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About

Damien works with students and teacher from around the world, bringing the effective use of technology to the classroom.  

LEGO MINDSTORMS
Damien is a member of the MCP (Mindstorms Community Program), a small group of experts who collaborate with LEGO to make the MINDSTORM product better.

Google Apps for Edu
Damien has 'Qualified Individual' certification for training teachers to use the Google Apps for Education range of tools.

Books

Teacher Resource Books

DomaBot Map

See where the DomaBot is being used around the world

Monday
Mar252013

LEGO EV3 Training in Sydney

I was very fortunate to help out at the recent Sydney EV3 training.  We had the LEGO distributors plus a few top teachers from Australia in a 2-day hands on 'play' session.  We were able to give them a good play with both the new Hardware and the new Software coming out.

Rob Widger (Global LEGO Master Trainer) led the sessions and was fantastic, and the excitement on the faces of those who will now go out and show off the capabilities of the EV3 was great to see :)

 

Friday
Mar152013

Reversing light and beeper for a NXT Robot

Geraldine on the Mailing list shared a fantastic simple little activity she did with her students.

Just a very simple idea that is working well for me in my workshops, I am sorry if you have already come up with this idea yourself!!!

I get Y6 children (age 10-11) to attach a bulb to the back of Damien's domabot build and then instruct them to ensure it is lit any time that the robot is reversing. This then leads on, to a road safety discussion and it is surprising that the majority of these children don't realise that cars have reversing lights to warn them that they are about to reverse.

Full discussion here

This prompted a bit of a discussion about how such a project could lead on to other subjects.  Geraldine didn't share exactly the program she used, but based on her idea, this is what I came up with. 

The first line will play a note (G) for 0.5 seconds, then wait for 0.5 seconds.  The whole thing is repeated 4 times.

The second line has the robot reversing for 4 seconds at 20 percent power.

The third line uses the Light Sensor block, not to take a measurement, but to toggle the 'Generate Light' function that is used when using the Light Sensor in either Ambient or Reflected mode. 

Becasue all three lines run on their own sequence bar, they will be executed in parallel, that is, the robot will reverse, beep and flash the light all at exactly the same time.

I then turn the whole thing into a MyBlock, so I can use it whenever I want.  This program will have the robot drive up to an obstacle, run the reversing block, turn a bit and then go driving to find the next obstacle.

 

If you're interested, I've document the whole process in the video below :)  (Make sure you watch in HD) 

Friday
Mar082013

Books now available at Amazon Europe websites


I'm a bit late to the game, but now my books have been listed on Amazon Europe websites such as Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, and Amazon.es.

It will probably mean cheaper shipping for those of you that shop from those particular sites.

To find them, just go to your Amazon store of choice and do a search for "Damien Kee" and my books should pop up.

If you've bought a book and have found it useful, please don't hesitate to leave a review, it would make my day! :)

Monday
Mar042013

NXT - Stopping at the end of a line

In a Teacher workshop this week we were looking at ways of following a line. In these workshops I stick with a simple 'wiggle' algorithm just using a Switch statement and some Move Blocks. The group picked it up quickly and we had a little bit of time left at the end, so naturally the question arose, "How do we make it stop at the end?" I took them through a few easy implementations, but when I got home, it occurred to me that we had a similar conversation on the mailing list last year - full discussion here There were quite a few great solutions and ideas put forward (thanks Esther, Ian, Randall, Elwood, Amy and Jon) and I thought it might be useful to turn those ideas into actual code so teachers could get a better idea of how each worked. Simple Line Following (No Stop) Using the very basic line following program shown below, the robot will turn left to see the line and then right to avoid the line. Repeat this forever and the robot will 'wiggle' its way down the line.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Feb262013

NXT On-Brick Programming worksheet

John Middendorf and John Burfoot tossed around a few ideas on the mailing list about how best to utilise the on-board programming of the NXT in the classroom.  John M put together this simple but effective little worksheet that would work quite nicely in a classroom :)

(click for the pdf)

 

Let us know if you have some success with it! 

Friday
Feb222013

NXT-NXT Bluetooth Tutorial

A common request I get from Teachers is how to use Bluetooth.  So common in fact, that I thought it a good idea to make a few video's outlining how I go about it.

