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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Resources for Teaching with LEGO® Mindstorms

Resources for Teaching with LEGO® Mindstorms

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

We are a big LEGO® Mindstorms family and I often get questions about how we teach our kids using the Mindstorms. They are a significant investment for homeschoolers and it’s important to know what’s available to help you along. Questions like:

  • Do you use curriculum?
  • How do you manage what your kids are learning?
  • What resources are out there to help?
  • Do I have to invest in LEGO Mindstorms curriculum?
  • Which kit do I buy- the home kit or the education kit?

To answer these questions, I’m going to do a series of posts on how we use LEGO Mindstorms. I’ll be sharing Resources for Teaching with LEGO® Mindstorms, which to buy- the home kit or the education kit, activities to do with the kits, and some general strategies for building and using the robots.

Book Resources for LEGO Mindstorms

There are a lot of books available in bookstores and on Amazon which focus on the robot kits. The first thing to distinguish is whether you have an NXT model or the newer EV3. I’m going to list a few ideas for the EV3 because that is the current model and it’s what’s supported by LEGO. If you have an NXT, most of these authors have a book very similar for that software and they are still available at Amazon. I’ve listed one below.

LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book– This is a great book for beginners to get to know the EV3.

Exploring LEGO Mindstorms EV3– Some ideas and tools for building and programming EV3 robots for beginner through advanced users.

Maximum LEGO EV3 (Building Robots with Java Brains)– A book for users who want to go beyond the basics of programming using the LEGO software. Our 5th grader has been using this book to use a different firmware along with leJOS to “hack” the Linux OS on the EV3. Our engineer needs a challenge and I thought this book would do the trick. It has!

MAKE: Lego & Arduino Projects– This book is all about extending the Mindstorms NXT with open source electronics. Joshua has a “shield” for his NXT brick which allows him to program the brick using the Arduino.

There are books of all kinds for Mindstorms. They are written by talented people who want to share projects with kids. Some books have specific robots to build and others teach basic strategies with some robot directions mixed in. Choose your child’s skill level and work from there.

 

Resources for Teaching with LEGO® Mindstorms

 

Websites for Teaching with LEGO® Mindstorms

We’ve found and used a number of websites over the years. LEGO.com has a lot of content on their site to go with the Home Kit. There are others as well. If you have a kit and you are looking for more help, check these out.

Build a Robot– a section of the LEGO website which has about 17 or so robot building directions.

Community Build Challenges– Offered by LEGO, these are challenges to build a robot which can do something specific. This link also has previous challenges which can provide ideas for your robotics engineer.

Learn to Program– This is a set of tutorials from lego.com which helps students to get the basics down.

Dr. Graeme– A website devoted to EV3 and NXT tutorials. You can also find challenges here which are a great tool for getting to know the kit.

Tutorials for EV3– from Dr. Graeme, a list of tutorials with choices for whether or not you have the home vs the education kit. You can learn about how to use sensors and how to build specific robots with challenges included. This site also gives tips on how to best use the information he provides.

NXT Programs– This is a great site full of robots to build using the NXT kits along with the programs to go with them.

LEGO Education Community– A place to find lessons and ideas for using Mindstorms and other LEGO education products. The challenges are valuable for use with your students.

FIRST– For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. Get to know the organization behind FIRST LEGO League and the robotics competitions it supports.

Other Mindstorms Posts on Blog, She Wrote

Benefits of Using LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool– This is an overview of what your students gain if you use the robot kits.

FIRST LEGO League: Science, Technology, & Teamwork– Our family has been deeply involved with Junior FLL and FLL for 8 years. Learn more about what FLL is and what it means to be on a team. Below is a video from that post where Ethan (then 15) shows off the team robot and the missions they’ve programmed.

 

5 Pieces of Technology Our Homeschool Couldn’t Do Without– This list includes the LEGO® Mindstorms among other things you might find an interest in.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to engaging with the Mindstorms kits. You don’t need a formal curriculum to get a lot out of your investment. In my next post in the series, I’m going to address the question of which kit is best- the home kit or the education kit.

 

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Teaching & Mentoring High School Math

Teaching & Mentoring High School Math

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

It’s probably one of the most anxiety producing thoughts for homeschoolers- teaching high school math. Well meaning observers want to know how it’s possible to make sure our kids get the higher level math. If we have struggled with math, how will we help our kids to learn it? I have good news! Teaching & Mentoring High School Math is doable. Read on for some tips.

Math Instruction for High Schoolers

After laying the foundation for algebra in elementary and middle school, high school students are better able to tackle math on their own. We are Life of Fred users for high school math. You can read more about our Fred experience here. We locked on to Fred for high school math because it introduces concepts regularly and doesn’t beat the dead horse when it comes to practice. Beginning Algebra accelerates fast and it’s thorough. Here are a few reasons I use Life of Fred for high school math:

  • Instruction is not overly repetitive– Less drill and more complex problems. Just less problems overall. So, less fatigue and increased accuracy
  • Encourages a different approach to attacking a problem– it causes students to think. This is a big deal for a linear kid who is a computation king, but has trouble fitting ideas together to come to a proper conclusion.
  • Cost– honestly for $16 per book for the elementary texts and as much as $30-$45 for upper level math texts, you can’t go wrong even if you just wanted to try it out. Dr. Schmidt packs a lot of concepts into a non-consumable text I can use with all of my kids
  • The program is designed for students to read on their own– and do the problems and check them. Parents are not directly responsible for instruction. This is perfect for the high school parent nervous about math. The texts are written to the student and the author is vocal about staying out of the student’s way.
  • Allows lots of student to student mentoring– because they are all immersed in Fred’s world for math, our older students can help our younger students.
  • Spurs mathematical conversations– almost at any meal time. How many lunch tables vigorously take on set theory- especially when everyone from 10-16 can weigh in on the conversation all of them having been introduced through their Fred books?

