4-h robotics Curriculum Lego Mindstorm nxt robot

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Seilstad, David O, Regional 4-H Youth Development Specialist,

Iowa State University

4-H Robotics Curriculum

Lego Mindstorm
NXT Robot

Building STEM

and Teamwork
Skills with the LEARNING

August 2014

4-H Robotics Curriculum


Introduction – page 2

  • Starting with New Kits

  • Key Online Resources

LESSON 1 – page 9
Building Teamwork in a Team of Youth

LESSON 2 – page 14
So What’s in the Tubs?

LESSON 3 – page 23
Let’s Get the Robot Moving

LESSON 4 – page 29
Let’s Turn the Robot

LESSON 5 – page 37
Avoidance using Sensors

LESSON 6 – page 41
What Kinds of Jobs do Robots Do? And Switching on the Light Sensor

LESSON 7 – page 46
Programming a Switch for your Robot to Follow a Line

LESSON 8 – page 49
Learning to Work with GEARs


Appendix 1 – page 52: Preparing your Team to Work with Robot Challenges

Appendix 2 – page 54: Team Building Activities

Appendix 3 – page 55: SUMO Robot Challenges in Building and Programming

This Curriculum and all of the resource pieces referred to in the curriculum are all posted on the Harrison County Extension Office Website:


Building STEM and Teamwork Skills
with the LEGO Mindstorm NXT Robot LEARNING MODULES

Prepared by David Seilstad, Regional 4-H Youth Development Specialist, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Robots are a great way to help youth learn engineering, math, programming and teamwork as youth work together to build, program and adapt their robot to accomplish challenges you initially provide for the team. Shortly into the process, you will be providing them the opportunities to access the tools and resources to create their own process of discovery.

Whether you are a classroom teacher, adult volunteer with a youth organization, or an involved parent, you will find the discoveries that teams make in working with their LEGO Mindstorm Robot help to nurture a youth’s problem solving skills and help them to appreciate the sharing of responsibilities and talents of their team as they work together.

Youth at middle and early high school ages are often used to problem solving on their own in working with technology and must learn the importance and the fulfillment of working with others to come up with ways to accomplish the challenges given to the group in working with their robot. As they find their strengths and talents in the group, they will find that cooperating instead of competing is such a rewarding part of the engineering and technology world. They can accomplish so much more in working as a group than any of them individually. The robotics program is the path that they travel down in learning these important life lessons that will serve them well in any STEM career.

To be successful in using robots as a teaching tool, the youth need to learn:

  • some basic building skills which many of them already have in working with the newer LEGO building sets beyond just the bricks

  • basic programming skills in building a sequence of instructions using the programming blocks of the NXT software to have the robot do what they would like the robot to do

  • become familiar with programming and using sensors in their programs to have their robot use distance from objects (ultrasonic sensor), bumping into objects (touch sensor), stopping on a line or following a line (light sensor), or start, stop or respond to sound (sound sensor) as an instrument to help their robot navigate

  • and apply their knowledge of building, programming and using sensors to successfully have their robot complete challenges given to them or that they design and create for others to complete

You will find that this curriculum combines lessons in teamwork with the lessons to learn about building and programming the LEGO Mindstorm NXT Robot to create a successful set of STEM Skills. It is also built on a pattern of discovery for the youth you work with. You will find very quickly that the youth in your program will go beyond what you know about the robot building and programming and you will be more of a facilitator of their learning and helping them to apply what they have learned to new challenges.

Author’s Note: Because youth robotics programs are so successful in upper elementary and middle school STEM programming, and the primary robot platform that you will find being used is the LEGO Mindstorm NXT, you will find a very welcoming network of resources available to you on the web to use with your youth. You will feel instantly welcome to this wonderful supportive network of youth and adults working with the NXT and any youth robotics programs like FIRST LEGO League or local robotics programs being taught in the school and after-school. This includes the creative youth that are participants in these programs, who are more than willing to work with your program and share what they know. It also includes the many formal educators—teachers, and informal educators—volunteers working with 4-H, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and afterschool programs who have shared resources on the web. It is a wonderful community to connect with and they will all share that working with youth and robotics is one of the most rewarding experiences that they have had in working with STEM programming and youth. They will tell you that you just need to share a small foundation of knowledge and then the youth are off and learning with each other as they discover more and more about working with the robots through their own interests and interacting with some of the learning resources on the web. It really comes down to the youth learning problem solving and figuring out how to build and program their robot to solve challenges and complete challenge tasks. Feel free to also contribute or help improve these lessons through what you learn or find as additional resources as you create or adapt resources and are willing to share.

