New LEGO WeDo Kits Reviewed!

7 Dec


Yesterday was a big day. The LEGO kits I ordered finally arrived. I have been pushing the idea of implementing LEGO curriculum starting in Grade 1 since I arrived here last September, so as you can imagine I was overjoyed to open box after box all full of LEGO WeDo and NXT kits.

I spent the majority of the day working my way through 20 WeDo “Get Started” tutorials, exploring the software interface, and putting together my first self-designed automated LEGO car. What a blast!

Here are my initial observations regrarding the LEGO WeDo Kits, Software and Curriculum:

Observation #1: The getting started tutorials rock.

The LEGO WeDo “Getting Started” tutorials are definitely a great place to start if you will be implementing the LEGO WeDo curriculum or using the kits in the classroom. After completing all twenty tutorials and following along in the teacher’s guide I now have a good grasp of:

  • The vocabulary needed to describe kit parts (cam, sensor, bushing, belt, gear, worm gear…)
  • The vocabulary needed to describe what can be observed (ie. the motor is turning the driving gear and the following gear is turning clockwise)
  • The WeDo software interface and its programming objects
  • The vocabulary used to describe the interface and its objects (Motor On button, Send Message button, Wait button…)
  • The questions to pose to students when they are introduced to and begin working through the tutorials (Are both the gears turning in the same direction? Which pulley is moving faster? What do you think the cam is used for?)

While the getting started tutorials are easy to follow for an adult or an older student, I do foresee having to do some significant initial training with younger students. I think it will be beneficial to spend the first few lessons learning how to access the tutorials, how to choose the correct pieces by matching them to the on-screen materials list, how to rotate the on-screen model, and how to use spatial skills to construct the models and compare them.

Observation #2: If a teacher can read a manual, ask probing questions, manage behavior and not be a total control freak, then he or she can teach the LEGO WeDo curriculum.

So far, the teachers guide appears to be well written and easy to follow. Teachers do not need to have experience with robotics to use the kits or to teach the WeDo curriculum. What will be most important for successful implementation is finding teachers that are able to act as facilitators during lessons, who will teach using inquiry-based methods, and who will get out of the way of the kids so that they can learn. Luckily, the teacher’s manual includes a few well though-out questions, so even a teacher new to inquiry-based teaching can get started. In addition to asking the right questions, I foresee good classroom management skills as another key pre-requisite for teaching WeDo curriculum because…

Observation #3: There are lots of tiny little pieces.

There are a number of very small parts. For little hands, it will be important to have a plan in place prior to piloting in the classroom. Without a plan for how the kits will be stored, maintained and used in the classroom, and without a behavior management strategy, these kits (which are not super expensive but not cheap either) will be rendered useless within weeks.
I am dabbling with the idea of creating “LEGO felt boards”. I have access to power tools, press board, felt and glue are pretty affordable and I’m pretty crafty, so I think I can make it happen. I’m imaging a rectangular, felt-covered surface with a small 3/4″ lip. The felt will be handy for creating a surface with some friction to keep pieces for sliding around and to help wheels move more easily. The lip will give a visual boundary for students and help them remember to “keep pieces either on the mat or in the box”. (If I make them and find them helpful, I’ll be sure to post photos & design plans.)
Observation #4: There are enough pieces to allow for creative play and exploration, so kids can use imagination to make “cool stuff” on their own.
One of the concerns I had about the LEGO WeDo kits was that students and teachers might be limited creatively by the pieces in the kit. I worried that, outside of the prepared projects shown in the included blueprints, there might not be room to just “make something cool”. So I ended my day by challenging myself to build a car that could move in two directions and that I could speed up and slow down. (Keep in mind… I am brand new to robotics.) Here is what I came up with!

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