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.

10 (or so) Best Tinkering Gifts for Your Inventor

10 Best Tinkering Gifts for Your Inventor

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

It’s that time of year when parents everywhere are looking for gift ideas for Christmas. Inventors can be hard to buy for especially when they are young and still have big ideas! Enjoy a look at some of the best tinkering materials we’ve found for our young scientists and inventors.

Electronic Gifts for Your Inventor

Snap Circuits- These are snap together electric circuits with many maps to build and tons of add ons. These circuits are easy to use and easy to please since the connections are rock solid. We have an oscilloscope interface for our computer along with the alternative energy kit. Don’t miss out on Snap Circuits Green.

Old Electronics- What engineer doesn’t like to take things apart to see how they work? We have a pile of old machines we remove the power cord from so that our inquisitive 8yo can enjoy how things go together and what their components look like.

Arduino- (for middle and high school) these are microcontroller kits which you can add sensors to and enjoy. J8 cannot wait to get his…shhh…

Raspberry Pi- (for middle and high school) card sized Linnux computer you can program and use.

Blog, She Wrote: 10 Best Tinkering Gifts for Your Inventor

Books for Your Inventor

Cool Stuff and How It Works- (and the 2.0 version) This book is full of fun gadgets and tells how the technology works. From LED lights to LCD screens, this book has all the good stuff.

The New Way Things Work- a huge encyclopedia of items and drawings sure to keep your tinkerer involved.

The Unofficial LEGO Mindstorms Inventor’s Guide- full of robots to build and programs to run them.

NXT Power Programming: Robotics in C- Great guide on programming in C with your Mindstorms Kit. J8 adores this book and is sad he can’t program in C during FLL.

Advanced NXT: The DaVinci Inventions Book- another great book using Mindstorms.

C++ Programming in Easy Steps- Inventors like to be fiddlers at the computer too. J8 has read this one cover to cover and writes his own code.

Beginning C++ through Game Programming- another book our inventor loves.

Building Essentials for Your Inventor

Keva Planks- love these plank blocks that allow you to build complex structures. The more the better!

Erector Sets- The best part about these sets are the tools kids get to use!

LEGO Contraptions Books- Technic pieces you can use with regular bricks to build machines from the book.

Physics for Your Inventor

Solar Kit- large pieces which are similar to LEGO technic pieces which you can build lots of solar vehicles. This holds great interest at our house because we have a large array of solar panels on our roof and we do a lot with real time monitoring of our energy usage.

Deluxe Physics Kit- this is an advanced physics kit teaching all sort of concepts in physics using technic type pieces.

Blog, She Wrote: 10 Best Tinkering Gifts for Your Inventor

Robotics for Your Inventor

LEGO Mindstorms NXT & EV3- NXT has just been upgraded to EV3 with the release having been late summer this year. While we plan to get an EV3 kit at some point, we are heavily invested in NXT and we’ll continue to use it. Our family is a long time FIRST LEGO League family with Dan coaching and running a JR FLL event annually. Our kids participate on teams and they play at home. This has been a great investment for our family.

Remote Control Machines- this is a great kit for building machines and powering them with the remote control. A nice one for elementary aged kids and up because the pieces are larger than LEGO Technic pieces and there is no programming involved.

Blog, She Wrote: 10 Best Tinkering Gifts for Your Inventor

Other Necessities for An Inventor

Don’t forget some of the most important items for any inventor that cannot be bought.

Workspace- a place for your inventor to have ongoing projects and his work all around him.

Time- Inventors at any age need the time to tinker. Leave some margin in your routine for those explorable moments.

christmas-gift-listsVisit other iHN Bloggers to enjoy other Christmas Gift Lists.

Top Ten Toys for Open Ended Play

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday List is all about toys that last. Of the benchmarks of a lasting toy such as manufactured quality, perhaps the most important is playability. Does the toy have lasting play power?

I’ve picked ten categories of opened ended play items to share with you today which include choices for preschoolers, tweens, and teens. Let’s have a look!

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Open Ended Toys

Blocks:

These include blocks of all shapes and sizes. My kids still play with these items. Even the almost 13 yo and my 14yo will play with blocks if you just bring out the right theme.

Our favorites are:

  • Kapla blocks- which are basic plank blocks. I think the US equivalent is Keva blocks.
  • Wedgits- who doesn’t love those geometric shapes for building?
  • Lincoln Logs- building blocks of a different shape provide lots of pretend frontier play
  • large maple blocks- a smooth finish on a beautiful block, a staple of the preschool world. We like adding architectural blocks to our stash
  • milk carton blocks- made from cardboard half gallon containers two to a block. You alternate the seam as you insert one inside the other to make it strong (you cut the spout end off)

Notes on purchasing blocks: easy places to buy at great prices are Constructive Playthings & Discount School Supply. If you have more than two kids, consider buying large quantities so there’s plenty of building materials for lots of creativity!

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Open Ended Toys

Wooden Train:

My children have had countless hours playing with the wooden trains both Brio and Thomas sets and accessories. They will still set up a big train with all kinds of block buildings around it. They make a zoo or other fanciful worlds, but it is always fantastic and engaging for long sessions. We added a lot at once with a large set from Constructive Playthings and we used great coupons for local stores for the Thomas accessories.

Notes on Trains: Resist the urge to purchase the beloved train table! I had one made more cheaply than the store versions, but the table puts a pinch on the open ended value of building the train. You have to have uncanny spacial skills to get a track made that will fit in the confined space. It only took one visit to a friend who had their train sprawled out for miles on their floor to completely end the fascination (and subsequent frustration) of the train table.

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Open Ended Toys

Marble Runs:

A marble run is such a great activity for younger and older kids and we’ve done a lot of physics with our sets.