FOR 4-H Volunteer Leaders WITH NEW KITS:

The LEGO Mindstorm NXT Educational Kits, includes two tubs, a grey 979797 NXT Education Robot Base Set Kit tub and a blue 979695 NXT Education Resource Set tub. You will need to do some setup following receiving the kit to get ready for youth to build a robot and attachments.

  1. You will need to unpack and sort the kits into the top and bottom trays of the blue and the grey tubs. Each tub comes with a cardboard insert that will show where you would put the parts in sorting them into the trays from the original bags they arrive in. You certainly can have your youth participants help with this process at your first meeting or you can invite a couple of volunteers from your youth Robotics team in to help you do this as prep for your first meeting.

  1. You will need to insert the rechargeable battery into the back of the brick and plug it in so it is charged and ready to go for your first working session with the youth.

  1. You will need to install the Educational NXT-G software on each of the computers the youth will be using for programming.

  1. Once you have installed the software on a computer and have charged the NXT Brick, you will need to open the software and hook up the brick to the computer to see if the firmware needs updating. The firmware is the software installed on the brick that allows it to run the NXT Software. New bricks may come with the current firmware or may need to be updated. It is a very simple process to upgrade the Firmware on the brick.

    1. Click on the NXT 2.1 Programming shortcut on your desktop (orange box inside of a white orange outlined box) and when the program opens, click on the GO link on the Start New Program box in the middle of the screen. (Starting the software-PC https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuA4w7ldjSg or Starting the software on the Mac https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muTFbLpIOJ8)

    1. Start the brick by pressing the orange button in the middle of the brick. Then using the USB cable, plug one end into your computer USB port and the other end into the port on top of the brick alongside the A-B-C motor ports. (Connecting the robot to your computer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5q5fgLUHfW8#t=80)

    1. When the brick connects to the computer, it will just connect and you know that the firmware is current on your brick or it will bring up a window asking you to update the firmware on the brick. (Updating Firmware on your NXT Brick https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6IYHCW6J8A )

    1. To update the firmware go up to the Tools menu and click on “Update NXT Firmware.” Then click on the download button and it will go through a short process to update the software on the brick. The process is complete when you get the message at the bottom of the window “Successfully Downloaded Firmware.” If you have any problems with updating your firmware, give LEGO Technical Support a call 1-866-349-5346. They are available from 7:30 a.m. -5:00 p.m. Monday-Friday.

It’s Not Rocket Science: Keep it Simple! Check out this webpage for confidence on LEGO engineering.

FROM DAMIEN KEE, A LEADER IN TEACHING ROBOTICS: “The word ‘robotics’ can be a little intimidating to a teacher new to the field. I constantly encounter teachers who have been thrust unsuspectingly into the role of the ‘robotics teacher’ simply because they were in the staff room at the time the Principal was looking for a volunteer.  They hear the words ‘robotics’ and ‘programming’ and are immediately filled with dread. But while it is possible to use robotics to create amazingly complex creations, we often overlook the fantastic array of simple and educationally effective activities we can do.”

The following is a range of activities you can run in class using just a single Block in NXT-G, the ‘Move’ Block


With this block we can get the robot to move based on the following parameters

  • Direction

  • Steering

  • Power

  • Duration

At this website, you’ll find four great starter activities in challenging your 4-H Robotics Team.

Key Online Resources

So you are excited to lead a group of youth through Robotics Discovery Learning…

As a leader/teacher of a group of youth who will be going on the journey with you building, programming and meeting challenges with the LEGO Mindstorm Robot, there are several online resources you should plan on using to get you and your youth started. Some you need to go through a simple process of registering to access and others are available without registering. The registration process is simple and at no cost with minimal info shared and opens a wider set of resources than would be available through the public unregistered part of the website. You might want to register now to be able to have the resources available to you later on in the curriculum.

  1. Educational Robots for Absolute Beginners has a lot of video resources that are great to become familiar with the NXT Robots and software. It is a self-paced course specifically designed for K-12 Teachers to use the LEGO NXT robots with youth. Just Click on the Get Started and sign in with your Google Account as it is a program Funded by Google CS4HS (Google Computer Science for High School). https://cs4hsrobots.appspot.com/preview There will be some video resources referenced in the curriculum to access for sharing with your students.

