Lego Mindstorms

by Jonathan Gennick

Friday I had great fun visiting a Lego Robotics class at Great
Lakes Adventist Academy
in Cedar Lake, Michigan. I'm learning that many
schools teach classes involving Lego
, a family of Lego products combining the study of robotics and
programming. There's even an international competion run by First
Lego League International
. I'm very interested in all this.

Friday's class began with one team finishing a previously assigned problem
that involved having their robot push black film-canisters out of a circle while
leaving white film-canisters in place inside the circle. There were a few bugs
to begin with, but after a few trial runs and adjustments the team managed to
produce a working solution. Cool!

Steve and Alan

Students work together to solve "problems" posed by the teacher

The teacher then gave out the next problem, a rather interesting "enhancement"
of the previous. I was impressed at the way team members worked together to
attack the new challenge. I was even more impressed when I saw students reusing
code, building their new program using previously developed solutions for simpler
problems. For example, the students all seemed to have a canned line-following
routine that they could just drop-in when needed.

Lego Mindstorms look to be a really fun way to develop logic and problem-solving
skills. And when you're done writing a program, you have something tangible
that anyone, programmer or non-programmer, can appreciate. Kids today sure are

I want to learn more. Post below, or drop me a line ( if you're using Lego Mindstorms at school. Let me know what you're doing and how it's working.


2003-12-08 10:09:07
Remember Logo?
Granted, not as flexible or utterly cool as Midstorms, but Logo was da bomb back in my day (my day being 1985, when I was in fifth grade... do the math...)

What was cool about Logo was that it taught you a bit of procedural programming (do this, then do this, then do this), some geometry (most of the procedures were distance and turn radius commands) and some basic programming to boot (loops, if-thens, etc.). This was before OOP was the big buzzword, so it was pretty hightech for what we had. PLUS, you could hook up a robotic "turtle" to your serial port and actually draw your Logo programs on actual paper. Very nifty.

Makes me wonder what the next generation will play with to learn their programming skills.

-- Rob Z.

2003-12-08 11:29:08
Another cool modular robotic kit
Jonathan Gennick
2003-12-08 11:34:49
Remember Logo?
I do remember Logo, though I only played around with it once for a couple of days. What I see the kid doing with Lego (at least so far) resembles your description of using Logo. (Logo, Lego, they're oh, so close). The big difference I see is that with Lego programming, the results are tangible, physical, and that's actually a lot of fun. One of the kids showed me a killer robot that would beam "turn off" signals at any other robot on the floor. He'd thrown it together one day as a lark.
2003-12-08 21:33:27
Remember Logo?
Well, I just started grad school in Northwestern University's "Learning Sciences" program (which combines computer science, cognitive science, design, and education) with the express purpose of building new, better tools for students.

And you know what? Logo is still totally cool and amazing. Uri Wilensky (who will probably be my PhD advisor) has been extending Logo for years, and has produced NetLogo, which lets you create all sorts of cool high-level models in Logo. Yeah, you're still using turtles -- but now you have hundreds or thousands of them, each representing a gas molecule, an ant, or a family. You can check out NetLogo at

2003-12-29 11:48:11
Remember Logo?
I'm pretty sure MindStorms came from the same lab that Logo did.


Adam Fistival
2006-05-10 17:55:56
my team lego robot is now ready to compete