So, of course all building with LEGO® bricks is fantastic for developing our algorithmic thinking. But LEGO have also designed ranges of products specifically designed to develop coding skills.
LEGO Education has been working with schools and educational specialists for 37 years, although since its establishment over 80 years ago, the LEGO group has been committed to researching how young people play and learn. From the Danish group’s motto, “Le godt” (play well) to its appointment of Professors of Learning and Research, the company has always designed toys that let “a wealth of creative ideas emerge through play”.
That said, it’s no wonder that LEGO are leading the way when it comes to educating young people (and everyone else!) about coding. Many children will use the LEGO programming systems in school; the Mindstorm and WeDo ranges may be familiar to them already. The new LEGO Boost range is more affordably priced (if you’ve already got a suitable tablet) than Mindstorms and is geared more towards play at home.
The three LEGO coding systems below are programmable, powerful and fully compatible with all other LEGO bricks.
The flagship LEGO coding product is the Mindstorms range (RRP £299.99, currently £269.99 on Amazon), which is currently in its third version – the EV3. This Robotics Invention System was launched by LEGO in 1999.
LEGO Mindstorms is programmable in nine different languages including variants on C, Java, Scratch and several drag and drop block programming systems. This flexibility means it really is suitable for any age from around 6 (with lots of help) up to adults.
Younger children can start on the block programming system where commands are chosen visually on an app or on the Mindstorms unit itself and older children and adults can use the Mindstorms system as a gateway to Python, C and Java.
Another selling point for the Mindstorms system is the sheer number of ideas, resources and plans available for it. Like all LEGO systems, it provides “endless opportunities to make sense of things and express new ideas”. There are numerous books (such as the Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book) containing suggested projects for Mindstorms and there are several websites offering plans in pdf format for free. Some of the best projects available online are showcased on our Lab Awesome YouTube channel.
LEGO WeDo (currently £137.58 on Amazon) is a slimmed down version of Mindstorms aimed at Primary School-aged children, currently in its second version, the 2.0.
Lego recommend WeDo for children aged 7 years up and as with Mindstorms there are lots of free resources and plans available online (including lots on the Lego website).
Our 6-year old son, Danny has built several WeDo models and particularly enjoyed building the alligator that snaps its jaws when fed (or jabbed with pencils!). This model has instructions freely available on the LEGO website. There are also updates available that allow it to be programmed in Scratch to make it more versatile.
LEGO Boost (RRP £149.99, currently £117.50 on Amazon) is the newest in the programmable LEGO range and is aimed at children aged between 7 and 12. It comes with plans to make 5 increasingly difficult models, including Vernie the robot and a working guitar(!) culminating in a working LEGO production line that makes LEGO models.
The instructions are suitable for younger children as the instructions on the app don’t require them to be able to read. Users click on the robot that they want to build and then instructions are delivered in levels. Children have to complete simpler parts and stages to unlock more complicated levels of instructions until eventually they will build the whole robot. This system adds to the fun of building, builds confidence and motivates young builders to complete the increasingly difficult challenges.
The programming system uses blocks that are moved around in the LEGO Boost app. Be warned, to run the app (which is required to program the models) you need to have a reasonably up-to-date iPad or Android tablet.
I’ve referred a lot to how children will interact with and enjoy these systems. It goes without saying that kids shouldn’t have all the fun! Below are my five favourite Mindstorms builds…