Most of you know we absolutely love Legos in our house – and we incorporate them almost daily into our homeschooling activities. For awhile now I’ve been looking for ways to expand the use of our favorite and well-loved Lego WeDo system beyond the Lego-provided activity packs and really wanted to incorporate Scratch, the free programming software developed by MIT. As I was researching options for an introductory Robotics class that I’m co-teaching this fall I stumbled upon RoboCamp, I liked what I read, but since it was subscription-based program and we were in the peak of summer break, I promptly bookmarked the site and moved on. Fast-forward to last week: we are just over a month into our school year, our WeDo system has seen at least weekly use, I’m working on co-op lesson plans, and the Homeschool Buyers’ Coop partnered with Robocamp to offer a couple of fabulous deals. Before I jumped in, I wanted to try it out first – to be sure we could access everything, that the content interested Nadya and had co-op or Lego play group potential, and that the “deal” was as great as it looked. I headed over to the RoboCamp website, signed up for the free demo and we began to work (play) through the sample lessons over the last few days. We had fun with the Bathyscaphe model, but the hands-down favorite was the blog-demo Gorilla. Katya has affectionately named him George (backdrop courtesy of our Lego Friends Jungle Falls playmat).
The build was straight-forward, with step-by-step pictorial instructions, similar to what you would find in a Lego set. The fun really began with the programming. RobCamp offers programming options using the official Lego WeDo software and also the freeware program Scratch. We programmed George and his “banana tree” using both software options, just to get a feel for the differences and because Nadya is already comfortable using the Lego WeDo programming environment. The Scratch tutorials for CityCamp and SafariCamp were written using Scratch 1.4, an older version. The programming interface changed a bit between the two versions, but this can be managed either by downloading the older version (still available) or by doing what we did, experimenting until we figured out how make it work in the new version. Here’s the final outcome:
Here’s the nitty-gritty: RoboCamp is a subscription based program accessible via the internet. RoboCamp lessons are designed with a classroom setting in mind and allow for student access accounts to be created, lesson time limit/durations to be set, and notes/dialog for teacher/leader reference. However, we had no difficulty using them at home or in a small group (non-classroom) setting. They offer “camps” for the 3 primary Lego platforms: WeDo, Mindstorms NXT, and Mindstorms EV3. I haven’t tested the Mindstorms options yet, as we’ll be using the WeDo system this fall. For the WeDo system, there are 3 themed “camps” with 12 lessons in each theme. Each lesson is comprised of 4 parts – a short Learning/History type background, the construction phase (projects vary in difficulty), a quick post-build summary in which the various gears and sensors and their relevancy/application are discussed, and finally coding/programming (the difficulty varies her as well). I found the instructions and explanations to be accurate and well thought out, though there are minor grammatical variances due to European vs American English. I contacted their customer service chat line regarding the Scratch 1.4 vs. Scratch 2.0 programming tutorials and found them to be quite responsive. They are working on updating the original “camps” to reflect Scratch 2.0, but since the old version is still available, I don’t find the variations to be off-putting and enjoyed experimenting to make the codes work in the new version. The only inconvenience for me is that the lessons are flash based and require an internet connection to work – there aren’t any printable components per se, which then requires being tethered to an internet connection. Since our internet service is less than reliable, flash crashes or loss of connectivity can be frustrating. However, that being said, we only had 1 point in which I couldn’t access anything and that was my internet provider’s fault and was unrelated to RoboCamp.
In summary, we love this idea and what RoboCamp is doing as far as enhancing the Lego Robotics lessons – especially for the WeDo system and younger students. Nadya and I are both excited to work through the full versions of CityCamp, SafariCamp, and SpaceCamp.
Please note, I am not affiliated with RoboCamp or the Lego Group – just a satisfied customer.