Monday, June 12, 2017

Pop Up Thinglab 25: Freestyle Education Mindstorms

Pop Up Thinglab 25 was the first outing for our Mindstorms Thinglab

Inspired by the visionary ideas of Seymour Papert in Mindstorms, Constructionism and his Eight Big Ideas Behind the Constructionist Learning Lab our Mindstorms Thinglab is an exploration of tangible learning - we use technology as "objects to think with" and programming as a way of learning.

There is a long and deep connection between Seymour Papert, his ideas about learning and the LEGO company. The LEGO company endowed a chair at the MIT Media Lab and Papert became the first LEGO Professor of Learning Research. Papert's book Mindstorms and his constructionist theory of learning inspired the LEGO Mindstorms "Robotics Invention System kit"

It is with the third generation of LEGO Mindstorms (EV3) and the ideas of Seymour Papert that we that we have developed our inspireNshare constructionist learning lab and makerspace called Mindstorms Thinglab.

LEGO Mindstorms is a wonderland of possibilities for invention and imagination but for first time users the full Mindstorms kit can be overwhelming and feel like being thrown into the deep end and the demonstration builds take a lot of time and patience to get started with.

It's difficult to make something simple

LEGO Mindstorms is exciting and you just want to get started quickly with something you can make and program to move around ... its with this in mind that we have spent a lot of time researching and developing some simple and quick robot builds and a simple programming app to use with them. To get started we have developed a simple robot called "Buttons" that can be easily made and programmed to move around with our app in less than 10 minutes.

If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.” ~ Albert Einstein

Pop Up Thinglab 25 was a true learning lab with Whyteleafe Primary school - putting our Mindstorms Thinglab to the test with their young learners.

Pop Up Thinglab 25 was a mutual learning lab - for us to learn from the children, for the children to learn from us and for everyone to learn from each other. It was with this in mind that we left the sessions open ended and to see what was possible we let the children learn free-style and self-learn how to make, program and use the robots.

I was amazed

My expectations were exceeded - the children worked in pairs and using the build guide by themselves made the robot and started programming it with our app in under 10 minutes with no need for explanation.

Learning is natural and we should never underestimate the ability of young learners.

"kids are motivated and inspired to learn when they are using that learning to make something they care about, that a teacher’s most important role is to provide them with the tools and freedom to make those things" ~ Seymour Papert

Free-style learning let the children apply their natural learning style. Some of the groups were highly organised and analytical ... unpacking the robot kit and carefully laying out and organising all the pieces and thinking about the build before beginning while other groups dived straight in with a more trial and error approach. We talked about the the tortoise and the hare story ... the groups that dived in made quick progress but were slowed down by mistakes that required them to undo and remake parts of the robot while the groups that organised themselves took time to get started but once started progressed quickly.

There was plenty of time for the children to experiment with the additional features of the Buttons robot - we showed some children the combination to get to the secret menu to adjust the speed and distance of the robots move and watched how word spread and they showed each other how to use the settings. Some children used the "Nemo" extension for the robot to hold a pen and draw while others used the Agripper extension for the robot to grab hold of things.

To program the robot to draw a square you have to "empathise" with the robot ... imagine its point of view and understand its position to understand which way to turn and move. I've seen many adults struggle to program the robot to draw a square but the children in in Pop Up Thinglab 25 had no problem at all with imagination ... programming the robot to draw a square quickly and easily and going on to attempt multiple connected squares in all directions.

Pop Up Thinglab 25 passed its test with young learners - it was a wonderful confirmation of the power of Seymour Papert's constructionism learning theory in action and the importance of preparation .. in taking the time to make things easy and to make the complicated simple.

To find out more about the inspireNshare approach to education, technology and EdTech visit

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