Monday, July 27, 2015

Our Favorite MINDSTORMS EV3 Projects With Instructions

Image from Danny's Lab
Looking for LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 projects that go beyond the basics to teach more advanced robotics and programming skills? We dug deep to find out absolute favorite MINDSTORMS EV3 projects.

What is MINDSTORMS EV3?   

The toys that taught generations of children to think like architects are now giving kids the opportunity to learn computer engineering and programming through robotics. Kits like the LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 come with hardware and software to bring to life fully functional robots in infinite configurations. The development environment uses graphical representations of code to simplify the programming process for learners.

Despite this new user-friendly learning environment, the complexity of devices children can create is limited only by their imaginations. As they progress in their programming skills, they can shift from the graphical interface to pure code. With numerous add-on motors, batteries, and sensors, robots can be expanded and upgraded to perform new and more complex functions. Here is a look at some of our favorite MINDSTORMS EV3 ideas from across the web.


Solving a Rubik's Cube is an impressive feat, but teaching a robot how to do it is the ultimate test of your child's problem-solving abilities. In doing so, your child will also learn about the mechanics of color sensing.


Build a replica of Disney Pixar’s WALL•E and teach him how to play a number guessing game. In order to help WALL-EV3 make hairpin turns and travel in a straight path on uneven ground, your child must learn about the principles of gyroscopes.

The Tic-Tac-Toe Robot Arm

Build your own robotic tic-tac-toe playing partner. This machine uses a sensor to detect which spaces on a grid are empty and then uses an algorithm to decide on the best move. This project serves as an advanced lesson in designing decision trees.

The EV3 Color Sorter

Speaking of color sensing, the Color Sorter builds on the lessons learned from the MindCub3r project by adding touch sensors into the mix. This tutorial walks your child through creating a device that dispenses objects and organizes them by hue.

Spirograph Automaton

Your child can learn all about automation by making his or her own drawing machine. The Spirograph can be used to mass produce pictures of any pattern your child can program. Kids can even add a coin detector to monetize their hard work.

The location of the building instructions on this web page isn’t obvious, so we’ve included a link here.

EV3 SUMO Robot

Building a SUMO Robot is a great way for kids to learn about automobile construction while safely living out their demolition derby fantasies. This bulldozer can lift and transport small objects, but it is intentionally designed for destruction. This makes for a great group project as kids can compete to see who can build the strongest bot.

LEGO Printer

Instead of finding out how printers work by taking them apart, kids can now learn by putting together their own. In 58 steps, your child can make his or her own working printer. Aside from meticulous construction skills, this project requires mastery of coordinate systems.

Self-Balancing Robot

This tutorial teaches the fundamentals of gyroscopes to help two different robots stand upright and move around on just two wheels. It also suggests additional challenges without providing step-by-step instructions, which requires kids to apply their knowledge to come up with their own creations.


These are just a handful of our favorite EV3 activities. There are lots more out there! Do you have a favorite EV3 project? Let us know in the comments!

Monday, July 20, 2015

How to Teach Geography & World History with LEGO

After decades of popularity, children continue to enjoy stretching their imaginations through creative building with LEGO and by acting out narratives with their creations and the help of favorite minifigures. This desire for exploratory learning and narrative building persists even through competition from technologies offering instantaneous thrills. Not only does building with LEGO teach children valuable hard skills, such as architecture and design, but studies have shown that they can function as aids to improving social skills, interpersonal awareness, and contextualizing new information.

Advantages of Teaching World History & Geography with LEGO

Educators often find teaching children history and world affairs to be challenging undertakings. For the most part, young children have little interest in world affairs. Their narrower, shorter experience of social complexity render incomprehensible the vastness of global affairs, entities, and histories. Thus, many people go through life without a clear understanding of the world's geography, political histories, or even the roots of their local community. Parents and educators are increasingly turning to interactive learning strategies to teach young children about the broader world and its complex social history at earlier ages.

Why Teach World History?

Children who grow up with awareness of world geography and geopolitical history often feel more connected with a desire to improve on and learn from history. Knowledge of geography can also help children grow up with stronger cultural sensitivity, an important faculty in a globalized world. Furthermore, research has shown that children who learn through interpersonal play mediums such as LEGO tend to grow up with well-developed empathy. The creative aspect of LEGO, where children can develop storylines describing fictional settings and characters, also enhances the learning experience by stimulating a child's creative capacity and further boosting empathy skills. In fact, engagement with fictional and non-fictional storytelling is a strong precursor for interpersonal success.

Given these facts, many parents and educators wonder how to teach geography and world history. LEGO activities like historical reenactments and mapmaking are ideal for teaching children about geography. They tend to capture a child's interest while teaching multiple skills and faculties simultaneously.

A Fun History Learning Exercise

Both educators and parents can leverage LEGO to teach children valuable geography and history skills. Since LEGO creations are easy to take apart and reassemble, the features of any terrain or geopolitical entity can be studied through the aid of these building blocks. The following activity exposes kids to geography through map-making and important historical narratives within and between countries.

1. Introduce in Fun, Educational Ways

To prevent children from learning to dislike geography or history, ensure to approach this exercise in a positive and fun way. Encourage children to work with their friends, and time should be allocated to account for a child's natural tendency to get distracted as they experiment. Children should be situated in a structured environment where they are monitored by adults and obligated to take an active role in the activity. Assemble the children in one room, encourage them to work together, and make sure that they are ready to learn.

2. Associate LEGO Blocks With Culture

The best way to start this exercise is to tell a story associated with the geographical location they will be learning about. Stories can either be told from memory or with the aid of a children's book. As the story is read, children should be asked to identify LEGO characters and items that they imagine being associated with the culture of the places mentioned in the story. The goal of this activity is to captivate a child's imagination so that his or her creativity can flow as the exercise gets underway.

Image by Milk & Cookies, a homeschooling blog
3. Draw Maps With LEGO Blocks

Distribute printed handouts with a map of the area being studied. You can even provide children with maps of different countries that all play a role in a historical event. World Atlas has free, printable maps that are perfect for this exercise. Children should be asked to describe what they see on the map. Educators should go over what the map represents, including landmarks, terrain, and cities, before proceeding to the next step. Now have the children use LEGO bricks in the colors of a country’s flag to fill in the shape of the map. Finally, stack bricks on this first layer and build geographical features like mountains and cities onto it.

4. Have Kids Work Together

Children should be encouraged to be creative by applying themes discussed in the story to give their maps an extra level of detail. Educators should also display the flags of nations or states depicted on the maps to encourage children to associate these territories with their flags. Throughout this step, children should work with their peers to reinforce the value of collaboration and teamwork. They can even act out events in the area and time period being discussed.

5. Ask Kids to Rebuild Maps From Memory

The final step of this exercise is to rebuild the map without the use of visual aids. It is important to ensure that children understand the original map before initiating this exercise. Children can quickly become frustrated and upset when they do not understand what they are supposed to be building. Keep this activity fun and beneficial by answering any questions and encouraging children to collaborate with their peers.

The activity described here was inspired by this post from Amy of Milk and Cookies blog. Amy homeschools her son, runs Milk and Cookies blog, co-owns a social media marketing company, and is a brand ambassador for LEGO Education©. Check out the Milk and Cookies blog for tons of fun home-learning activities by an expert homeschooler.