This just may be the most viable alternative to the LEGO Mindstorms materials available. VEX IQ was on display at the conference and what came across right away from its hands-on display (replete with enthusiastic kids using it) was how strong and robust the robots are that you can build with this variety of material. If you are considering equipping a classroom with this sort of ‘snap together’, student friendly, robotics parts, electronics, and programming resource, I think making a comparison between this and Mindstorms would be informative and worth one’s while. I think a good number of folks might find some advantages to IQ. Take a look at the price of the basic kit and what’s included; you might find this to be attractive. There are some strong differences between the 2, the inclusion of a gaming type controller in addition to programability of robots with VEX IQ, for instance. But, of course, while there are similarities, there are differences to consider, too. For instance, LEGO Mindstorms over the years, has established a strong and large community of dedicated users who have and continue to share ideas, experience and reflections, finished projects, etc. about how to use their products with kids. LEGO has also developed a strong connection to the very important FIRST Competition (and organization… FIRST = "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.") I’ll be watching the progress VEX IQ makes; I think it is good that this variety of material has emerged.
I spoke with Alicia Chang of play-I at their booth at the same playground and was given a look at their very compelling resources to teach young children how to program. Click on the link above and check out the YouTube video below for the full picture.
Bee Bot / Pro Bot:
Very simple and very easy to implement, Bee Bot and (intended for slightly older kids) big brother Pro Bot are highly established student robotics resources that (seem to me) to have been overshadowed by flashier alternatives recently. These are great resources, though. I can't imagine a better way for a school to get itself started in teaching robotics concepts and simplified programming ideas than with these. Check out the links above and the YouTube video (below) for a better look at these. It was great to see these items in the flesh again at the conference.
However, the (robotics-supported) student-centered presentation that most truly won me over was the Sustainable Cancun exhibit (presented by students of the Cumbres Cancun school / Cancun, Mexico) this project titled Turtle-Robo Map was very impressive because not only did it involve students in conceiving and creating a robot (in this case a classic LEGO Robotics Line Follower) but that activity was done in support of a more overarching one, the creation of a museum-style informational exhibit (on Sea Turtle Ecology) with the student created robot playing a supporting role in what the students were reporting on, the true purpose of the project. Kudos to the educators at Cumbres Cancun for anticipating what I feel is sure to be the next-level of student robotics-based instruction: communication and EXPRESSION of ideas!
View of the Cumbres Cancun school's student robot supported informational display on sea turtles
PS – Here’s last year’s report on the materials offered: http://www.classroomrobotics.blogspot.com/2013/06/new-student-robotics-kits-seen-at-iste.html