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LEGO Mindstorms
Mindstorms.LEGO.com

Who doesn't like building with LEGOs? Mindstorms take you one step further than just building, they let you make your creations come to life. Mindstorms mix LEGO building with computer programming. Students can build a creation of their choosing and by programming motors and sensors they can bring that creation to life. They have the ability to do things like color sensing, using audio sensor, motion and pressure sensors and more. It really bring robotics to a young age. If your students are old enough to build with small lego bricks they should be able to build with Mindstorms. But where I have seen the most success with Mindstorms is in grades 4th and higher. Also due to cost I have seen the Mindstorm kits used mainly in small group station settings and in after school technology clubs.

Building with these LEGO sets is easy. You can follow LEGO's pre designed blueprints for specific creations, explore the Internet for other builders designs or create your own. Then you use LEGO's own programming language to make the creations work. The programming is easy once you figure out what all the different programming blocks do and how to manipulate the variables. There are several books to help simplify the process or after building a creation or two you get the hang of it. The LEGO programming language is a variation of a graphical Logo language. It is very similar to Scratch which is another version of Logo. It is all color coded drag and drop.

As for the price: The starting price on a Mindstorm kit is $349. Keep in mind this is for the Consumer version. The Education version is $349 but you need to purchase the programming software at a cost of $99. The advantage to this is you get $100 worth of more parts in the Educational kit. You get a second "brain" and an additional motor. The other big difference is the pre design creations for each version. The Educational version is more school-centric. They are creations that can be used in class, for experiments and such. Whereas the Consumer version is more designed around robots and creatures. Excluding the need for the extra motors or such you can pretty much build each sets creations so you have to make the decision which version best fits your desired outcomes. The other thing to keep in mind is the educational version can only be purchased through LEGO so the price is set. The Consumer version can be purchased at most toy stores, Amazon and such so there could be some long term cost savings. Most cases where I have seen Mindstorms used the school is using the Consumer version. The main focus is getting the students creating and programming. The students find the robots so much more fun. You just have to watch the licensing for installing the coding software to make sure it is not installed on too many computers.

See some Lego Mindstorm robots in action (Videos links will take you to YouTube):