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Lego Education Spike Prime Review: Robotics tailored to the middle school crowd

The $330 kit is designed for educators, parents and students who want to learn about simple robot building, sensors, and the coding that makes everything work

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Overall Rating:
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Lego is a brand known for its building kits, with Lego Education coming in to add a learning layer to these iconic bricks. One of the latest is Spike Prime, which launched in January 2020, a kit that links Lego bricks to sensors, motors and coding, and wraps them all into lesson plans designed specifically for middle schoolers. Lego Education sent us one of the Spike Prime kits to play with — and held our hand as we built a connected design — and here's our experience.

Lego Education Spike Prime The Spike Prime kit includes hundreds of bricks, wheels, and other parts for open-ended playGearBrain

Set up

Lego Education's Spike Prime looks very much the Lego kits I remember as a child. This is a bin of parts, from wheels to multi-colored bricks, without any instruction manual on how to turn these parts into the Apollo Saturn V rocket, for example, or a Volkswagen Camper Van. (Both of which I own, and have assembled in my home.) Instead this is a bin of possibilities — anything can be built, which is the very best part of Lego's promise.

While you can build anything you want, to see the full experience, and see how your devices make use of the system, you're going to need to download the Spike Prime App to a Windows PC, Chromebook, Mac, iPad and Android tablet. I pick the Mac, and then need to update my Spike Prime hub to make sure it's running the latest version of the app. That update takes about 15 minutes.



I'm also sent a set of instructions on how to built a Yoga Ring, one of the many lessons that are designed to teach students about basic coding, science and also math. The entire process to build my Yoga Ring takes me about 30 minutes, which is not bad. I think a middle schooler would find that they may need a bit more time, or perhaps less.

But the instructions are clear, and my Yoga Ring is ready for my upcoming lesson.

Lego Education Spike Prime review For one lesson, students are asked to build a device called a Yoga Ring, which tracks their movements through the Spike Prime appGearBrain

My lesson

I join a call with two other students, literally middle school students, their parents and a middle school science teacher Jennifer Nash, who walk us through how to make our Yoga Rings work through a unit plan called Stretch With Data. It's one of several new Spike Prime science and math lessons, a new unit called Training Trackers, that are designed to blend robotics with projects that get kids moving during a time when children are spending even more time seated on screens. The lessons can be done in person, or asynchronously, meaning students at home can do these, as long as they have the Spike Prime kits and access to the site.

I don't succeed nearly as well as my younger counterparts who are able to raise and lower their Yoga Ring and watch the resulting graph build from data points on the screen to show whether they're holding the pose correctly or not. There's also a way to see the code so children can see how the Yoga Ring is — and the instructions — are written and designed.

These data points are also handy, Nash notes, because they can be reused, ready made to be filled into math word problems, for example. Also helpful are the lists of other unit plans available, all aimed at grades 6 to 8, that focus on design, engineering and coding. Each lesson has a video component, and starts with supporting a student through the beginning, but then takes this scaffolding away, forcing children to handle more on their own.

Lego Education Spike Prime The Yoga Ring unit plan through Spike Prime creates a unique data set, a line graph that represents physical motions digitally.Lego Education

Price

Each Lego Education Spike Prime kit is $329.95 and contains 528 bricks. You can pick up extra pieces, including a color sensor, motor or a bigger expansion kit, with prices starting at $23.95.


Worth the investment?

Lego is a brand most families know today through their kits and even retail stores. While you can purchase bricks on their own, people tend to buy the kits that promise to create a fire station, or Hogwarts from Harry Potter. Lego Education, which launched in the 1980s, is more aligned with early Lego sets, those that included just trays of bricks, hinges, wheels and such that allowed people to build what came to their mind.

The new Spike Prime kits, which come from Lego Education, tap into this idea. While there are specifically designed structures, like a Yoga Ring, the kits connect to open-ended discovery. Each person raising and lowering the ring will create a different set of data points, and have a different experience, and can even amend a designed lesson on their own through the transparent code.

But this discovery comes at a price, not just the $330 for the kit, but the requisite computer or tablet needed to completely connect to these lesson plans. Plus, there's the necessary internet connection as well. Today, that digital divide, with some students able to access their remote learning needs easily, and others lacking not only Wi-Fi but even the device to get online, is more pronounced.

Spike Prime Lego code Through the Spike Prime app, students can see the code behind the lessons and projects they undertakeLego Education

Lego Education has been involved with other groups, including Intel, CDW-G and First Book, in giving Title 1 schools laptops, internet connections and yes, kits through a Creative Learning Connections grant initiated just in August — and 45 school districts were earmarked to get the grant. But for schools, and crucially families, who don't have this access, a Spike Prime kit can be an expensive investment.

For those that can handle the cost, or schools who can afford to purchase these kits and allocate them to students, Spike Prime can be an excellent supplementary option for weaving science and math to creative thinking. The investment decision, however is one families and schools will need to consider if they can afford, today, to make.

Pros:

  • Encourages creative, open-ended discovery, invention and play
  • Students can see and learn the coding driving the activities
  • Lessons can be done virtually, both live and asynchronously

Cons:

  • Cost
  • The unit plans and lessons require some handholding to get kids started
  • Requires a computer or tablet, along with an internet connection, to fully engage
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