Skip to main content

Mindstorms Academy?

An article in the most recent WIRED magazine got me to thinking about alternative methods (maybe even better?) for delivering training related to both robot building and programming. I was sort-of familiar with Khan Academy (I had watched a video or two a few years ago when someone told me about it) but never truly understood what I was seeing (and hearing) from the website.

If you're not familiar with Khan Academy please pause here and simply read the article and then watch this video... it will get you up to speed much better than I could possibly do so in a paragraph or two. After you've watched the video (or not if you're familiar with KA and its concept), hopefully you'll have an understanding of how the videos work and what the goals of KA are longterm.

I'm not here to debate the pros or cons of KA -- the site and its methodology are the subject of much debate already so let's not add to the noise here... my purpose for this post is not to discuss KA's videos but to pose a question to The NXT Step's audience as a whole:

Would it be possible to provide to those new to Mindstorms(teachers, students, parents) a collection of short videos (5 to 10 minutes max) that would introduce concepts such as The Loop block, Line Following and Object Detection?

Just as KA has a couple dozen categories (Pre-Algebra, Calculus, Economics, etc.), I can imagine a similar group of categories such as Programming Blocks and Basic Movements and Advanced Logic Control... the list goes on. The idea would be to create a standard format for how the videos look and how they are narrated... maybe even some standards on video format thrown in for consistency.

Just as many students who use the KA videos can go back over a difficult topic as many times as they like (without anyone looking over his/her shoulder) and review the content before moving on, I can imagine a similar set of videos being developed where relationships between videos are tagged so that novices don't watch a more advanced video before they've watched (and hopefully learned) the basic videos that contain the information the more technical subjects build upon.

Don't get me wrong -- I still think books are a great method for learning. But imagine rather than reading a page or two that describes how to drop in a MOVE block and tweak it for the various settings -- forward, reverse, power, coast, etc. -- that you can instead queue up a video that maybe shows the block being dragged onto the work area, a few tweaks made on the left side of the screen and a Tribot or other robot on the right side demonstrating the code in action. I also think there's something a bit more personal in having a narrator explain a concept, but probably not everyone will agree.)

Let's assume for a second that the video concept is favorable and enough people voice support. What next? I'm not a project manager, but I imagine that there would need to be some sort of formalized method for managing the videos -- this would likely need to be an individual or small group that would be responsible for not only assigning video topics but also viewing and critiquing them before they are released in the wild. (Of course, a "beta" video could also be released for feedback from the community.)

There are other matters that would need to be considered and decided on:

1. How would video of the NXT software be recorded?
2. Would the video capture software need to be consistent or could a list of acceptable applications be selected?
3. What language would the video narrator need to speak? I dislike assuming English, but then again this is an English-based blog and the majority of the audience are English-speakers.
4. Where would the videos be stored/hosted?

There may also be copyright/legal issues that I'm likely unfamiliar with, but given the purpose of these videos would be to promote Mindstorms and grow its user base, I would hope that there would be ways around these issues, especially if the goal isn't profit-minded.

There are thousands upon thousands of videos out there that show viewers how to solder, how to wire up all kinds of electronics, how to program in dozens of languages, and so many more. And yes, there are already videos out there that demo how to do various things with the NXT kit and its software, but what's lacking is organization and logical planning of the topics to be covered.

I'm very impressed with Khan Academy (and I'm even re-learning my Chemistry a bit at a time with the KA videos on the subject), and I can't help but think that the methodology he uses is perfectly suited for teaching Mindstorms.


Popular posts from this blog


2023 is the 25th Anniversary of the MINDSTORMS brand. For 25 years, MINDSTORMS has educated and inspired a generation of robot builders, both children and adults. Unfortunately, the LEGO Group decided to end the line on December 2022. Many ROBOTMAK3RS have been passionately involved with the development of MINDSTORMS through the MUP and MCP programs. Even with the newest Robot Inventor line, several ROBOTMAK3RS were invited to submit additional bonus models that were included in the official app. Regardless of the retirement of a major LEGO robotics product line, ROBOTMAK3RS continue to MAKE-SHARE-INSPIRE using all LEGO robotics platforms available to us. Here is the official statement from LEGO. Since its launch in September 1998, LEGO MINDSTORMS has been one of the core ‘Build & Code’ experiences in the company’s portfolio, carrying with it significant brand equity and becoming a stand-out experience for the early days of consumer robotics and leading to current Build & Code

Celebrating 25 Years of MINDSTORMS

In celebration of the 25th Anniversary of MINDSTORMS, we take a trip through history. Please also visit ROBOTMAK3RS Community every week as we highlight different projects all through 2023 in celebration of the anniversary. Some of the early history is based on the content shared by  Coder Shah  in our  MINDSTORMS EV3 Community Group . Some of the text and links may have been edited from his original posts for consistency and clarity.  1984 - Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen watched a TV program called "Talking Turtle," where MIT professor Seymour Papert demonstrated how children could control robot "turtles" using LOGO, a programming language he developed. 1988 - The collaboration between MIT and LEGO resulted in LEGO TC Logo in 1988, which allowed students to control LEGO models using computer commands. The video shows Papert demonstrating TC Logo. 1990 - LEGO TC Logo was hampered since the robots you built had to be tethered to a personal computer. LEGO and MIT

Celebrating MINDSTORMS with a Remix Part 1

In honor of the 25th Anniversary of MINDSTORMS, we asked ROBOTMAK3RS to combine a LEGO set of their choice with a MINDSTORMS set. Here is what these five ROBOTMAK3RS came up with.  MINDSTORMS Chess Assistant by Arvind Seshan Overview: When you are new to chess, it can be a challenge to remember which pieces go where. Now, you can use machine learning and LEGO MINDSTORMS Robot Inventor to build a tool to help you learn where all the chess pieces go on the chess board. Sets used: LEGO® Iconic Chess Set (40174) and MINDSTORMS Robot Inventor (51515) Review: I really like how the chess set base can store all the pieces underneath and that the board neatly splits in half for handy storage. The chess pieces themselves are very sturdy and well built. My only criticism is the building of the box itself. It was quite difficult to see what pieces to use and since the entire box is made mostly of thin plates, it took a lot of time and patience. I would have liked the storage area to be sliding dra