Saturday, November 03, 2007

Lego Again

I am sure many of us remember the fun, fascination and sheer escapism we had when we played with Lego as kids. I wish I had taken pictures of my model towns, police stations and 3 storey replica of BBC TV centre. I used to look forward to Christmas and Birthdays, when I'd receive another set, that would soon be customised or absorbed into another model.

But alongside the Lego model sets, I also loved the Lego Ideas book, this was a sort of gallery of what could be done, if you had the right bricks and patience. My favourite scenes in the book, were those invovling battery bricks, motors and lights. I wanted my models to do things, not just look good. At that point you could connect an elxetric brick to 'Lighting Brick' which could turn the model of a street scene into a twilight town. Fast forward a few years and we have the RCX and (more recently) the NXT.

I still find the creative possibilities of Lego hugely exciting and I have been teaching teachers how to use the Intelligent Brick (or RCX) and Robolab software this week. Normally, we look at creating programs in Pilot level and Inventor level, with a view to creating sequences that cause the Lego buggy to dance. This takes some skill and higher order thinking from the users, be they children or the teachers charged with delivering the upper Key Stage Two element to deliver the control element of the ICT curriculum. The beauty of this part of the curriculum and indeed the control element of ICT is that is a perfect vehicle to facilitate skills or collaboration, testing,reviewing and modifying. The children will program the robot to move in a circle or an s shape and this doesn't quite work, then they need to question why this is the case. They will then modify the variables and retest. The extract from the National Curriculum below, illustrates what is required, and is a reminder that ICT is not just about doing Powerpoint in Y6 or doing the spreadsheet work in Year Five... whatever!

Reviewing, modifying and evaluating work as it progresses

4) Pupils should be taught to:

a) review what they have done to help them develop their ideas

b) describe the effects of their actions

c) talk about what they might change in future work.

Each of the above points could of course be applied to the creation of a Podcast or Spreadsheet, and the implication of 'talking about what they might change' is that children will be working together at some point, something that some of our 30 machine/ one PC each ICT suites make difficult.

The other bonus of using Lego and Robolab is that the possibilities and end outcomes increase the more you use it and explore it. I discovered another application for it this week, while preparing the usual notes and powerpoint for the Pilot and Inventor levels of Robolab. I found that while you can download a program of movements to the Lego brick, you can also inculde simple music tracks. A video of how to find the music option is includeD below and beneath that I have included a clip of users with their musical robot (you may need to turn this one up). Robolab comes with a number of preinstalled music pieces, though a visit to the Lego Engineering website Library area will allow you to find a iwder range of music, along with manuals and chunks of program code to downlaod to the robot.

Of course one of the barriers to the provision of control in Key Stage 2, aside from the availability of hardware is the surmounting of the learning curve need for Robolab or equivalent. 2Connect is a good soloution here, in that it address all aspects of control form Y2 to Y6 , including Logo and Data-logging. Though I am disapointed that 2Control does not support RCX, it just owrk with NXT. Nevertheless it's recent release is exciting,if only because it raises the profile of a difficult and often conveniently fogotten area of ICT. An area which touchs on both problem solving and creativity.

This introductory video was'borrowed' from the 2Simple website.

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