LEGO Mindstorms mix fun and learning

LEGO Mindstorms programming

During the Christmas holidays our family has been staying with my parents in central Florida. We’ve had a great vacation, and the weather in Florida during the winter certainly has been fantastic!

The other day we took a day trip to LEGOLAND Florida, on the site of the old Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven. The LEGO group did a pretty good job of keeping some of the old charm of the former Cypress Gardens theme park, the most popular tourist attraction in central Florida during the 1950s and 1960s; while LEGO rides and exhibits certainly dominate the theme park, the gazebo and banyan tree planted by Cypress Gardens founder Dick Pope, Sr. in 1936 are still in the park and well maintained, and tourists can still ride the Island in the Sky to get a view of the surrounding area. Perhaps the highlight of the trip was that our daughter was chosen to flip the big LEGO switch to “turn on the park” by Buddy (the LEGO guy) himself, and got to wear a badge proclaiming her as Buddy’s BFF (Best Friend Forever) for the day!

One of the things that I liked the best at LEGOLAND Florida was the LEGO Mindstorms exhibit, located in the TECHNIC area of the park. Within the LEGO Mindstorms section there were three possible workshops that children could participate in; one a beginner’s workshop involving creation and programming of a LEGO Mindstorms alligator that could open and snap shut its mouth, and two more advanced workshops involving the coding of robots to complete certain activities. our son Callum participated in two workshops; the alligator workshop and the programming of a robot called the Dr. Heartbeat. The alligator workshop was a bit simple for him (we have the LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0 set at home in France, so he already knew how to build and program simple robot) but the Dr. Heartbeat workshop was quite a bit more challenging and fun to complete. Basically, participants had to use several commands to get Dr. Heartbeat to complete various activities – pick up a variety of different colored balls (the bad cells), fix a blood vessel, and deposit medicine (little green balls) into a specific location.

LEGO Mindstorms workshop

While the LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0 set is not cheap, it does make for a great educational tool at home or in the classroom. I have always felt that LEGO is a great tool that combines both analytical and creative teaching and learning, and LEGO Mindstorms takes that to the next level. Learning to perform analytical tasks in a creative manner is something that my kids will carry with them as they move from elementary school into secondary school, through college, and eventually to the workplace. The more that children feel that they can tackle complicated mathematical problems in a creative and colorful way, the better suited they will be to approach and solve the problems they will face as adults. LEGO Mindstorms and other such toys take complicated and potentially intimidating activities such as computer programming and robotics and make them fun and approachable. My son naturally gravitates to such things – he loves creative games such as LEGO, Minecraft, puzzle games and certain computer-based simulators – so I’m really looking forward to seeing how he takes these interests to the next level.

If you have an opportunity to get your children or students involved with learning robotics, I highly recommend it!

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