Having fitted their robot together, the pupils program its behaviour on a computer, using the LEGO Mindstorms software. They tell it how far to move and how to respond to various kinds of sensory input. This is a great way to introduce children to the logical structures of computer programming, such as if statements and while loops. It also demonstrates to them the importance of another key aspect of computing: testing!
When their program is finished, the pupils upload it to their robot (via its USB port or using Bluetooth). Then, all that’s left to do is put the robot in position, set it running, and watch it go. This is the most exciting and rewarding part of the process for the pupils, mirroring the anticipation of a successfully functioning piece of software. Of course, things don’t always go to plan, but debugging (another essential aspect of software development) is generally approached with enthusiasm: pupils are eager to discover what went wrong with their robot and fix it.
Stanborough School has become a leader in the field of LEGO robotics in the local area. We run classes for local primary schools and a summer school for gifted and talented pupils. We recently entered the FIRST LEGO League’s National LEGO Robotics Tournament, having built a strong reputation at the regional finals, in which we won various awards.
Since the club began, the school has invested in additional equipment, including more Mindstorm kits, our own laptop, a digital camera, video camera and secure cupboard. Our ambition is to encourage older club members to become mentors to our cohorts of new pupils, and for teams of robot-building pupils to include positions such as lead programmer, junior programmer and robot engineer. As well as giving pupils something to aspire to, this would introduce them to the teamwork and roles involved in real-life software development.