LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3 and STEM Learning

STEM is a HOT Topic!

STEM learning is a hot topic at the moment. The four educational disciplines known as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics have never been so important. No one can deny that technology has had a profound effect on our lives. The way we work, communicate, procrastinate and organise ourselves has changed. A child needs to engross themselves in technology in order to simply function in today’s world.

LEGO Mindstorms EV3 education kit

However, children need to go one step further. Not only do they need to understand how to use technology, they also have to know how it all works. Ultimately, teachers are preparing learners for jobs that don’t even exist yet. This is where Science, Engineering and Mathematics comes in. We cannot predict technological developments or how this will effect the jobs of the future. All we can do is equip children with the tools that make up the foundation of innovation. That foundation is STEM. 



LEGO® Education have managed to produce a product that has an impact on all four areas. That product is called LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3 and is available in a handy two person kit. Before jumping in to how one kit can have bearing on four different educational areas, I suppose I should explain what EV3 is… A LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3 kit enables children to build and programme their own engineered robot that can roam, lift, seek, follow, detect and react. With the help of intelligent sensors and robust motors a child can use the Programming Application (available on a whole host of devices) to solve simple or complex tasks. So essentially you have a physical construction that can be programmed by the app.

It sounds simple but the educational worth is huge. I will now explain how just one kit can encompass the holistic goals of STEM. However, I won’t necessarily stick to the order that the acronym suggests…

ENGINEERING 


Engineering seems like the best place to start. After all we are talking about LEGO. The blocks are ultimately made for building. The ethos behind constructing an EV3 robot is no different. The kit comes with an instruction manual that guides children through the building of certain robots. These step-by-step guides have an obvious link to engineering. The logical steps represent the core of what engineering is all about. Children actively engineer whilst they follow the instructions. However, the kits offer much more than a guided look at construction. Like LEGO outside of education, you can of course build your own creations. This is one of the many elements that sets the EV3 kit apart from other programmable resources out there. Children can use their imaginations and combine the pieces to make something entirely unique. From an engineering point of view, this flexibility is absolutely crucial. A teacher can present learners with a problem and the task can be all about building something to solve it. Again, this is the very essence of engineering. Ultimately, as soon as a child opens a LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3 kit they will engage in engineering.


 

LEGO Mindstorms EV3 education

Technology 


A lot of technology goes in to making a LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3 what it is. The EV3 brick that sits at the centre of any MINDSTORMS creations is a really intelligent industry-standard brain. Understanding how it works can be achieved by engaging in programming activities. A free application is available on most devices and enables learners to programme whatever they have engineered. Motors and a host of sensors enable the EV3 to be instructed and do a great many things with an unambiguous algorithm. The application offers a building block approach to creating programming instructions. Learners can simply control the outputs from the EV3 (which are the motors) and send their robots on a roaming task. Adding sensors brings the opportunity of sending some input into the EV3. This effectively means that children can programme their robots to react to the world around it. The combination of motors and sensors culminates in an unlimited amount of programming tasks ranging from simple movement objectives to complex sorting activities. Whatever the task, a programmed EV3 robot can probably complete it. What’s more, the activities themselves go a long way to explaining how the technologies work. The algorithms behind traffic lights. The operations involved in programming production lines. The input information fed to the sensors on an automatic till. These are all real life technological examples children can begin to understand if they explore the complexities of programming an EV3 robot.



LEGO Mindstorms EV3 education

Science and Mathematics 


Both science and mathematics are intrinsically linked with all aspects of an EV3 kit. The two go hand in hand. It doesn’t take long for a child to start using their mathematical knowledge as they begin to build an EV3 robot. Measurements and counting are just two aspects of numeracy that a child will have to utilise when following the instructions. The strength of the materials and a knowledge of construction is inherently scientific. However, the programming side of an EV3 kit is where most of the maths and science is seen. Understanding rotations and degrees are both essential when programming movements. Identifying variables becomes a big part of any programming task. Adding the sensors to an EV3 robot is a great way of adding more science and math dependent operations. The light sensor uses reflectivity and is closely linked to spectrums of colour. Likewise, the gyro sensor has obvious links to science. Maths and science have a bearing on understanding the proximity sensor. I could go on. The nice thing about using LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3 kit is that the head-scratching elements attached to these last two STEM disciplines can go un-noticed by many children. Their drive to complete tasks often masks the fact that they are having to engage with these higher learning skills.

 

LEGO Mindstorms EV3 in schools

My own personal experiences with EV3 have taught me that the teaching side of things is extremely simple. Children will automatically engage with LEGO and will build happily with very little instruction from you. Likewise, the programming application is very intuitive. The whole set up supports play based learning. Exploration is the real key to unlocking an EV3 robot’s power. Curiosity will help children engineer weird and wonderful creations. Determination enables a learner to master programming. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are all undeniably important within education but a LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3 kit can potentially do more. It can help children to master even more important life skills.




To find out more about LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3, check out our dedicated web page.


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Nick Acton is a qualified Primary School teacher and our Education Curriculum Specialist. 

Get in touch with Nick - [email protected]