblings, but he tagged along and he remembers details! He’s a kid who once he plays something out, isn’t willing to revisit it again. Last year it occurred to me that we could learn science by learning about scientists. This has worked well for him and every time I stray to use something more formal, we end up back using biographies and learning science. Here are a few reasons it’s a good fit:

  • Observe the common character traits and behavior of scientists– which allows you to see their habits, professional practices, etc.
  • Explore a wide variety of science concepts– lets you break out of doing things in order or chronologically and gives you the chance to move from discipline to discipline within science. You don’t have to study just one area of science each year.
  • Follow an interest– if you read about a scientist who was inspired by Newton, you can find out who Newton is and what he was about.
  • Customize the curriculum– your student is unique and offering him a way to study that capitalizes on his strengths while building weaknesses is a smart way to educate. Joshua is an engineer and loves to explore science in his own way. He wants to figure things out and invent and he adores learning about others who have done the same. This is a brilliant way for him to keep his edge!
  • Meet lots of scientists– it’s exciting to meet new people and learn about their contribution to the world and to the current world of scientists. You get to read a lot of biographical information and that’s just plain fun!

Let him on the contrary, linger pleasantly over the history of a single man, a short period, until he thinks the thoughts of that man, is at home in the ways of that period. Though he is reading and thinking of the lifetime of a single man, he is really getting intimately acquainted with the history of a whole nation for a whole age. – Charlotte Mason

Biographies of Scientists

How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

The foundation of this approach is the biographies of famous men and women in the field of science. It’s important to find the right biographies to get the most out of the potential of this method. Look for:

  • Age appropriate selections– Pay attention to who the audience is for a book. If you find an adult biography, chances are there will be content you don’t want your child to read.
  • Reader friendly– Keep in mind the age and skill of your reader when choosing a book. Is it visually pleasing? Is there enough margin? All of these go into whether a book is appealing or not- especially for emerging readers.
  • Do a little of your own research– Even a glance at a Wikipedia page will tell you about any big skeletons in the scientist’s closet. Some men and women have notorious reputations. Those are the ones to make sure you get a youth biography for and skip the adult section of the library for those.

Exploring the Science of Famous Scientists

How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

While your student reads about a scientist, he can begin exploring. Some books are really fantastic at giving activities along with the biographical information. Our kids love to try things out and our fourth grader, loves all things science and wants to investigate and try on his own. Here are some of the ways we do do this:

  • Try out experiments as they are mentioned in the book
  • Explore the equipment a scientist might use- things like microscopes, sextant, etc
  • Build models of things things shown in a book or of their inventions
  • Keep a lab note book– Joshua who is 9 at the time of this post, has had one for years.

Resources for Teaching Science through the Lives of Scientists

How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

There are many materials out there for studying about the lives of scientists. You can find biographies along with curriculum which focuses on the people behind the science. Below, I’ve listed what we have used although most times I come back to just the biographies and the science.

  • Childhood of Famous Americans Book Series– This is a lovely series of books about the growing up years of many famous Americans, including scientists.
  • Heroes of History– Another series for kids, but these tell about the person’s entire life. Heroes of History is the sister series to Christian Heroes Then and Now and make a lovely young person’s biography.
  • Other Biographies– There is no shortage of books about scientists. Anyone who has made a significant contribution to the field will have something written about him. It may be more difficult to find a biography which is age appropriate, but there are many children’s and young adult titles.
  • Beyond Five in a Row– Is a literature unit study program for ages 8-12 using chapter books and many of the books are about scientists such as George Washington Carver, Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, and Neil Armstrong. We have used BYFIAR for years and you might enjoy visiting our Beyond page.
  • History of Science from Beautiful Feet– This is more a survey of history through the lens of science, but the guide introduces you to many scientists along the way.
  • WinterPromise– Their themed programs provide many resources and lessons on people which include many scientists.

