Friday, September 25, 2015

8 Cool NXT 2.0 Robot Build Projects to Hone Your Skills

NXT 2.0 was the sequel to the original MINDSTORMS platform, NXT 1.0, and the precursor to EV3. While the LEGO Group has retired NXT 2.0, there are still lots of people building with the platform and plenty of projects for honing one’s robotics skills. We’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite LEGO NXT 2.0 projects with instructions, ordered by difficulty. If you’re looking for more cool NXT 2.0 projects to build your skills, look no further! There’s still plenty of life left in NXT robots.

NXT Musical Sequencer

Image by Damien Kee
Difficulty: 1

The NXT Musical Sequencer is a simple robot to create and can easily be built and programmed by beginner NXT 2.0 users. This robot is made using only the intelligent brick, a color sensor, and a large gear. However, you will need a set of solid-colored balls that can fit into the large gear serving as a base. When it is activated, the Sequencer spins in a circle, and the sensor detects the colors of the balls placed along the track.

The purpose of the Sequencer is to produce music. Each color is assigned a tone, while black, the color of the track, is programmed to play no note at all. You can change the tone and the gap between each tone by altering the arrangement of the colored balls on the track. The program is straightforward to create, because it only has three processes: spin, read the color, and play the note assigned to each color.

Electric Guitar

Image by
Difficulty: 2

This robot is extremely fun to build and use, but it is not exactly a robot. It is a working musical instrument that is perfect for beginners because it has only one moving part and the programming has already been done. The LEGO NXT 2.0 guitar can be easily built by using the brick as the guitar body surrounded by a frame of your design. Next, all you have to do is create a long arm with a sensor at the end and a platform that slides up and down the arm. The sensor detects how far away the platform is, and different notes are programmed to play at various distances.

The Guitar Tones program can be downloaded online and manually installed into the NXT Sounds folder. If you know your chords, you can then play an array of songs to impress your friends.

Grabber Arm

Image by MINDSTORMER 2.0
Difficulty: 3

The Grabber Arm is not a new concept, but it simplifies existing single-arm robots. This design has four key elements: a stationary base, a tilting midsection, the NXT 2.0 brick on the back of the arm, and clawed pincers on the other end of the arm. What makes this robot especially attractive is that it can be built using only the parts included in the NXT 2.0 kit, and the fact that the Grabber Arm is the first robot the designer ever built is very encouraging for beginners.

This robot uses only the base programming included in the NXT 2.0 block, but the fact that it doesn’t use any sensors is a double-edged sword. The absence of sensors adds to its simplicity, but this means it can only be controlled manually.

Four-Legged Robot

Image by
Difficulty: 4

The Four-Legged Robot is one of the easiest mobile robots you can create with the LEGO NXT 2.0. It is basically a rectangular body with five gears on each side connected to two motors and four legs. Even though it is extremely simple, the great thing about the Four-Legged Robot is that it can be used as a framework for building a vast array of other robots. Your imagination is the only limitation.

Another awesome aspect of this robot is that it is easy to program. A program that makes it walk forward can be written in only a matter of minutes. However, you can create a walking robot that is more complex and versatile by adding sensors and additional programming. This is definitely the robot to start with if you are interested in designing new ones yourself.


Image by Timothy Endersby
Difficulty: 5

The Off-Roader is a four-by-four, remote-controlled truck that is relatively easy to build, and it is one of the best projects for beginners because it doesn’t have any moving parts other than the wheels and front steering. This vehicle uses two motors side by side for true four-wheel-drive action. It can be built using the standard NXT 2.0 kit, but a few optional items increase the vehicle’s versatility. If you can find four oversized wheels, they work much better than the stock wheels do, but you will have to gear down the motor to a ratio of 1:2.

Another optional accessory for the Off-Roader is a PSP-NX 2 joystick, which makes it very easy to control, but a separate program is available that utilizes the NXT 2.0 touch sensor to create a rudimentary wired controller.

Chainsaw Tank

Image by NXTHacker
Difficulty: 6

The Chainsaw Tank is an intermediate-level robot that has the potential to become an advanced project. The real challenge with it is that it has plenty of moving parts, so some skill with gears, gearing ratios, and belts is required to get the crane-like arm to move correctly and the saw blade to spin. One of the best things about this robot is that it can be used as a base to create an assortment of other tanks. The body is exceptionally solid, and the tracked wheels allow it to move over a variety of surfaces.

The parts required for this robot are all included in the basic MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 kit, and the programming is already available in the NXT software after loading it onto your computer. Only slight programming modifications are necessary, but they can be made as complex as you want them to be.


Image by NXTHacker
Difficulty: 7

The Scorpion robot was built using the LEGO NXT 2.0 Bonus Model by the name of Spike, but it was slightly modified to give it an extended, protracting tail. The original Spike is perfect for intermediate builders who want to move away from simpler robots, which really means robots with fewer movable limbs.

The Scorpion requires some skill in connecting multiple legs to a single belt. The real challenge with this robot, however, is its claws, and many of those who try to build Spike simply leave the claws off because they are too advanced. Programming can be accomplished with NXT 2.0 software, but it can be tricky because of the independently moving claws and tail. However, a fully functional program is available for download.


Image by Motors are Fun
Difficulty: 8

MindCuber is one of the most recognized LEGO robots, and it is very popular among NXT 2.0 builders. As impressive as MindCuber is, it has only one purpose: to solve a Rubik’s Cube. This robot is difficult to piece together because it has so many small moving parts, and there is little room for deviation. The most difficult aspect of MindCuber, however, is the programming. Fortunately, the programming has already been accomplished, and all you have to do is download and install it on the NXT 2.0 block.