  1. STEMcentric NXT Tutorial Essentials Section— This is an excellent tutorial geared for adult leaders and youth in 5th Grade through Middle School, for getting starting with the programming using Move Blocks, Loops, Wait Sensor Blocks, mounting and using the Light Sensor and use a Switch Block. This site can be accessed directly with no registration process: http://www.stemcentric.com/nxt-tutorial/

  1. GEAR-TECH-21 has a series of short teaching modules that will take you and your students through a set of screens to learn the programming lesson for using making turns, using loops and switches and a helpful demo on how to program the follow the line program. This is one of the sites you will need to register to use later as a resource. GEAR-TECH-21 Registration Page. Click on and create a New Account and when they approve your account through email confirmation, then Login and on the Homepage choose Camps/Camp Activities and then Camp Activities –YEAR 1 Or Camp Activities YEAR 2. Since their curriculum focuses on Robotics and GPS/GIS, The lessons for Robotics in Camp Activates Year 1 are: Simplebot (building a quick robot); Hello World; Get Moving; Turns; Loops; Avoidance; Decibel Detection; On Cue; and Camp Robot Challenges. Use the Next button on top of the navigation modules for each lesson and follow the directions for accessing the step by step programming.

  2. Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy is a site that you will need to go through a short registration process to access their CS2N (Computer Science Student Network): https://www.cs2n.org/ and Click on “Create a CS2N Account. This will give you access to CS2N- 4H Robotics Learning Resources in two short learning courses:

    1. 4H Robotics 1: NeXT Technology (509)

    2. 4H Robotics 2: NeXT Steps (510)

    3. and probably the most valuable resource to you as a teacher will be the resources part of the 4H Robotics Courses down in the left bottom corner of the course window when you first access the course is the NXT Video Trainer with several video lessons that you will find to use as you move through the lessons on programming the robot.

LESSON 1: Building Teamwork in a Team of Youth

For many of you, the youth that you will be working with “know” each other. That loosely translates into them going to school together, but do they really know and appreciate what they and their teammates bring to the team. A process of getting to know each other to share their strengths that they have to contribute to the team is a process of discovery as important as the robot building and programming skills that they will learn. Engineers must work together closely communicating as they go, in developing new products and designing all of the components that go into the finished product.

All of them need to learn the principles of building and programming, but some of them might have a real passion and endurance for adjusting robot build designs or spending hours working on the programming to have the robot complete a task, or communicating and marketing their work and solutions to others which is very important to a team. Most importantly, they may know what they do well, but discovering and appreciating their teammates for what they do well is critical to working as a team. SO the process of building a team out of individual youth working together is an important part of the HyperStream Club experience.

Activities/ Challenges

Find Your Twin

Supplies: Copies of the “Find Your Twin” activity sheet (one per team member) can be found in the Team Building Activities folder, and pencils or pens.

Activity Instructions: Have the youth fill out their preferences in the first column after the description in the box and then go around the group to find others that match their answer as “finding their twin.” Each of the matching persons who have found a twin will sign each other’s paper in the second Twin column. The goal of this activity is to find others who share their interest or preference, so they should try to not have anyone sign their sheet as a twin more than twice to three times to make sure that they compare their answers with all members of the group rather than sit down and find a bunch of twin matches with just one person. They may have a lot in common with a friend in the group, but they should branch out and get to know as much as they can about others in the group.

Ride the Bus

Supplies: Just need Ride the Bus leader sheet for list of Field Trip Stops and description of activity (found in the Team Building Activities folder), and pencils or pens.

Activity Instructions: Everyone loves field trips in getting to go places and try new things. This activity will challenge each person in the group to make a choice between two opportunities at each stop along the field trip. To make their choice, they must exit the bus on the left or right depending on their choice of what they would like to do or eat at each fieldtrip stop. You will need to set out two rows of chairs parallel to each other with a space in between the rows or lay down two lengths of rope parallel with space in between to provide the space for the youth to “Be on the Bus.”

You will then work with the group to have some fun in making sounds for the bus taking off and the bus stopping at the next stop on the field trip. Have the group choose a sound to make for the bus accelerating and then give them a choice of sound for the brakes as the bus stops at the field trip stop. I usually give them a choice between air brakes with a “cushing” sound or screeching brakes with a “screech” sound. Then have them all join in to make the acceleration noise for the bus taking off and the brake sound choice for their field trip stop and announce the choices, “Out the right side of the bus to……” and “Out the left side of the bus to…..” They may not stay on the bus or straddle the bus in a desire to do both. They must make a choice. Continue through the starting and stopping sounds of the bus and announcing each Field Trip stop choice.

Playdough Pictionary

Supplies: You will need a container of Playdough and a set of index cards with the objects written on them for team members to form out of Playdough for the rest of the group to guess. The list of objects to put on index cards and activity description are in the Team Building Activities folder.

