My youngest son, Johnny, age 10, loves to play with Lego bricks. He also shows a keen interest in how things work and in robotics. When his birthday rolled around last month, of course I wanted to give him something he would enjoy as well as something that he would learn with. If he didn’t already have the new Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot set, I probably would have gotten him that. But, he does have that set, and it’s been a big hit, so I wanted to get him something else along those lines.
I suspect when most moms think about Lego bricks, and robotics or mechanical items, they immediately think Mindstorms or Technics, which are highlighted on the Lego retail site. However, there is another Lego bricks option.
Have you checked out the Lego Education site? There are numerous products on the Lego education site that are geared toward use in traditional school settings as well as by homeschoolers. However, non-educators and parents can purchase from this site as well, and there are a lot of interesting and unique products on the Lego Education site that you won’t find on the Lego retail site. The Lego Education WeDo set is one of them.
After doing quite a bit of research, I ended up ordering Johnny the Lego Education WeDo Combo pack. I chose this product because it is recommended for ages 7+ and therefore appropriate for my 10-year-old. Although he loves his EV3 robot, the complexity of that set, recommended for ages 10+, often requires my assistance during his play. I wanted him to have a set that he could be more self sufficient with both building and programming.
I also chose this set because it came with 12 activities grouped into four themes: Amazing Mechanisms, Wild Animals, Play Soccer, and Adventure Stories. The Lego bricks in this set have eye-catching primary colors, and the creations made with the bricks, like a roaring lion, seem to be objects that elementary and middle school children will connect with.
Besides the 12 activities packaged in four small booklets by theme, the Lego Education WeDo Combo pack also comes with a nice storage container for the 158 pieces consisting of Lego bricks and other parts including a motor, a motion sensor, a tilt sensor, and the Lego USB hub. Also there is a CD for installing the Lego Education WeDo Software v1.2 and a 3-ring binder with detailed teacher notes.
The Lego Education WeDo Software runs on both PCs and Macs. Although the CD case for the software does not list Windows 8, we are running it on Windows 8 at our house with no issues.
The motion sensor, tilt sensor, and motor are designed to attach to the Lego USB hub which attaches to your PC or Mac. This configuration provides power for the sensors and motor. All the activities in this set are built and performed on a Lego brick platform and therefore don’t travel across the floor or table. I think this is a very safe set-up since there is no chance the robot can take off while still attached to the computer which I have seen happen with the Mindstorms robots.
Johnny was very excited about his birthday gift and set out to do the Dancing Birds and Flying Birds activities. He had no trouble following the instructions, writing the programs, or running the simulations. He does have prior programming and computer experience, but the level of computer skills and programming required to work with WeDo, which uses programming blocks built on NI’s LabVIEW, is simple enough for beginners too.
I stepped in with the teacher notes to reinforce the concepts the activities were designed to teach (e.g., impact of regular vs. x-shaped rubber band loop on the Dancing Birds direction). I am also pleased to report that Johnny wanted to branch out on his own and reconfigure the Flying Birds robot so that his wings would flap. Originally, the activity used the tilt sensor, and the bird would move forward and back as if pecking off the ground. But, Johnny wanted to make the bird move it’s wings like it was flying. I really enjoyed the sense of pride he obtained successfully trying out his ideas. He was so excited that he grabbed the camera and started taking pictures and videos to document his success!
I also had good luck getting my older son, Joey, age 12, interested in the Lego Education WeDo Combo pack. He recently put together the Drumming Monkey. Start to finish, it took him about 90 minutes to build and program the monkey.
Joey was pretty excited to call his brother over and show him what he had built. What better way to learn than to explain what you’ve done to someone else. He also wanted to take pictures and a video. I used the teacher notes to talk to the boys about changing the beat of the drumming. The initial configuration had the arms moving at the same time and with the same duration, but the design of the monkey made it easy to change the beat by changing the way the cams move the arms. The boys were encouraged to experiment and to try both vertical, one vertical and one horizontal, etc.
I would consider the Lego Education WeDo Combo pack a complete success at our house. I am sure the boys will try out some of the other activities and branch out on their own again soon. I am also considering trying out the Lego Education Simple and Powered Machines set.
Currently, you can purchase the Lego Education WeDo Combo pack for $217.95 and the Lego Education Mindstorms Core Set for $339.95.