I've broken it down into 3 parts

  • Part 1: Connecting 2 NXT's together.  This shows you what menu items you need to choose (4:00)
  • Part 2: Simple Bluetooth communication.  Having an action on one NXT trigger a Bluetooth message to be sent to the other NXT which inturn generates a new action (5:31)
  • Part 3: Using one NXT as a remote, to control a second NXT.  This requires constant Bluetooth messages to be sent from the Master NXT to the Slave NXT (16:47)

So while these don't cover *everything* you can do with Bluetooth, I hope it gets people started!

What have you done / would you do, with a Bluetooth connection?  Let me know in the comments below.

Monday
Feb182013

Google Sheets and make-your-own Crosswords

This is an activity I've run with Students and Teachers on quite a few occasions with great success.  I thought it was finally time to document it and create a template in case other might find it useful.

In just about every subject at school, there is vocabulary to be learnt (parts of a tree, names of characters in a book, different uses of onions in medieval society etc..)  When I was in school, the teacher would give us all the words to learn as well as their definitions.  To test if we had learnt them, we were given some 'interactive' activities - word searches, crosswords, connect the word to the description etc.  I guess it worked ok, but with the web tools that are available nowadays, it is possible to make it far more engaging for the students.  Having the students create their own crosswords (with clues) which are then shared with other students, forces them to think not only about the words they need to use, how it will be layed out, but also how the clues are too be written.  Too much information and it's too easy.  Too little (or possibly incorrect) information, and you can't solve it.

By putting them into groups to create their crossword, you also can get them to check each others work, "Is their enough info in that clue?", "Is there a better way of phrasing that clue?" etc.

Using Google Sheets, it is very easy to constuct a simple crossword within a small group.

I created a template for it that anyone is free to use (just let me know how it works in your class!)

Students come up with a list of words to suit a topic.  They then start inserting those words into a crossword, making sure they share at least one letter with an existing word.  Words and clues are colour matched (by using the fill colour tool) so you know what clues match to the crossword.

    

The great thing about Google Sheets is that you can then delete all the letters, but the background colours will remain so you know where the words go :)

Friday
Feb152013

How do you store your LEGO?

It's a common problem for teachers.  You have a bunch of LEGO kits you use in your class, and within a few months, it turns into a huge sea of plastic parts.  That makes it difficult for your students to find the parts they want, wasting very valuable class time.

So what is the best way to store all that precious LEGO?  Back in 2009, with the help of the community on the LEGOengineering mailing list we put together a document that highlight a variety of different ways.  Roll around to 2013 and ther are a lot more LEGO kits out there and plenty of teachers looking for good ideas.  

So once again we put the call out to the mailing list to help share some ideas.  I've collated all the ideas that came through and created a Google Doc with the info.  

While it might not be perfect for your classroom, it might have some good ideas you can borrow :)

How do you store your LEGO?  send me some pics and I'll add them to the list!

Direct link to the Google Doc

Friday
Jan252013

My Article in German :)

I was contacted by the IAIS Fraunhofer Institute in Germany asking if they could translate my article into German as they felt many German teachers would benefit from it :)

http://roberta-home.de/de/aktuelles/ev3-vs-nxt-%28-educators-dilemma%29-ein-artikel-von-damien-kee

 

Wednesday
Jan092013

EV3 vs NXT (The Educators Dilemma) 

           

 

With the release of the new EV3 Mindstorms system (more info), I've had a few emails from teachers asking me what they should do; Stick with the NXT or go with the EV3? I've been very lucky to have had the EV3 for a few months to check it out and my answer is - 'it depends'

I'm going to preface all of this by pointing out that I have seen some AMAZING teaching being done all all types of robotics kits. It is far more important what you do, rather than what you do it with. I still see teacher effectively teaching and engaging kids with the RCX units. The new EV3 units in no way make the NXT (or RCX) obsolete.

“Children learn best when they are actively engaged in constructing something that has a personal meaning to them – be it a poem, a robot, a sandcastle, or a computer program.” — Seymour Papert

Just quickly, the differences. Hardware wise, there is a new intelligent brick (the EV3 unit) and new sensors (Gyro). There are a different arrangement of LEGO parts but as with all LEGO, it all fits together so NXT beams and pins will fit the EV3 beams and pins. In my opinion, the EV3 is more 'evolutionary' rather than 'revolutionary'. We lose the Sound sensor, which in my opinion was the best sensor of all in a classroom.