Activity Instructions: If you have a small group, you can have them all participate in one group and if you have a larger group of youth, you can have groups of four or five each complete the Playdough Pictionary process through forming the object on the card with Playdough so that their group guesses what it is. This is not a competitive event as each group will go until their group guesses the object. They may not use the Playdough to spell out the letters of the object on the card. If a team member gets stuck, they can say STOP and ask one other group member to go off to the side to tell them what it is that they are trying to make out of Playdough and they can come up with a plan to make out of Playdough to help the group guess the object.

Be The Bot Activity –Retrieve an object

Supplies: 1 sheet of paper and pencil per group of 2 or 3 youth
A water bottle or other prop that the robot must retrieve and bring back to the group. The resource sheet for this activity can be found in the Team Building Activities folder.

Activity Instructions: In this activity for Be the Bot, you will divide the team into groups of two or three, where one of them will be the robot and the other one or two members must write down in a list format the exact instructions for their robot to go from sitting to retrieving a water bottle or other prop from somewhere in the room. They will learn how precise and complete the instructions must be for a robot to complete a task or challenge.

When they have completed recording their instructions, it is time for them to either give the instructions line by line to their robot and have the robot complete the instructions only doing exactly what the instructions list. This may take some reminding of the robot that they can only do “EXACTLY” what the instructions tell them to do. An extra element that you can add to this activity is to have groups exchange their line by line BE the BOT instructions that they recorded with another group to test the program and see if it takes them to their goal object (Thanks to Merry Barney, Underwood MS for this suggestion. Her instruction and line by line programming form is included in the resources for this activity. Using another group’s instructions sometimes allows the group to be very honest in only executing the instructions given.)

Note to Adult Leader or Mentor: You will need to help the team be as specific as possible in giving instructions to their robot. You may have to stop them if they have omitted or assumed an action without specific instructions. This is not meant to be a frustrating activity, but it is very important to help them see how precise their instructions to their robot must be in how much to turn (in degrees and direction) or the specific instructions that it would take for their hand to reach out and grab something to retrieve it…many steps are involved in how to extend the arm, to open the hand, but how much? And how to get the hand to grip the bottle and not crush it or let it slip out of the hand. Just be a reminder that they need to be specific as best they can to help them be precise in their instructions, since the robot person can see and would have picked up an object in their hands before, but now specific instructions must direct their actions.

Be The Bot Activity-Make a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

Supplies: A piece of paper and pencil, plastic knife and paper plate for each group of 2 or 3 students, loaf of bread, jar of peanut butter, jar of jelly for group. The resource sheet for this activity can be found in the Team Building Activities folder.

Activity Instructions: In this activity for Be the Bot, you will divide the team into groups of two or three and they as a group must write out the exact instructions for one of them to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Then one of the team members will serve as the sandwich making robot and complete each of the steps in the instructions to complete the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The adult leader must make sure that only the instructions that are given will be followed to complete the sandwich making process. If any step or detail in a step is left out, the team must stop and go back to their seats and add any instructions that are missing before coming up and trying the sandwich making process again.

They may leave a sandwich in progress and resume their sandwich making process when they have completed writing down any omitted instructions for their robot. The teams will be done when the sandwich is completed, and they may divide and eat the sandwich if the process was completed in a food safe manor.

Note to Adult Leader or Mentor: You will need to help the team be as specific as possible in giving instructions to their robot. You may have to stop them if they have omitted or assumed an action without specific instructions. This is not meant to be a frustrating activity, but it is very important to help them see how precise their instructions to their robot must be in how to open a jar…many steps are involved in how to extend the arm, to open the hand, but how much? And how does one grip the knife and spread the peanut butter or jelly on the bread? Just be a reminder that they need to be specific as best you can to help them be precise in their instructions, since the robot person can see and would have picked up an object in their hands before, but now specific instructions must direct their actions.

Two Really important videos to show after your Be the Bot Activity:

If you have time to show these two videos at the end of the Be the Bot or at the beginning of your working time together with the youth, they are very foundational to understanding programming robots for teams:

  1. The first video will help youth understand that programming is just defining your goal for the robot and programming the steps needed to accomplish that goal. The video is part of the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy NXT Video Trainer resource, Lesson Thinking About Programming: http://www.education.rec.ri.cmu.edu/previews/nxt_products/nxt_video_trainer/partial_product/basics/thinking/thinking.html

  1. This video focuses on the fact that programming must be precise which the youth would have learned in their Be The Bot activity. Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy—Introduction to Programming LEGO Mindstorms EV3—Basics, Big Ideas 1 and 2: http://www.education.rec.ri.cmu.edu/content/lego/ev3/curriculum/preview/ Click on “Big Ideas” “1-2” and click arrow to play video.

  1. The third video that is very helpful throughout your NXT Lessons is a great introduction to the Engineering Process from Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy.


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