We often hear Fred through out the day. Our high school senior recently read from his Trig book as he was reviewing. I adore being read to and it’s a great way to stay connected with their math assignments.

Teaching & Mentoring High School Math

Big Explanations for High Schoolers

When our high schoolers run into problems they have trouble solving, they turn to our slate chalkboard. Sometimes working a problem on a large surface helps the thinking process. It’s also a great way for us as parents and teachers to help out. We have a lot of discussions at the slate! After working a problem at the board, Ethan explains to Dan how he got to where he is in the problem.

Teaching & Mentoring High School Math

There are a few ways we can intervene when math gets tough:

  • I get the information from them and begin the problem on the board– often just starting the problem and watching it from afar, helps them to see where they went wrong. They finish it up on their own.
  • Dan comes to the rescue!– Nothing is better than an explanation from our school principal and great all around dad, Dan. He will use the chalkboard too (and admits it’s like butta!) and give long explanations to the problems.
  • Kahn Academy– If I’m not helpful at jogging a thought process and they’d rather not wait for Dan, then we seek out tutorials from Kahn Academy. It’s easy to search and it’s free. That’s a win! Often they will find the concept they are looking for and it will be helpful to keep going.
  • Revisit the instruction– When they have trouble, I send them back to the chapters they need to get grounded again and they move forward. Often times, re-reading will spark something which helps them along.

Teaching & Mentoring High School Math

College Exam Preparations for High Schoolers

If your high school student is college bound, then preparing for the college entrance exams needs to be part of their high school math experience. Your student may want to prepare for the following tests:

  • PSAT– Taken officially in 11th grade and qualifying students may be awarded a National Merit Scholarship. So, taking this exam gives students a glimpse of the next level of test and has the possibility of earning scholarships. Often 10th graders are permitted to take the PSAT as a practice. Some 7th graders may take the test to qualify for gifted and talented programs as well.
  • SAT– The infamous Scholastic Aptitude Test has sections devoted to math. A working knowledge of Algebra and Geometry is a must for this test.
  • SAT Subject Tests– There are 20 subject tests which students can opt to take depending on requirements from the universities and colleges to which they want to apply. There are two levels of the math subject tests. Math Test I tests on both years of algebra and geometry. Ethan is preparing for the Math II test which assesses the same topics as math 1 with the addition of trig and elementary functions.
  • ACT– An alternative to the SAT, the ACT is a different sort of aptitude test. Many colleges and universities accept both the ACT and SAT scores.

One thing to keep in mind when planning high school math courses is what math is necessary to score well on these college exams. Geometry gets a lot of time on these tests. If your student does two years of Algebra before doing Geometry (as is Fred’s scope and sequence), then he might be challenged on the math section of these exams. We found that Ethan scored even higher once he completed Trigonometry.

Teaching & Mentoring High School Math

Resources for Exam Preparation

Some students need more time for exam prep than others. Knowing how to take the test and what to expect can go a long way to success. When your high schooler begins working to prepare for these exams depends on when she plans to take them. The test sites have guidelines on how and when to study. Our rising senior is taking his exams this fall and will spend the month of August preparing in earnest. We did take practice tests in his junior year to gauge where he was and what he might need to work on.

  • The Official SAT Study Guide– from College Board. Reading the front matter of the guide will give lots of information on testing taking strategies.
  • High School Testing– by Lee Binz
  • SAT Question of the Day– This is provided by the College Board so that you can practice daily. Sign up via email or get the app and you’ll get a question delivered.
  • ACT Question of the Day– from ACT. Just remember that with questions of the day,  you’ll also be getting verbal questions in addition to math.
  • The Real ACT Prep Guide– The official guide from the makers of the ACT.
  • Apps– If you search your app stores for SAT and ACT apps, you’ll come up with lots of choices. Some are just for math practice. We actually have an Amazon app for our SAT Question of the Day.

Other Math Content at Blog, She Wrote

The Making of a Wizard & the Crafty Side of Math

Math has taken on different forms in our homeschool since we started homeschooling 10.5 years ago. These are additional posts on math you might enjoy.

  • Life of Fred Homeschool Math– This is a summary of our experience with Life of Fred from Apples to Calculus. It goes into more detail about how it works for all ages at our house.
  • The Making of a Wizard & the Crafty Side of Math– Do you have a creative child in your midst? Does math present challenges as a result? This post addresses how we keep our creative girl engaged with her math inspiring confidence in her math endeavors.
  • Homeschooling Middle & High School Math– This post summarizes our approach to math in middle and high school. You’ll find more details on helping older students with math.
  • Math– This is my math page with multiple links. You can find links to math for younger kids here including how we use Math on the Level.

Share with us your favorite high school math resource!

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