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

Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

Day 3 of iHN’s Winter Hopscotch is all about science. Today I’m sharing our strategies and resources for homeschooling middle & high school science. Science is my favorite. If you’ve been a reader for awhile, then you may know that my background is science. My BS is in biological sciences and I have a MS degree in Curriculum & Instruction Secondary Education. I am certified to teach biology to 7th-12th graders. I taught science for five years prior to starting a family. My husband is a chemical engineer with a graduate degree also in chemical engineering. This means several important things relevant to today’s post:

  • We are science people. We do science everyday.
  • We talk about science at every turn.
  • People with masters degrees focused on writing science curriculum & science instruction for secondary aged kids don’t buy science curriculum. It’s a rule. They might revoke my degree.
  • When our kids ask a science question, we drop what we’re doing and help them investigate an answer. It’s how we have fun.
  • We are great at doing science all the time. We aren’t great at following a science curriculum.

I think it’s important to be real with you all on this point because it affects how we approach science in our middle and high school homeschool. I’d like to encourage you to try something similar…be inquistive! Help your students to explore the scientific world.

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

Strategies for Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

One of the best ways to do science is to go and investigate. Learn with your students the process for conducting scientific investigations and then go out and explore the world! Below are some of the ways we do this in our homeschool:

  • Unit Studies- Through middle school we do a lot of science through our unit studies. Either we are studying a book and doing the science that goes with it or the unit study is based around the science. For example, we enjoyed a unit on catapults after watching Punkin’ Chunkin’ one Thanksgiving.
  • Units can be built around a child’s interest- many of you know our daughter is very talented with a sewing machine. There’s a lot of physical science to be taught about sewing machines, so I wrote a unit study on just that.
  • Science as Investigation- I actually speak on this topic quite a bit. The thing to remember is not to get bogged down in the process. You don’t have to have fancy equipment to do science. So many people want to make sure all their ducks are in a row and it paralyzes them when it comes to doing experiments. Don’t be afraid to look things up with your kids and try things out. We once did a huge experiment on popcorn- which variety popped the biggest. We talked with the kids about how to do a fair test and we walked them through setting up the experiment. Then we popped a lot of corn and measured the volume by calculating the amount of space the popped volume took up in a cylinder!
  • Project Based Homeschooling- We are prime candidates for homeschooling science with student driven projects. It’s comes naturally to mentor our kids into finding their own way on something they are interested in. This year our 8th grader is studying biology through the life of snakes- she has one she caught and has been taking care of since June.

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

Our Favorite Resources for Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

In lieu of recommending curriculum for science, I’m going to give you a list of our favorite resources. These are things we pull from or have the kids reference and enjoy during their studies.

  • Janice VanCleave Books- These books are an excellent source for science experiments and longer term science investigations. Easy to understand and follow and Ms. VanCleave does a great job of explaining the results.
  • Beyond Five in a Row- Excellent literature unit studies which have robust science studies in them including more than a few books about famous scientists.
  • Usborne Science Encyclopedia- Great science reference with links to follow on the internet.
  • Field Guides- A thorough guide for mammals, flowers, trees, reptiles, amphibians and other major animal and plants groups are a valuable tool for nature studies and biology.
  • The Handbook of Nature Study- A lovely text sharing a lot of science for the natural world. A popular book for homeschoolers, if you’ve never read it I encourage you to do so. Mrs. Comstock has a dry sense of humor that is not obvious from the appearance of the book.
  • Glassware- We buy ours from Home Science Tools (and locally at our backyard university’s supply rooms). I used to use our kitchenware, but I much prefer the designated scienceware.
  • cK-12 Open Source Textbook- It’s what we use for high school biology & chemistry. They have a text, workbooks, and some subjects have lab workbooks too.
  • Top 10 Tools for the Home Scientist- You might be interested in our favorite picks from this list I wrote for Uzinggo.
  • Life of Fred: Physics & Biology- R13 is going through Physics now followed by Biology both of which are pre-Algebra books.
  • Science Biographies- We study the lives of scientists which gives you a whole picture of a time, place, and event. This is a very Charlotte Mason approach and it yields big results. MoonShot and Skunkworks are among the books our 6th grader has read in his quest to learn more about flight and rocketry.

Giveaway for Polymer Science Unit from Elmer’s Glue

Since I’m all into doing investigations, I’m happy to offer you a bonus opportunity today. Elmer’s is giving away one box set pictured below. You’ll get a signed copy of Too Much Glue along with a unit on adhesives to go with the book and some glues for the activity. Leave a comment and tell me your favorite topic in science to enter!

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

Join other bloggers from the iHN for their tips on teaching science. See you tomorrow for a look at history.

HopscotchiHNJanuary2013

FIRST LEGO League: Science, Technology, & Teamwork

Blog, She Wrote: FIRST LEGO League- Science, Technology, & Teamwork

I don’t blog enough about our FIRST LEGO League teams, but I’ll be catching you all up to date this season. This is the fifth season for our sponsored teams. Our homeschool group started with one team which grew into two teams coached by Dan and another homeschool dad engineer. We have lots of parent help and the teams practice together and so far have done well in competition together as sister teams. This is both teams’ third chance at going to the next round of competition. This year LEGO Da Vinci won First Place Grand Champion while the Disaster Masters won the Project Award.

FIRST LEGO League (FLL) begins with the FIRST Mission

FIRST was started in 1989 by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, to inspire kids to become scientists and engineers. FLL is all about the science and research with the LEGOs being the hook in a high energy atmosphere.

Our mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.

Mr. Kamen had a vision:

“To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”  Dean Kamen, Founder

FLL Has Three Components

  • Research project- based on a theme. They must research the theme, choose a topic to become experts on and come up with an innovative solution to a problem they discovered a long the way. They get judged on their solution, how they contacted and worked with experts in the field, and in their presentation of their findings.
  • Robot- including programming, design, and performance. Teams must design and program a robot to perform missions in the robot game. It also includes their presentation to the judges about their robot.
  • Core Values- this is all about teamwork and gracious professionalism. Are teammates working together and treating others they encounter well? At the competition they have a team challenge to complete which tests them in their ability to work together well.

FLL Requires Commitment

The teams practice seven hours a week- one hour at co-op during the semester when Dan teaches the class and two other three hour practices during the week. The guys on LEGO Da Vinci are coming to our house, where we have the table set up, to work on missions this week for some bonus time.

Enjoy a look at just one of the missions. They have just 2.5 minutes to complete as many as they can. Next time I’ll share about their research project. The theme this year is Nature’s Fury and their research has been on blizzards.