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Open Ended Toys

Dress Up:

What house full of preschoolers doesn’t love dress up? As your kids grow, they will still find reasons to get into costume. We often have great Halloween costumes from our dress up kits and my kids like to put on dramas and have fun being someone different for a while.

Centers- I like to store our dress up themes with their props. This makes it fun to pull a box and play out that scenario.

Example centers for creative play:

  • restaurant- apron, chef hat, oven mitts along with order pads and menus (from take out or they can make their own
  • grocery store- empty food boxes, cash register, sale signs, grocery lists, shopping cart (not exactly stored with the center_
  • Hairdresser- styling coat with hair doodads and scissors, hair dryers, barber shop set, etc
  • Adventure- hats, satchels, compasses, binoculars, maps, etc
  • Pioneer- guns, aprons, bonnets and some adventure items noted above
  • Knights- knight dress up, foam weapons

That’s not the end of the list, but you get the idea. I love having all the items together so they are easily stored and found when the mood strikes. We also have a free dress up bin with all sorts of costumes and fun in them.

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Open Ended Toys

Cash Register:

This item had to make my list. There are so many play time activities that require a till- whether you are selling ice cream or running a zoo, the exchange of money will take place. A nice cash register will be the perfect prop. My favorite is the Learning Resources Deluxe Teaching cash register. The money is a nice size and there’s plenty of it. You can also order refills. It’s an investment, but it has lasted many years and far beat out its predecessor. This one has games in it for when math time begins.

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Toys for Open Ended Play

Buttons:

Buttons are such a great plaything! I order them from Discount School Supply and they are available in one or three pound quantities. Whenever I made an order I add a bag of buttons to the order. You can also find large sizes there for smaller hands.

What do you do with buttons?

  • scoop and pour- this is perfect even for supervised younger kids to scoop up and pour in a large bin in lieu of rice and sand!
  • sorting and counting
  • crafting- loads of things you can do with buttons from stringing to gluing
  • sewing

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Toys for Open Ended Play

Art Supplies:

Taking liberty here with the definition of a toy, but art supplies sure provide hours of open ended activity for kids.

What should you have on hand for creative time?

  • drawing paper- I like white sulphite paper from DSS
  • watercolor paints- Prang trays or tube watercolors are so vibrant
  • watercolor pencils- give you the fun of watercolor with the precision of a pencil
  • construction paper- sulphite doesn’t crack and  fade
  • glue
  • double sided tape
  • markers
  • crayons
  • colored pencils
  • butcher paper- sold in 50 lb weight for wet and dry media. This is a must have at my house. Countless games and murals have been made over the years. It’s also saved dinner time to have the giant sheet on the floor and three preschoolers laying there coloring together!

You’ll also need to allow your children ample access to the supplies as their age and ability allow. Teaching expectations at a young age goes a long way to being able to get more out for your kids. Open ended play doesn’t happen when kids don’t have access to the right playthings!

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Toys for Open Ended Play

Science Building Kits:

While some might consider these fairly prescribed given the directions and how things go together, for a kid like J7 who will invent and explore on his own, this is a huge sandbox of fun!

Suggestions to Start:

Some of the Thames & Kosmos sets listed above are compatible with each other so you can build things other than what you see.

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Toys for Open Ended Play

LEGOS & LEGO NXT:

What toy list would be complete without LEGOS? I would argue that some sets are better than others when it comes to promoting open ended play. Themed sets lend themselves toward theme play, but it also depends on the personality of the kid. Some builders love to create on their own, while others prefer to build the sets as is. Some builders only build once and enshrine, while still others wreck the creation and start again. And some builders are meticulous about keeping sets together, while others like to mix things up!

LEGO Mindstorms NXT- The NXT 2.0 is the computer brick that is compatible with Technic pieces to build robots which use a variety of sensors to do work and all sorts of things. One note…LEGO has replaced NXT with the next generation brick called Mindstorms EV3. If you are investing in a set, make sure you get the new generation computer. We’ll be upgrading by next year. This is our last competition year with the NXT.

FIRST LEGO League- We are heavily involved with FLL and we teach LEGO robotic classes at co-op. There is a lot of open ended engineering for kids to complete a season successfully. I’m behind on blogging about our most recent season, but I’ll be sure to share soon.

Mindstorms NXT Manuals- there are many books in this series to help kids in making robots and programming them.

Crazy Action Contraptions- fun machines to build with Technic pieces

There is always something going on with our NXT kits. Right now E14 is working on designing and building an M&M counter for the 4-H Fair. It will sort and count colored candies while people watch. Of course they’ll get to submit a guess so they can win!

J7 got an accelerometer for the NXT for Christmas and he’s anxious to build a robot to use it.

Animation/Movie Making/Computer Programming:

Most of this list is of the screen free variety, but I had to include the open ended play my kids have with a variety of software. 

The video was made using SAM Animation with an idea from a Klutz book. It’s a video of a head of cabbage reciting the Gettysburg Address in its entirety. Listen in and you’ll hear a younger E14. He was about 12 when he put that together.

Links for Open Ended Computer/Video Projects:

Klutz Book of Animation- fun ideas and an introduction to stop motion

SAM Animation- fun software to help kids make stop motion films. We use the free version.

Klutz Tricky Video- ideas for video making

Alice- 3D environment for programming, free

Scratch- building blocks of programming for kids, free put out by MIT

Mindstorms- the software that goes with the LEGO Mindstorms Kits

Remember that open ended play begins with open ended toys/items and open ended schedules!

May you and your family have many hours of creative and engaging playtime!

Other bloggers of iHN are participating in the 10 Weeks of Top 10 Lists 2013. We’ll be linking up every Tuesday and I encourage you to hop over and see some other blogger lists.