MindCuber requires you to have excellent manual dexterity and to be able to understand abstract elements before they are put together as a whole. It is also a great platform for testing and expanding your knowledge of robotics and programming. Developing deviations of the original MindCuber can lead you into the world of advanced design and programming.


Have any other favorite NXT 2.0 projects that we missed? Let us know on social media or in a comment below, and we’ll add it to an honorable mentions list!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Teach Writing & Storytelling with LEGO

Communication and storytelling are two important components for helping children develop social skills and empathy, skills that are critical for success in our highly social world. Two psychologists at New York's New School for Social Research proved that literary fiction helps increase one’s ability to understand others' emotions and empathize with them. From social skill development to language pattern recognition, education experts at Yale point out that storytelling has a variety of cognitive benefits for children.

So then, the question is how to teach kids to write in ways that foster enthusiasm and effective learning. LEGO, of course! These classic manipulatives that we know and love are the perfect tool for narrative building with children.

Benefits of Storytelling and Literature

Parents know that communicating with their kids and talking to them every day is important for developing verbal and social skills. However, having them read stories, tell stories, and write stories helps children immensely as well. Research has shown that storytelling has numerous cognitive, emotional, and social benefits. It facilitates the child’s social aptitude through identification with important themes and favorite characters while also exercising the imagination.

Critical Thinking

When kids tell their own stories, they learn to use critical thinking skills. Developing a story plot and ensuring that the details connect requires the use of logic and critical thinking. For example, a child may start to make up a story about a person in trouble, and then must think of ways for that person to get out of trouble. This exploratory activity familiarizes them with rational modes of thinking.

Pattern Recognition

Reading and storytelling are good ways to help children recognize patterns in ideas and language. When they recognize speech patterns, they gain a firmer grasp on their language. In relation to situations, pattern recognition can help them learn what people feel or how they react when certain things happen.

Problem Solving

This skill is closely related to critical thinking. Storytelling often involves solving a problem or remedying a situation — there is always an outcome. This helps them find ways to focus on good outcomes and use problem solving to help others in social settings. Children learn about cause and effect as well as how their decisions can both create and solve problems.

Linguistic Abilities and Communication

Telling stories and talking aloud can help children develop confidence when speaking in front of others. They foster a joy for reading — the importance of which can’t be overstated. A love of reading will keep them sharp, growing, and ahead of the pack throughout their lives. Research also shows that children who are active in reading and storytelling have an easier time learning foreign languages.

Social Skills and Empathy

Reading and telling stories can expose children to a wide variety of situations, solutions, and details that are relevant to real life. They learn how to solve common problems, understand how situations make people feel, and how to communicate with others. They see patterns of actions and reactions among characters across stories. The distilled life experiences of the author allow him or her to relay important knowledge about the human situation.

Storytelling with LEGO Curricula

Parents and teachers can take a proactive approach to help kids develop their storytelling and writing skills by asking them to build LEGO sets and make a story out of them. You can also use one of LEGO Education’s official curricula sets. Below, we discuss the two LEGO curricula geared toward developing these skills, followed by some ideas for using your own LEGO collection to achieve these goals.

BuildToExpress for Pre-Kindergarten Through Fifth Grade

This technique blends hands-on learning with facilitative teaching. It is designed to promote critical thinking in students while allowing them to create LEGO building projects with nonjudgmental and open questions. Building projects are based on various subjects. When students complete their LEGO building projects, they must verbally explain what they just built and connect its relevance to the topic. Hands-on learning helps kids develop a better understanding of what they read and observe. This set teaches communication skills, language, teamwork, and empathy.

StoryStarter for Grades Two Through Five

StoryStarter is also a hands-on learning tool from LEGO. This program focuses on literacy and language. With the help of expert teachers across the country, StoryStarter was made to motivate students in this age group to read, write, and become confident storytellers in both spoken and written form. The StoryStarter kit from LEGO comes with several bricks, a visualization software tool, and curriculum with activities in several categories. These categories include an introductory module, everyday storytelling skills, making and telling stories, and skills for retelling and analyzing stories. This set helps teach language and computer literacy, social skills, communication skills, and empathy.

Storytelling with LEGOs At Home

While LEGO Education sets are nice to have, there is no need to spend money on specific LEGO sets to achieve these goals. With some LEGO blocks and a few accessories, let kids use their imaginations and creativity to build something unique. Use these steps to turn a fun playtime activity into a valuable learning and development tool.
  1. Encourage kids to make a scene or project and explain it. Ask questions about the creation. What year is it in this scene? Who are the people? What are they feeling? What are they doing? Ask where certain items came from and why they are there. Remember these points or jot them down to use as story building tools.
  2. Ask to hear a story about the scene. Repeat some of the child's answers to the previous questions. Use pointed questions to help the child form a story. Ask the child to use those details to verbally tell a story about the scene. Have the child write a more detailed story after telling the verbal story.
  3. Ask for a turn at storytelling. To show a child that there are different ways to view situations and that people have different views, ask for a turn to tell a different story for the scene. Encourage the child to offer feedback and ask questions.
  4. Make a movie out of it. Ask the child to repeat the story in greater detail on camera. Use a camera on a tripod, a cellphone camera, or any recording device. This can help children develop speaking confidence as well as social skills. Then, consider helping your child edit the story to make an actual stop-motion short. You can easily find instructions for making LEGO stop-motion videos on Pinterest or via Google.
Have any other ideas for using LEGO or other manipulatives to teach these skills? We’d love to hear them! Comment below or share your thoughts with us on social media.