Institute for Personal Robots in Education Blog

LEGO Mindstorms NXT: First Impressions

Speaking of Personal Robots, LEGO made a definite first splash in this area several years ago when it released its LEGO RCX as the Mindstorms Invention System. Designed for ages 10 and up, the RCX was probably an ideal toy for a kid. Other than the RCX brick itself, most other parts (sensors, motors) were standard LEGO pieces that one even had in their own other LEGO kits. The genius of RCX was that it integrated well with existing LEGO pieces and more or less looked the same as any other LEGO piece. The same wire connectors worked for connecting sensors and motors to the RCX. A graphical 'programming language' was used to design control programs. Several computer science departments turned to RCX (probably the best reverse engineered commercial electronic artifact of its times) and designed several innovative courses, labs, and programming languages (from C, NQC, LISP, JAVA, and even ADA!).

Skeptics are welcome! Plus some remarks on the state of CS1/CS2...

The goals of IPRE to some seem mundane and not quite 'fresh'. We'll be the first to admit that the ideas are not new. We ourselves have been using robots in undergrduate education for over a decade now! What makes this project exciting is that it is a result of culminating all of our collective experiences of the last 10+ years into technology (personal robots) and curricula (for CS1/CS2 for now) for injecting fresh ideas and approaches to the standard computer science curricula.

It is now widely agreed in the CS education community that most current models of CS1/CS2 are broken. People can (and do) argue at length about whether using robots will solve the current enrollment crisis in computer science. Most even jump to the conclusion that we think that robots are the answer to this complex issue. I'd like to categorically mention that using robots in CS1/CS2 is a way of making the entry into computer science more accessible. This is what we are currently committing ourselves to but also claim that there will be a need for other ways to make the entry into computer science more accessible, interesting, and intellectually challenging. For example, see the Multimedia approach used by Mark Guzdial et alat Georgia tech...

Teaching Computer Science with Robotics vs. Teaching Robotics

Deepak Kumar and I had a good Skype conversation yesterday (Thursday 13 July) about getting started with the curriculum design for the introductory course. We plan to trial the course this January, so we have a lot of ground to cover in a short time.

The really important point that we both agree on is the IPRE courses are about learning Computer Science not learning Robotics. Deepak explicitly said that robotics and cognitive science should take a back seat in these courses. Our goal is to teach computer science -- using robotics and cognitive science as inspiration, but also drawing on computational science and other domains. We're using robots as a strategy for learning and teaching -- a place to draw interesting examples and a way to make the computing concrete and tangible.

Welcome to the IPRE's Blog

Mon, 2006-07-10 22:23
Submitted by admin on Mon, 2006-07-10 22:23.

Welcome to the blog site for the Institute for Personal Robots in Education. The Institute is a joint effort between researchers at Bryn Mawr College, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Microsoft Research.

You can find out more about the Institute at the main website at

We hope that you will join us in exploring, discussing, and creating robotics educational materials. Come back often and check out what's new in Robot Education.