The key to using Lego robotics as an educational tool is imagination. Luckily, kids have plenty of imagination.
When kids first get their hands on a Lego NXT kit, they will tend to just build the robot designs that are outlined in the instruction manual. This is normal. They grew up building Lego towers, cars and castles piece-by-piece, following the instruction manual very closely. Lego robots can be built the same way. However, the serious learning will start once they gain the confidence necessary to set the instruction manuals aside and begin using their own imaginations as a guide. In my experience, most kids reach this point naturally after a certain period of time. After a certain number of hours spent tinkering around with robots built from the instruction manual, a student will have an "ah hah!" moment, realizing that they can use the motors, sensors and wires provided in the NXT kit to create robots according to their own designs. As a Lego robotics coach and instructor, I do my best to help students reach this point by showing them the types of designs they could create. As a parent or teacher, you can do the same thing!
Once young people are empowered and encouraged to go "off-grid" and create their own designs, it is amazing what they can come up with. Below are some interesting examples of crazy designs that people have come up with using Lego robotics.
For when you get tired of cutting cakes yourself. A Lego Cake Cutter:
Here's one that's incredibly useful. A Lego toilet flusher, for all the times your family members forget to do it themselves:
This one is a little impractical, but very cute:
Your children can build things like this too, with a little encouragement! Comment if you have any thoughts on this, or if you have seen other crazy designs worth sharing.