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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5 Pieces of Technology Our Homeschool Couldn’t Do Without

5 Pieces of Technology Our Homeschool Couldn't Do Without

I suppose that’s a little strong. I mean we could  live without these items in our homeschool. But, for sure, it would be missing some exceptional opportunities. This post is all about the 5 Pieces of Technology Our Homeschool Couldn’t Do Without. I hope it encourages you to consider how you might make better use of some of the everyday technology in your home.

Kindles & Tablets

How to Homeschool with a Kindle

We use our Kindles every day! These have probably been the single best addition to our techy homeschool in the last two years. All the kids have them and use them in a variety of ways. Of course, other tablets such as iPads and Android tablets work well with Kindle apps, but if you are looking for an economical way to enter the world of tablets, you can’t beat the Kindle Fire. The Paperwhite is a great tool as well if you just want the reader. I’ve written a lot about how we use Kindle tablets, but here are a few ideas:

  • Read Books– Nothing like a good old fashioned read from a tablet! There are a lot of ways to highlight and take notes while you read. Get to know your tool and it won’t let you down.
  • Listen to Audio Books– This is especially dreamy with an Audible account which allows you to download the files wirelessly.
  • Do Research– Having a portable portal to the internet means being able to keep working and look something up at the same time and a small device works well in small work spaces.
  • Watch Video Content– Either from a YouTube playlist, embedded text links, or other sources. You can watch anywhere at any time. Dare I admit that we can even access our satellite dish remotely on the go?
  • Follow Tutorials– This is great for art projects and hands on moments. My artist daughter uses it for her Craftsy classes. It’s so easy to have the tablet right there and to work as she watches.

Video Conferencing

How to Collaborate As an Illustrator

Whether it’s Skype or a Google + Hangout, we can meet long distance for a variety of reasons. For example:

  • Playing Chess Virtually– with a relative or a friend. Our kids have played regularly with their grandfather over Skype.
  • Conducting G+ Hangouts– I appear regularly with Bright Ideas Press
  • Project Collaborations– with homeschoolers far away. There are so many things you could work on together even while far apart.
  • Book Clubs– A fun way to get like minded kids and teens together to discuss books
  • Writer’s Workshops– Long distance sharing of writing is a great option for a video conference format.

The nice thing about using video conferences that it brings people together if they are far apart and it’s an easier way to convene if you live local to one another as well. Sometimes it’s easier to set aside time if you don’t include drive time.

LEGO Mindstorms

Benefits of Using LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool

LEGO Mindstorms have been a mainstay of our homeschool for many years. We got our first kit ages ago and we’ve been exploring the world of robotics ever since:

  • Benefits of Using LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool– This is a great list of why we use Mindstorms and it tells some of the cool things we’ve done with the kits.
  • FIRST LEGO League– Dan has been an FLL World Congress judge and a coach for 8 years. He had the opportunity to judge the World Congress in 2005 when the challenge was a Nanotechnology theme. Since then, he’s been coaching teams and running a JrFLL event. Our teams meet 7 hours a week in preparation for competition days. That’s a lot of Mindstorm time for our kids!
  • Assigned Challenges– For example, when our 16yo was 10 he was challenged to make a speed trap for a marble on a marble roller coaster.
  • Programming Challenge– Our 10yo is a new EV3 owner and he’s been working to program the brick with Java instead of the Mindstorms software. He’s always looking to push the edge!

Digital Microscope

Tips for Using a Digital Microscope

Do you have a microscope in your homeschool? You can use digital microscopes to:

  • Allow all of your kids to see the image under the scope at once- huddling around one expensive microscope it highly overrated.
  • Let’s younger kids use a microscope successfully without damaging the slide.
  • Fantastic tool for taking a quick look at a specimen- whether it is living or not.
  • Record live video of a pond critter on your slide.
  • Take still photos of magnified specimens.

Visit Tips for Using a Digital Microscope to read more about how we use this technology.

Computers/Laptops

We have three desktop computers and three laptops. Two of them belong to Dan and I and the others are shared by the kids. Several of them are hand-me-down machines that aren’t the top of the line, but they are hard workers and allow our kids to work simultaneously when it’s necessary. It’s a lot of work to support and maintain a computer network, but it’s worth the effort.

Computers are used at some point daily to:

  • Participate in Online Classes– both long term and short term
  • Attend Conferences
  • Listen to Podcasts & Other Audio
  • Play Music– We have a Rhapsody account and we listen to music with an online interface or app
  • Access Video Content– whether it’s YouTube or hyperlinks within text
  • Word Processing– writing and editing papers, stories, etc
  • Spreadsheet
  • Computer Programming– Our 10yo is an avid programmer and is always into creating new code for an idea he has.
  • Interfacing with LEGO Mindstorms
  • Arduino Work– Joshua works with his Arduino board and programs it using the software.

More Technology Posts from Blog, She Wrote

How to Make a YouTube Playlist

Managing the Internet in Your Home– This is a three part series written by my husband, Dan on how to use your router and Open DNS to filter content and to implement access control. You’ll be given the tools and instructions for limiting time on devices and turning internet on and off at various times- down to the machine or device you want off or to have access.

How to Homeschool with a Kindle– Kindle eReaders and tablets are essential to our homeschool these days. How do we use them? What’s the big deal? Read on to find all the ways we enjoy them.

How to Make a YouTube Playlist– Did you know you can make a preset playlist of YouTube videos for your children to view? You can! And you can make as many categories as you’d like to sort them.

Best Educational YouTube Channels for Homeschoolers– Now that you know how to make a playlist in YouTube, it’s time to visit the best educational channels around and add to them!

How to Use Google Earth– What’s not to love about this virtual globe? Learn how to use this tool to its fullest potential and see all the resources out there to help you use it in your homeschool.

While technology doesn’t make up our whole homeschool experience, it certainly does enhance it in extraordinary ways.

How do you use technology in your homeschool? What’s your family’s favorite?

 

Other iHN bloggers are sharing their lists of things their homeschool can’t do without. Visit and enjoy!

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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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