Not, mind you, the respectfully sized ones designed for children under 3, but rather the wee teeny tiny easily lost until underfoot ones. Say it with me: eeeeeyowtch!
Personally, I blame the NSF. They funded the bloody program, you see, which is how my kid ended up learning about robotics while I twitched in corners and did my best to explain that no, early exposure to robotics and engineering was not part of a carefully crafted plan to get the Eldest in to Harvard.
'scuse me, Hahvahd.
My anti-intellectual reflexes aside, it was freakin' fantastic. The kids learned to program, using a pictoral programming language. They learned how to apply that to their intentions, in an NSF variation on the old 'make a peanut butter sandwich' lesson. And oh yes, they built stuff: they built houses with motion-sensing doors, they built drag racers, elevators, bulldozers, a train that automatically stopped at a number of stations, and after we got stuck behind one on a particularly cranky morning, the Eldest built a street-sweeper. He then got caught up in an anti-Lego City cabal, and proudly demonstrated his cell leader's spinning torture devices. Well, okay.
Later that day, he and I would whip out paper and pencils and design three different drawbridges, working out a rough sense of the mechanics for each. Holy freakin' moly. Holding the Eldest's sketches, I blinked in parental morse code at the Man, who nodded enthusiastically. Later that night, the Man and I would spend a happy half hour contemplating the various bits of used Lego for sale on eBay. Bless those grandmothers, selling their grandsons' unwanted Lego. Best wishes to the feline-lovers, raising money for their pet's chemotherapy. And uber-thanks to the lovely grad student who ran the program, and happily consulted on Lego options.
No, really: awash. Many, many teeny, tiny wee pieces. A mere seven pounds of the stuff, at last count. And of course, the boys are entranced.
Over the course of the next week or two, the Eldest happily delivered a series of lectures, or possibly monologues on the subject of his week's explorations, which I scribbled down as fast as my oversized grin would allow. Here are some excerpts:
there are 2 things in a tilt sensor. The first is mercury, the second is wires. Put together when you tip it one way, or another way, then you have a full circuit. You have to tip it in every direction to have a full circuit. A half-circuit would be when you tip it one way. Tip is again (the other way), and you have a whole circuit.
about the bump sensor: The machine goes forward until it bumps into something, then boink! stops because it's using the bump sensor. It works by - [pause] I don't know what's in it. But you can't have a "WAIT FOR" bump sensor.
transcriptor's note: I think the "wait for" is one of the programming commands that the children used.
I wish I had made a Lego person robot. Nobody else made that. [thoughtfully] Never got it checked off our list... If there had been more time, I would want to tackle how to make a dragster.
To have a robot, you have to have Legos, axle rods, gears and, of course, the electronics. Those would be the light sensor, tilt sensor, bump sensor, sound sensor. You always need a motor. Connected to that you need an axle rod and a gear. The motor spins the axle, and it would spin something like a gear...
And we followed his prescription, eBay lot by eBay lot. Gears, wheels, axles, bricks and wierd random things that come in a lot that's measured by pound, rather than by itemized contents. Which was just fine by us.
Eventually, however, I did have to ask about the torture chamber, the tank and what I rather thought were anti-aircraft missile systems. (happily, non-functional ones) The Eldest grinned, and told me:
While the rest of the group had been building Lego City, we were in a multi-universe, another universe, another century and almost like Fred Ward - and we were on another planet, too. The Eldest's grin widened, impossibly, and he went on. We were making vehicles meant to destroy their city, made of the same things as the dragster. I took a moment to appreciate the sense of subversity in his approach, and sat firmly on the lecture about opportunism and armies. But why? I asked, naively. The Eldest favored me with an earnestly patient look, and explained.
We were attacking the city of one reason: they did not have an army. They would have no way to defend themselves. They're unarmed! We were trying to take over the Legos - in fact, he said, his voice ripe with satisfaction, we did.
Looking around the room, my feet stinging from Lego-edges and Lego-corners, I was hardly in a position to argue.