Other Blog, She Wrote Posts about Science & Scientists

We’ve had discussions on many scientists over the years. Some are formalized studies and some are conversations at the dinner table. Here are a few were written about:

  • Renee Descartes Mathematician & Philosopher– Although he was a math guy, I’m throwing this one in to show another way to use biographies.
  • Elias Howe– A unit study on the inventor of the sewing machine complete with the mechanical conversation about the physics of sewing machines.
  • Henry David Thoreau– Was a naturalist and we reflected on nature study through is lens.
  • Beyond FIAR– This is a landing page devoted to our studies which include some scientists.
  • Homeschooling Middle & High School Science– This is a revealing post about how we teach science at our house. With two scientists teaching at home, our methods are not conventional. We talk about science all the time, but we don’t always follow a curriculum in a typical way.
  • How to Homeschool with a Kindle– Notice the Kindle Fire at the top of the post? All of our kids have them and it makes it a lot easier for them to grab a book and go. I also check books out on their Kindle through the library system. The main thing here is if you haven’t had time to get all the books you need, you can always grab a Kindle version for step 2.

When I am tempted to do a more traditional approach with our fourth grader, we keep coming back to this method. Any science becomes more interesting through the eyes of the people who made tireless efforts to achieve their goals.

You can adapt this to any grade level and require different skill sets of work for the same biography.

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Benefits of Using LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool

Blog, She Wrote: Benefits of Using LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool

Welcome to blog sponsor Explorental!

Have you ever considered a LEGO Mindstorms kit for your kids? Maybe you’ve seen them, but are unsure whether the investment is a good one for your family. For less than the cost of a popular game console system, you can have a tool for teaching endless concepts and a source of engineering challenge for your kids.

Reasons to Use LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool

Working with the Mindstorms kit requires a lot of different skills from students even when you are just starting out. Take a look at some of the subject areas accessed by work with the Mindstorms.

  • Math– Although not always a student favorite, math is applied to the robot building when it comes to programming it. Geometry, particularly circle geometry is necessary to accurately get the robot to rotate the wheels the requested distance.
  • Robotics– Who doesn’t want to build a robot and take over the world? Or at least the LEGO world!
  • Mechanics– Part of the robot building has to do with putting the robot together with the technic pieces. How those fit together and work efficiently is a big part of the task.
  • Physics– Along with efficiency, you need a stable structure. We spend a lot of time learning about which designs are the most stable.
  • Fun– There is no shortage of fun when it comes to exploring with a LEGO Mindstorms kit.

Blog, She Wrote: Benefits of Using LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool

Using Technology in Your Homeschool

Our kids use a lot of technology in our home- whether it’s a Kindle eReader, tablet or computers for programming and playing. One thing we really try to keep in check is how much our children are producers vs consumers when using technology. In other words, are they watching a lot and engaging in passive participation or are they being makers and creators?

LEGO Mindstorms uses software that is drag and drop so you only need to know some basics about how to get the robot to follow your commands. It takes time to master, but it’s worth the end result. I don’t mind my kids toiling for a few hours at a computer if they are actively problem solving. 

Enjoy a look at Ethan (and our basement!), our 15yo 10th grader, explaining one task he and his fellow FIRST LEGO League team members completed for their FLL regional competition in December. Our teams spend 7 hours a week pouring into this particular piece of technology and it earned them Grand Champion at their qualifying tournament.

Teaching with Technology G+ Hangout

Last week the iHN hosted an informative G+ Hangout on Teaching with Technology. I was excited to be one of the participants. Click and view at your leisure to hear how others are using technology in their homes.

Using Explorental to Experience LEGO Mindstorms

LEGO Mindstorms is a wonderful resource for homeschools, but it may not be the right time financially to invest in your own. How do you get a chance to work with the kit without making that big financial investment?

Take advantage of Explorental’s wonderful inventory of technology gadgets and other kits. They offer a LEGO Mindstorms rental for $43.99 for two weeks.

Blog, She Wrote: Explorental

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