Software wise, the new software is very nice. All the parameters for each block are visible on the block itself (no configuration panels anymore). This great as it means you can do a 'print screen' and see all the parameters of each block at once. You can zoom in and out which is handy and the inbuilt documentation tool is fantastic. Datalogging has received a boost, with a return to the old RoboLab idea of additionally processing the data rather than just viewing it. There are a bunch of other bells and whistles and they have taken on a lot of feedback to make some of the niggly things in NXT a bit easier to do (ie, multiple switch cases). The new software is backwards compatible with the NXT (although the EV3 brick is not compatible with the NXT-G software)

A few extra points of note

  • Once again there will be a Retail (Home) version as well as an Education version. As with the NXT I am predicting this will cause a huge amount of confusion. The Edu version will come with the rechargable battery, something that is invaluable in a classroom situation.
  • I have heard unofficially that NXT's will continue to be supported until 2015. What 'supported' means exactly I'm not too sure, hopefully it means you can continue to buy sets and spare parts although I'm sure they will become increasingly difficult to find as time wears on.
  • The EV3 will not be available for purchase until the second half of 2013. This means at best July / August and at worst you may not actually have them in your hands until late in the year.
  • The price is a little more expensive. A single set is currently slated at US$339 (vs the current US$295 for the NXT) Multiple kits will get you a slight discount.
  • There is Curriculum available and is touted as being 40+ hours and linking with curriculum standards. I'm not sure if this will be an additional purchase or which countries curriculum it is referring to (I am assuming US)

So where does that leave teachers / educators / schools? I think that will depend on what your current situation is. New to robotics or have existing NXTs (or even RCXs!)

No current robotics investment:
For those schools with no robotics at all and are looking to jump in, if you can hang on until the end of the year, then I highly recommend getting the EV3. It is a fantastic product and will stand you in good stead for many years to come. The RCX was around for around 8 years before the NXT came along and the NXT has been out for a similar amount of time.

Have had your NXT kits for a number of years and staff / students are comfortable with them:
Again I would recommend the EV3 when you budget rolls arounf to getting more robots. The concepts are the same and your students and staff should transition easily to the new setup (students usually quicker than the staff!). You can switch over to the new software and still program all your original NXTs. If you've had NXTs for a while you probably find that you have a few teachers that are keen to push the boundaries and try something new.

Just started out with NXTs in the last year or so:
This is probably the trickiest situation to be in. It's a hard call, but I would suggest you stay with the NXTs. Try and stock up on a few in case they become rare in the coming year. You'll want to consolidate your program an trying to run 2 systems at the same time will confuse novice teachers. It is far better to have a confident teacher on older hardware, than a clueless teacher on the latest technology. The NXTs will easily last you another 4-5 years and in that time you can then look to do a swap over.

Don't get sucked into what I often hear called the 'shiny shiny' effect. Technology is only as good as the person using it, and just because you have something fancy, doesn't mean your students are going to learn any better by just having it.

I said it earlier and will say it again - The new EV3 units do not in any way make the NXTs obsolete.  Take the time to evaluate what you are doing, and make a decision on what you are trying to achieve, and then decide the best way to implement that.

If anyone ever has any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me.

**these views are completely mine, and are in no way connected to the LEGO group**

 

***UPDATE 17/1/13***

A few teachers have chimed in with some really good advice.  One option I didn't think about was keeping the NXT hardware and purchasing the software.  This keeps all the kids in the same development environment and when the time / budget does arrive to purchase EV3, you don't have to worry about 2 programming languages.

The physical building technique stays the same between NXT and EV3 (pins and beams as opposed to the RCX studs and plates) so there is less of a learning curve to transfer in this respect.

Additionally, there will be some schools doing a wholesale upgrade to EV3 so will have plenty of second hand NXT's on offer

The other major point was that there is already a huge amount of teacher resources / books / support already in existance for the NXT.  No doubt the curriculum put out by LEGO Education will be good and authors will be quick to release their own material, but these things do take time.

(thanks to Craig, Martijn, Paul, Gina and Ian for their feedback)