Friday, September 08, 2006

Buying LEGO Mindstorms NXT Online

For over two years (since he was 6 years old) my son has been asking me to buy LEGO Mindstorms for him. The program used to be recommended for children over the age of 12, so I put it off. I also spoke to some mothers whose children owned it and they said the programming was difficult. I was frank with him and stated it was an expensive program that would not be good to buy only to find out it is too difficult for him to use, plus, by the time he got old enough to use it, LEGO may have come up with a new and improved version.

In August 2006 LEGO has released a new, updated, and revised edition of Mindstorms which they call Mindstorms NXT. We promised my son this would be his birthday gift (he recently turned nine years old).

I went to order it yesterday and had some decision making to do about where to buy it online. I have never seen it in a local retail store, so that is out as an option. I wished I could have found it for a discount. I did want it to come from a reliable and responsible retailer. So my goal was to find the lowest shipping fee from a responsible and reliable vendor.

I checked and saw they were selling it for full retail ($249.99). I did an order to see that they were charging $17.95 for shipping plus 6% state sales tax as I am located in the state where their corporate headquarters is. I cancelled out that order before I finalized it as that seemed too high to me.

(Note: usually in November and perhaps for some of December, offers a free shipping ‘holiday’ sale to inspire people to shop there for Christmas and Hanukkah, so if you want to buy from them at that time and get free shipping, just check the site to see if they are running a ‘free shipping’ special.)

I then checked who sells it through Target. The price was still full retail ($249.99) but the shipping was just $4.99 and there was state sales tax as there are Target stores in my state. So I put my order through.

My husband asked why I didn’t buy it from eBay as I have purchased stuff from them in the past. I checked around a bit and realized a few things. I wanted a brand new, in the box item, which I know can sometimes be found on eBay. I wanted to order it and have it done and over with, not fooling around with bidding on online auctions. There were a bunch of open auctions, and I didn’t want to take weeks or months to keep bidding at some low figure only to most likely, be outbid by others at the last minute. I also see that some people are doing “buy it now” for OVER full retail which I completely don’t understand at all, yet keep seeing with some products on eBay.

I am happy to have ordered through Amazon. I hope the shipping process is fast. The item was not allowable through Amazon Prime so there will not be 2nd day shipping for me (darn).

My son is waiting on pins and needles for his Mindstorms NXT to arrive. Note also they have simplified the program and it now says that it is for children aged 10 and older. Hooray.

By the way another reason I am not hesitating to spend such a large amount on this product is that to me it is not just a toy, it is educational and challenging. If I took a few minutes I could come up with a whole list of ‘educational content areas’ that are covered by using and creating robots with LEGO Mindstorms NXT. In other words I can justify the expense on this rather than on other regular toys as it has other benefits to using it which I think will be good for my son (plus if I were trying to impress some school official about our homeschooling, those things would make great additions to our homeschool curriculum, academic goals, etc.).

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Matt said...

I was searching for Mindstorms when I came across your blog entry. I'm considering a Mindstorms NXT purchase for my son who is turning nine in July. He went through a brief programming class at Legoland and of course now wants one badly.

I was wondering how things went with your purchase; did your son enjoy it, was there staying power in using it over a long period, and did you think it was worth the money? Does he still use it? Looking forward to your reply.

christinemm said...

Hi Matt,
After the purchase of this for my son's 9th birthday he used it at first, only with my husband.

In that year of being aged 9, he progressed to use it a little by himself but stalled out on using it and went back to regular LEGO play.

When he was aged 9 in Sept-January he joined the team competition Junior FIRST LEGO League. Since we were homeschoolers we had a homeschool team. Schooled kids must go through their school to be on a team. That contest did NOT use Mindstorms. Junior FIRST LEGO league at that time was for kids aged 6-9 and by putting him in that younger league both he and his brother could be together and it was more doable for our family's schedule.

The month he turned 10 he joined a homeschool team for FIRST LEGO League which is for kids aged 9-14 and does use NXT Mindstorms. The working on a challenge and using programming forced him to learn more of the programming. However the competition was not all fun and games due to dealing with group dynamics, kids messing up, using other's ideas that didn't work etc. Of course that is the point and fine, they are to build teamwork and work together as kids to find working solutions. However that made it a 'job' not just fun. The team was so stressful with those kids that he did not want to ever do it again.

To be honest he doesn't use his NXT Mindstorms at home on his own. He is 11.5 years old now and still plays with LEGO daily. If I let him play unlimited video games (as I've tried on summer days) he never plays with LEGO. The days when he is punished off of video games he plays more with LEGO. My point is that he still is enjoying regular LEGOs when he has the time or if TV or video games don't take him away from them.

Last June I made him dismantle a custom made city that covered a space about 6x8 feet as his room needed cleaning, dust had settled on it from months of building.

Right now a new city has been built that is an L shape about 8 feet long and 4 feet at the widest. All his efforts go into making that.

I do wish my son would use his LEGO Mindstorms more.

He is not a 'computer kid'. I keep him pretty much off the Internet and we do not allow him to fool with the PC in general, installing, uninstalling and programming.

My son is interested in engineering, structural, mechanical or aerospace.

The young boys we know who love LEGO Mindstorms the best have shown an interest in computer programming and also like LEGOs for imaginative play. Their parents let them use PCs to do technical things with. Some have taken week long summer camps on LEGO Mindstorms or computer programming. One has taken a Java programming class. One is a member of a Mac user group and a PC user group that meets in his town and is all adults (but him). It is an all age group but usually only adults go (he is 11).

Anyway my working theory is that boys who love to play with Mindstorms NXT by themselves love programming and love LEGOs. Boys who love LEGOs for play but are not into programming or computers may think they will love Mindstorms NXT but will not use it as much as they think they will.

Good luck! Someday let me know how your son makes out with his Mindstorms NXT.

BTW I believe you can buy challenge books with projects from the LEGO Educator website or the paper catalog. Even though you are not a teacher I believe you can ask for a catalog and place your order. I would try it if I were you. This is if you want your son to have some challenges that he wants to work on other than making up projects out of his imagination.

Also YouTube has some directions like how to make a working scanner out of Mindstorms. Look around on the Internet for project directions with it if you think that is something that your son would like to do, learning first by doing some scripted projects.