Lego Education announced at NIWeek yesterday it teamed with National
Instruments on the creation of a new product designed to draw children into
engineering and science.
Known as Lego WeDo,
the new product uses robotics hardware and simple graphical programming
software to help children learn creative thinking they can apply to
subjects ranging from math to art to literature. Lego representatives described
WeDo as a cousin to Lego's well-known Mindstorms robotics toy, but said its use of simpler hardware and software is geared toward a younger audience
ranging from 7 to 11 years of age.
†"The significance of
this is that it brings robotics to a younger age," said Lego spokeswoman Helle
Winding. "At that age, the children don't know they're learning math and
science. They just know that they're playing."
WeDo enables children to build a robotic crocodile, monkey
or soccer player. When the hardware is ready, kids can program their robot to
walk or kick a ball using a simple graphical interface made up of so-called
"action blocks." The colorful blocks, which reside on a "canvas" on a computer
screen, incorporate software that enables the children to direct the robots.
Kids can construct their software models by dragging and dropping the blocks on
"We give them an interactive method," said Leshia Hoot, K-12
marketing manager for National Instruments. "It's essentially programming, but
it's so visual that the kids don't realize they're doing some basic
National Instruments said they used their own LabView graphical programming software as
a basis for Lego's new toy. The key was to make the software
useable for young children, said NI engineers.
"When you're dealing with that age group, you need to be very
clear about your focus and what you want to accomplish," Hoot said. "You don't
want to add unneeded complexity."
Both companies see the new toy as a way to attract kids
toward science, math and ultimately engineering. "We lose some children along
the way, especially the girls," Winding said. "But we know we will need them to
understand science and math later on."
Although the toy is oriented toward robotics, Lego said
the creative lessons learned from it apply to a wide variety of academic areas.
Children who play with the toy, however, only know they're having fun.
"It's cool to see how excited the kids get about it," Hoot
said. "And it's fun for the adults, too."