The LEGO learning revolution rolls on at BETT 2013 with a new generation – John Pinkney welcomes EV3
I look around the classroom and everyone is learning: powering forward and desperate to succeed. Well, of course they are – they are building robots. Their own brilliant, creative LEGO Education MINDSTORMS NXT robotic creations that will soon be parading around the room to much celebration or will stumble to a halt, only to be whisked back to a table for a bit of re-engineering or re-programming.
It might be hard to imagine, but this work is about to be ramped up a gear with the arrival of LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3, a brilliant and exciting addition to the LEGO Education range.
For many years I have watched students getting creative with LEGO Education MINDSTORMS NXT in a variety of situations for STEM education (science, technology and maths). I have watched classrooms come alive with excitement, challenge and learning ambition. Now, building on years of NXT classroom use, LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3 prepares to enter the ring – and it really is an adaptable, mind-expanding (and memory expanded) beast!
The EV3 has seen build times reduced due to ingenious touches
The new EV3 software is now more flexible and learning resources are in the form of curriculum packs that are integrated and can be edited to suit the needs of all students. The software is, thankfully, still based on LabVIEW and works with a flow and fluency that befits a modern age. EV3 will also embrace an app-based world, allowing robot control and slick, animated build guides. The “brick” (computer) has expanded in terms of power, memory and a higher resolution screen, which all interface with new and enhanced sensors and slicker motors.
The EV3 has seen build times reduced due to ingenious touches that will make users of NXT gently nod in recognition that LEGO really did listen to their feedback. EV3 simply provides superb robotics and (let’s not forget) data-logging functionalities. The EV3 also boasts backwards compatibility with previous generations of MINDSTORMS in terms of both hardware and software.
I am, unashamedly, a LEGO Education fan. Essentially because I love being in learning environments where young people are excited about learning. Over the past three years, I have worked with LEGO Education to develop innovative and exciting approaches to teaching and learning. It has given me the opportunity to work with thousands of students and hundreds of teachers using LEGO Education resources. It is, purely and simply, a great job!
In Warwickshire thousands of students learn with LEGO and we now have ten LEGO Education Innovation Studios. These are exciting “hands on” hubs in a school that make use of a range of LEGO Education products to engage and inspire young people.
In addition to MINDSTORMS, they utilise sensors and control technology to bring their LEGO WeDo alligator to life or problem-solve by constructing vehicles with LEGO Simple Powered Machines and then utilise renewable energy kits to bring them to life. I get to teach these students key concepts and then watch as they apply them, putting their constructions to the test.
You can see them thinking: “I designed that… I constructed that… I tested that… I re-engineered that… and I generated the power for that!"
The studios support an ethos where numeracy and literacy skills are applied without mention and where all those soft skills that employers are crying out for – problem solving, collaborating, team work, independent learning, and deeper questioning – come to the fore.
Developing these studios in schools has also got teachers thinking more about the power of learning environments. I have a base in Warwick where we have developed our own studio: it’s modern, light, bright, happy and fun (topped off with lime green furniture!) Some schools have recreated the idea; others have adapted it. Ultimately, it has inspired people to think differently.
'You immediately know that things are going to go up a gear'
One secondary school teacher telephoned me recently to explain that he had painted a wall lime green in his classroom! I didn’t quite know how to respond at the time, but when you walk into that room you immediately know that things are going to go up a gear. And, for the record, they do. It’s a creative environment where you hear students say, “I get it now!", "If I change this ..." or “Wow – it works!” The outcomes of the lessons are often even more creative and innovative than the teacher anticipated.
I have often found myself in that situation. I was recently working with a group of 10-year-olds on developing a model using MINDSTORMS. It was a model that I had built and programmed a hundred times before. You can imagine how highly polished and well programmed this vehicle was! There were many questions from students as they built and programmed: ”How… Why… What if…?”
One student in particular asked a stream of questions; digging deeper and deeper. I remember thinking ’This could be good’. At the end of the session, on the LEGO racetrack, he executed his program on his robot and it stormed around the track. It was so much better than mine! Afterwards, I went across and asked in wonder, ”How… Why… What if…?” Utilising some well-developed soft skills, he explained where I might look to re-engineer my robot and how I might amend my program. We will rematch one day. I will be armed with an EV3 and its all new ball-bearing ’wheel’. It will make all the difference. I hope!
All of our schools with LEGO Education Innovation Studios have had staff trained through the LEGO Academy. It is great to watch teachers learn. Many simply seem invigorated by the experience. It is possible as a teacher to forget what it is like to learn.
The LEGO Education Innovation Studio Concept works. Anyone can walk into these environments and discover young people absorbed in activities, challenged, engaged, motivated and developing a depth to their learning. You will see students soaking up learning, wanting more and willing to take risks while working with teachers who are full of energy and enthusiasm.
It is great to be challenged and to be excited by learning. I am so looking forward to creating the LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 snake: the Reptar. It will be challenging and tough but I simply can’t wait and, more important neither can the students. Anyone who might be worried that ICT lessons are “dull and boring”, really should look to learning with LEGO in 2013 and beyond.
John Pinkney is an ICT consultant for Warwickshire LA ICT Development Service. He has extensive teaching, management and leadership experience as a head of ICT and as an assistant headteacher in a large secondary school
To talk to John Pinkney about LEGO Education Innovation Studios, join him at BETT on the LEGO Education stands, or find out more at www.splashofcreativity.co.uk