Aha! Finally a really good way for kids to program Lego robots.
Building things with Lego Mindstorms is not terribly difficult. The average kid has been playing with Lego for long enough that they have some idea of how to put things together. There are some restrictions thanks to the small number of holes provided on the ‘brick’ and the lousy wheels, but these are not real problems. The real problem, though, is programming.
The Mindstorms programming software is simply not intuitive, I’ve yet to see a kid work out what to do without some serious help. Worse, it is fiddly and unforgiving – it requires tons of fine mouse-skills to join up little wires on the screen and a small mistake can mean starting everything all over again. It is simply not up to the same standards as the NXT kits themselves.
So I was thrilled the other day to stumble across Enchanting. Enchanting is an easy-to-use graphical programming tool for NXT robots. It is based on Scratch from the MIT Media Lab, and powered by leJOS NXJ (Java for the NXT). Enchanting is also free and open-source.
Now you don’t get much simpler and intuitive than Scratch in my view – not when teaching kids at any rate. And if the kids have already been exposed to Scratch, then using Enchanting could not be easier. Better yet, the way Scratch and Enchanting present programming is much more useful as a long-term educational tool – the principles learnt will safely carry the user into more complex programming languages.
All in all, I cannot recommend Enchanting highly enough for anyone teaching robotics to kids. Or, for that matter, for anyone building things themselves!
There’s also a nice Australian connection to Enchanting, with the interesting Jonathan Mullins being given a shout-out thanks on the home page.
Enchanting can, and should be, be downloaded from here.