Lesson 1: Building the Base Robot
For GEAR or any other LEGO Robotics lesson, the best starting point is building the base robot from the LEGO 9797NXT Education kit. The Base Robot allows for the most maneuverability in terms of movement, and the most options for creative customization by students. If you do not have the instructions for the Base Robot from the 9797 kit, it may have been provided with your GEAR documents or can be found online.
Building the base robot may just be following instructions from a booklet, but it is actually a very important part of the learning process. Students learn the ways different pieces can be used, and find ways to troubleshoot when they invariably make a mistake. Most important of all, students learn how to operate with a partner or a group while building the robot. From observing students in GEAR, teams of two generally do the best, but teams of three work as well. LEGO resources may be limited at your school, but having a group of four persons or larger can be very difficult to manage. Students in a large group will not be able to all focus on the same thing at once, and usually one or two of the students will lose interest if they do not get enough turns building or programming. LEGO Robotics serves as an excellent way for young students to learn to work well in a group. With this in mind, it is recommended to partner students randomly since it is hard to predict how students will work together.
Pieces, Names, and Purposes
LEGO instructions are almost completely visual. Barely any words are used because the instructions are made for people in many different countries to understand. As a result, there is no real standard names for each of the pieces. This can be confusing for students and teachers. Presenting this list of pieces and names can help ease communication between students and groups; however, younger students may do better diving right in. Either way, when helping students one-on-one, calling a piece a "Bushing" rather than "That small gray piece" will help greatly.
If you have large tables available, it would be best to use them. It is very difficult for students to build and very easy for them to spill LEGOs in small desks. If your room is big enough to space out your groups, it is recommended you do so in order to keep students from being distracted by what other teams are doing.
When it is time for your students to start building, a good idea is to go through the first two pages of the instructions as a class. Show them how the picture in the instructions relate to the pieces in real life. Have every group complete Steps 1 through 4, and check to make sure it is correct. Once you have led them through these steps, it is time to let them build on their own. Remind them that the real-life LEGOs should be oriented like and look like the picture in the instructions.
Another important thing to remind students is that when a piece with a certain length is used, there is a measurement given on the instruction page to guide the student. This picture above calls for an 8 Axel and a 13 Straight Beam.
Students are going to make mistakes, but most of the time — especially when working with a group or partners — they can figure out what is wrong themselves. Teachers are advised to never pick up a group's robot and fix it for them. If possible, explain what is wrong and lead the students to their own understanding of the problem and how to solve it. This method can be trying on a teacher, especially if he or she is working with a large amount of groups, but students learn so much more when fixing the problem themselves.
Teacher, It Doesn't Work!
As said before, students should be given opportunity to make their own mistakes and learn from them. So when a student has a problem, it is best to lead them to the solutions. However, sometimes when the teacher doesn't know what is wrong either, it can be hard to find a solution. To help teachers and mentors with this, we have a list of the top five building mistakes students make.