LEGO Mindstorms NXT – The Mayan Adventure by James Floyd Kelly is a Lego robots builders’ guide with a difference. Rather than simply include building instructions for a variety of different robots, Kelly has designed each robotic challenge around a central story – in this case, explorers who are entering an ancient Mayan tomb. As Kelly says in the introduction, this provides motivation for building each robot and completing each stage of the story.
The book contains instructions for 5 robots, with each one divided into a series of steps: the background story and task introduction, the planning and design process, the robot construction, and of course the programming.
The inclusion of the design process is good to see (there are planning worksheets in the rear of the book and more can be downloaded online), and while Kelly provides instructions for his own robots, he also encourages readers to build their own implementations based on the requirements and specifications. This is good to see, as it encourages students to think for themselves rather than to merely follow.
Several of the robots in the book are quite basic – for example, the first simply moves forwards a fixed distance, turns, moves again, and turns again – then repeats the process in reverse. The second and even the third robot are similar, and do not really make use of the sensors for tasks like navigation. While these basic robots may be useful for younger children, for ITGS students they are probably a bit too simple. Certainly one of the lesson objectives for ITGS students would be to understand the role of sensors in navigation and task completion.
That said, the background story and the “you are free to create” approach do have merits, and I will keep using this book – but probably with younger students in a robotics club. For older students and ITGS lessons, I will use a combination of Laurens Valks’ books and Power Programming Robotics in C.