Softwire West and Youth Moves team up to create an evening to remember!
3 December 2014, by Anne Blanchflower
What happens when you combine an enthusiastic bunch of techies, nine teenagers, four volunteers and three Lego Mindstorms? Total chaos, but lots of fun!
We invited a group of kids and a few volunteers from Youth Moves to spend the evening of November 13th in our Softwire West office, learning to programme Lego Mindstorms. This involved quite a bit of forethought and preparation on our part, but was very worthwhile.
Who are Youth Moves?
Youth Moves is an organisation that works with young people aged between 8 and 19 years old. Based at The Park Centre in Knowle West, over the past five years, they’ve worked with over 1,000 young people. They provide a range of services to support young people ranging from running youth clubs, providing a mentoring service, outreach programmes and a number of activity programmes.
What are Lego Mindstorms?
Lego Mindstorms are a series of Lego kits also containing software and hardware from which you build your own robot and programme it. The hardware comprises a programmable ‘brick’ computer to control the system, which communicates with the relevant software programme on a laptop via Bluetooth. We bought three of the Mindstorms 31313: EV3s, which come three interactive servo motors, a remote control and 3 sensors (colour, touch, and infrared).
How did we mix the two?
Thanks to a couple of the more technical amongst us, (who also built the Mindstorms), we downloaded the software onto three laptops and paired them all with a specific Mindstorm via Bluetooth. We nominated a couple of the more technical Softwire team members to design some tasks of increasing difficulty, culminating in a maze. This meant resorting to ‘old school’ paper, card, scissors and sellotape to lay out suitable mazes on the floor of our chill-out area.
We divided the nine teenagers from Youth Moves into teams of three and assigned them to a Mindstorm and a couple of Softwire mentors. We explained the basics of how the Mindstorm worked and what they needed to do for the first couple of tasks, then handed the Mindstorm and laptop over to them. We were amazed at how quickly they picked it up, given that they had little previous knowledge of coding or Mindstorms.
They sprinted through the first few tasks, which taught them how to make the robots turn left and right and how to use logic to make the Mindstorms sense different coloured card and react to it in a specific way. From there, we waited for all three teams to be ready and then held a race to see how fast they could get their Mindstorms around the mazes. All three mazes were identical.
It was a tense and exciting couple of minutes, but there could only be one winning team and they managed to pip the others to the post by a good few seconds! Naturally, after every race there must be a prize-giving ceremony, so the winning team was awarded with a very large tub of chocolates. All the kids participated really enthusiastically however, so we had to reward all of them with pizza, cup-cakes and donuts with some fresh fruit, vegetables and hummus to balance it out a bit!
The evening was a huge success for both Youth Moves and Softwire. For us, it was a pleasure to work with such an enthusiastic bunch. The Youth Moves volunteers and the kids thoroughly enjoyed the experience and were really appreciative. One of them was so impressed he thanked his Mum several times for letting him come, said he wanted to come and work here and persuaded his Mum to ask us about work experience when he reaches 15/16. Two of them even came up with an idea of how we could expand our outreach programme with Mindstorms – our own YouTube channel! Whilst that’s definitely given us something interesting to think about, in the short term we’re already thinking of repeating the evening, but with some even more challenging tasks next time!