Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: At whom are these tutorials aimed?
A1: These tutorials were first used with School children and some of their parents as part of two-hour after-School parent/child sessions. If you want to let your students enjoy them, that is fine.

Q2: What do the tutorials aim to do?
A2: Let the participants have some fun making Robots, and then take the role of being a teacher to their Robots. They soon learn that the Robots will do just what they are told to do – which is often quite different from what they are meant to do!

Q3: LEGO sells two types of MindStorms kits – which kit is appropriate for these tutorials?
A3: These Challenges are meant to work with both the Educational and Retail kits sold by LEGO. In one case (the “4-wheel drive” Challenge), differences between the kits has meant that we have had to use a different approach for each kit – but otherwise the use of either kit should be fine.

Q4: Why do you build Robots that are different from the standard "EduBot"?
A4: Experience has shown that for our particular classes, the EduBot is not appropriate; the reasons for this can be read by clicking here.

Q5: Do you need any “extras” for these tutorials?
A5: Yes – some (but not all) of the Challenges use “arenas” in which the Robots can “strut their stuff”. The arenas can be as simple as a couple of lines of masking tape on a floor, or as complicated as a piece of cardboard with side walls. Some Challenges have “mentor notes” linked to the tutorial that give suggestions about where to locate the necessary materials, and specific details if you happen to reside in beautiful Southern Tasmania. It is our aim to extend these mentor notes to all Challenges, when we have time...

Q6: Why do you use so many videos in these tutorials?
A6: We found that the younger students tended to glance at printed text and/or series of photos, and then look up to us and say “Well, what am I supposed to do?” In the subsequent session they needed a lot of mentor support.

When we converted to videos, the students looked at the videos, and went to work with hardly any assistance - as mentors we felt almost superfluous (which was a good feeling for me, I'm trying to work myself out of a job - I'm supposed to be retired...)

Q7: What are the advantages of using videos?
A7: As noted in the answer to the previous question, the students seemed to feel more self-motivated - they were also typically quite proud that they had “done it themselves” (not quite the same as when we had had to spend a lot of time helping them). The reduction in the need to wait for their turn of teacher/mentor help meant that individual team progress was faster, and there was less disruption caused by students “at a loose end” waiting in their turn for teacher/mentor help to reach them.

This approach also turned out to have a side benefit in that it reduced the nervousness of mentor/teachers new to Robotics, as they could (mostly) see just what was meant to be going on at each step of the session, and it thus reduced the necessity of self-teaching experimentation before the Robotics session – something that most teachers didn’t have time for anyway!

Video replaced the use of photocopied black-and-white handouts. This meant a small saving in printing and paper costs. It also meant that we could use colour. Colour was useful in helping students identify individual LEGO pieces, e.g. there are some small connectors that look quite similar in small images within photocopied black-and-white handouts, but are easily distinguished in colour as one is black and the other is dark blue.

In practice, the use of video meant that less mentor/teacher time was needed with average students, and thus more time could be spent assisting students who, for one reason or another, were lagging behind the rest of the students.  

Q8: What are the page sizes assumed for printing out your Microsoft Word 2003 Mentor documents?
A8: We have assumed the standard page size for Tasmanian Schools, which is A4.

Q9: What video player is assumed for your video files?
A9: We have assumed the standard video player for Microsoft XP and Vista, which is Microsoft Media Player. We are currently (Nov 2008) testing these on Media Player version 11.0.6001.7000 on Microsoft Vista. The files are in "wmv" format.

Q10: Why did you use "wmv" video file formats?
A10: I had to work with borrowed video capture devices (most of it was done using a "still" camera Sellotaped to a music stand!) and of all the video formats I could produce, this was the only video format that would work on all the School computers used by the students in the classes in which I was mentoring - and believe me I converted and tested a lot of formats! It was finally just a case of "What works, works!"

Q11: Will these video files play on my Macintosh?
A11: I don't have a current model of the Macintosh available to me (financial constraints forced me to sell my beautiful Lisa years ago...), but articles on the Internet (e.g. at ) say that there are two options, "Windows Media Player for the Mac" (currently available but discontinued) and software called "Flip4Mac" that can be used to view these files. I currently have no way of checking the truth of these assertions, so I can't recommended either of them from personal experience, but other comments from the Internet state that Internet users have managed to get useful results from both of these software alternatives.

Q12: Will these video files play on Linux?
A12: I always feel nervous when answering questions about Linux. I've used half-a-dozen versions of UNIX (of which Linux is roughly a variant) including a triple-boot including Linux on a PC, and found all of them - for the work I was doing - to be significantly incompatible. Linux is actually a collection of operating system components, and selections of these components are collated together and made available as a "distribution". Wikipedia lists over 100 reasonably significant distributions that are all called "Linux" (click here), all different in some way. Given this situation, I have no idea whether ".wmv" files will play on your current version of Linux,  but you may get help from a discussion on this point at the web address , or at . Good Luck!


Tutorials - LEGO Mindstorms NXT Robots -