Sunday, August 30, 2009

Lego Mindstorms NXT

A friend and I have lost our minds. Despite zero experience with First Lego League and Mindstorms programming, we're running a First Lego League team for our four children and another friend's 2 children. Thankfully we have a homeschooled teen who is Mindstorms crazy as a mentor for the robotics part of the tournament. I've spent the last week learning how to do and teach Mindstorms programming.

Since all 6 children are new to Mindstorms, I thought that I should spend some time with with each sibling team to bring them up to speed. I figured that it is easier to teach 2 kids rather than 6 kids at a time. Today we my children's turn. I must admit that I did not realize how time consuming this little exercise would be. We spent 5 hours on today's little project. I think that when I do this with the other sibling teams that I'll just concentrate on the programming and the thinking process being breaking the tasks down into their component parts. We'll use the already built robots. Most of the children in the team are Lego fanatics and have great experience building things with Legos. Their knowledge deficit is in programming.

I found a great book that we're working through that teaching the thought processes necessary to successfully design, build and program a robot. In case you are looking for something similar, I highly recommend Lego Mindstorms NXT: The Mayan Adventure . It's part of Apress' "Technology in Action" series.

The book tells the story of a young boy who accompanies his uncle on a Mayan archaeological dig and helps his uncle overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles by designing and using Mindstorms robots.

At each obstacle, the author takes the children through the thinking required to design a robot and to design the programming. Then he teaches them how to do both.

We've just spent a fun morning designing and building a robot that navigates a tunnel full of turns, depresses a pressure plate and then returns to its starting point.

I highly recommend both Lego Mindstorms and The Mayan Adventure.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Shira: "Ben, when you bake, it's important to stir and beat the batter well." (said in her most officious voice)
Ben: (said in his most "know it all" voice) "Shira, I know how to bake. I've baked countless loaves of bread on Disney Fairies. I know that the more you mix, the better!"
Shira: (with a large sigh) You just watch me, I'll teach you how it's done in real life.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Learning to apply make up

There is nothing quite as deflating to the ego as having young children. This morning Ben and Shira were standing next to me as i started applying my make up and seriously punctured my ego.

Shira watched me take out a brush and start applying concealer. She wanted to know what I was doing and I explained how it smoothed out the uneven color. She and Ben thought this was a really neat idea and proceeded to point out all my skin imperfections. Who knew I had so many blemishes? It must be those 8 year old rods and cones that are so discerning.

Shira was fascinated by the entire make up process and asked to be allowed to make up my face. My instinctive reaction was to say "no". However, then I realized that I have no issues with her using face paint on my face and hands. I let her turn me into clowns and butterflies, why not let her practice more subtle skills on my face?

I realized that I was having an instinctive response to an 8 year old and make up. She wasn't asking to put make up on her face, she was asking to put make up on my face. I had to get over my fear that she would want to start wearing make up if she gets to do my face. She's still young socially, so that's not an issue. For some reason, I see her face painting as an expression of her artistic skills and doing make up as a social skill. I need to think of this as a life skill and an artistic expression.

Tomorrow Shira starts practicing her make up skills on my face. Hopefully she'll have enough practice that when she is old enough to wear make up, she won't start off looking like a clown the way so many young girls do.