Archive for the ‘NXT’ Category

Cool Project: EV3 Security Tank

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Cool Project EV3 TankKyle M. (aka Builderdude35) created a very cool project called the EV3 Krimzon Guard Security Tank! The tank is programmed in ROBOTC too, which was the first time Kyle programmed with our software. Kyle says, “[The EV3 Tank] features proportional IR beacon tracking, and a deadly-accurate turret targeting system. If that’s not enough, it also has a massive spiked steamroller on the front!”





Watch the tank in action here:




The tank includes an EV3 brick, two EV3 large motors, steam roller with spikes, a rotating dual-barrel turret, and three sensors! “There is a Mindsensors SumoEyes mounted on the chassis just above the steam roller (you will see the two red LED’s) that detects the targets in zones left, right or straight ahead. Just above that is a LEGO Infrared sensor that is used for beacon tracking. Lastly, there is a LEGO Ultrasonic sensor that rotates with the turret to confirm target acquisition.” Pretty awesome!

For a more detailed breakdown of the tank and code, visit his website here.

Do you have a cool ROBOTC project you want to share with the world? If so, send us an email at and we’ll post it on our blog and social media pages!

Written by Cara Friez-LeWinter

December 3rd, 2015 at 6:10 am

ROBOTC Certification Courses Being Offered at this Spring’s ITEEA Conference!

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Robomatter and the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy are proud to offer Robotics Certification courses at the ITEEA National Harbor conference in Washington, DC on March 2nd and 3rd, 2016!

When you sign up for the training, you’ll get:

  • A Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy Certification course
  • Membership to ITEEA
  • Access to this year’s the ITEEA Conference at the National Harbor in Washington, D.C.

The courses that we are offering are Certification Courses. They will consist of two trainings sessions at the conference and four online classes after the conference. The online classes are offered once per week, are recorded, provide you with 24/7 access, and include forums that are enable you to get you questions answered on your schedule. There are two courses being offered, ROBOTC for LEGO training and ROBOTC for VEX training.

Each course will consist of:

  • Two (2) three-hour, on-site sessions at the ITEEA National Harbor conference
  • Four (4) additional online evening training sessions following the conference (or you could attend a summer online course)

Limited spots available! To register for the training or to learn more, visit:

Written by Cara Friez-LeWinter

December 1st, 2015 at 6:00 am

ROBOTC for LEGO MINDSTORMS 4.51 Preview Available Today!

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The ROBOTC Development Team is happy to announce a public preview of ROBOTC 4.51! This update is for the LEGO MINDSTORMS (NXT and EV3) physical and virtual robotics systems and includes some great new features, improvements, and a load of bug fixes.

Click here to download the .exe file for 4.51!

Important Setup Information for ROBOTC 4.51:


  • Simply update to the latest ROBOTC firmware from inside of ROBOTC.

LEGO EV3 Users:

  • All users will need to update the  LEGO EV3′s Kernel by connecting the EV3 and selecting “Robot Menu -> Download EV3 Linux Kernel” from inside of ROBOTC. The version number (1.07X) is the same to keep alignment with the EV3 Programming Software and LEGO’s releases.
  • After updating your EV3′s Linux Kernel, you’ll also need to update the ROBOTC firmware from inside of ROBOTC.

ROBOTC 4.50 —> 4.51 Change Log:

New Features and Improvements:

  • Added support for simple mathematical expressions in numerical text boxes in Graphical.
  • Datalogging has been added for the EV3 platform.
  • Users can now log data from inside your program, with or without a timestamp.


  • Users can also configure motor, sensor and other values to be automatically polled at intervals as low as 10ms.


  • Users can view data in ROBOTC as it polled in and save to a .CSV file for additional analysis in a popular spreadsheet software.


  • Use standard keyboard shortcuts to Select All, Copy, Cut and Paste in the Debugstream Window.
  • Natural Language Library Files have been enhanced for improved readability.
  • “Port with no Motor” has been added as an option for graphical blocks that use multiple motors – this will allow you to unselect a specific motor.
  • Graphical Copy and Paste has been improved to work better with comment blocks.
  • A flag (-SUPPRESS ) has been added to allow suppression of command line activation errors.
  • When compiling multiple files at once, the IDE will remain more responsive to user interaction.
  • A setMotorBrakeMode block has been added to Graphical, allowing motors to be set to either “float” or “brake”. This will allow motors to be setup as “free running”. This command can be found in “Expert” and above menu levels.
  • Additional programming samples have been added

General Fixes:

  • ‘Trial’ indicator displays correctly, regardless of license combinations.
  • Missing function added to the Function Library descriptions
  • Fixed and improved “hover over” tool tip help descriptions inside of the Function Library.
  • Resolved issue where the bottom of the Graphical Library view would not be cleared properly when scrolling
  • Char arrays with “\0” are properly initialized.
  • Selection of options inside of a Graphical Block can be reverted by using “undo”.
    • Fix potential RVW file read issue from crashing ROBOTC.
  • Several float-related issues resolved:
    • Compiler incorrectly optimizes constant expressions with ‘float’ operands.
    • Formatted printing does not work with negative floats
  • Using nSemaphore.nOwningTask comparison no longer generates a compiler warning
  • Two enum issues related to overflowed values have been fixed.
  • Functions returning pointers no longer generate errors when used in Boolean logic expressions.
  • Values from arrays of pointers assigned to another pointer, no longer cause errors.
  • setMotorBrakeMode commands take immediate effect, rather than after the first motor speed command.
  • Closing a source file could cause am unhandled exception under certain conditions, this has been resolved.
  • Compiling multiple Graphical programs at once no longer generates an error that there is no code to compile.
  • Fixed an issue where the Global Variable Base Address was incorrectly displayed.
  • RVW Package Manager will only self-elevate if multiple level packs are being installed.
  • Numerous small visual enhancements and fixes.


  • Changing the volume programmatically on an EV3 could cause a screen freeze when using the on-brick volume program after the program had exited.
  • Fixed issue where Casper is not cleaned up properly when the application exits.

Click here to download the .exe file for 4.51!

Happy Programming!

Written by Cara Friez-LeWinter

November 19th, 2015 at 5:49 pm

Online LEGO Professional Development Courses Start this February!

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Teacher Training 2

Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy has announced their latest online LEGO ROBOTC training schedule! The class starts in February and you can enjoy the convenience of taking Robotics Academy courses without leaving your own computer workstation!

Register for their ROBOTC EV3 class today!

Benefits of Robotics Academy Online Training Courses:

  • Convenient online training gives you access from home or your school via the Internet.
  • Online access to supplemental lessons from other Robotics Academy materials.
  • Technical support for all hardware and software used in the class.
  • At the end of the course, take the certification test to become a Robotics Academy Certified Instructor.
  • Certificate of Completion upon course completion to apply for Continuing Education hours.
  • 24/7 access to class forums and message boards (monitored daily)

Robotics Academy Certified ROBOTC Online Training for LEGO NXT and EV3


This course focuses on learning how to program NXT and EV3-based robots using ROBOTC, and how to use robotics as an organizer to teach STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology, and Mathematics) concepts.

Feb 25th – Mar 31st, 2016
Thursdays for 6 weeks
6 – 8pm EST (3 – 5pm PST)

Register for their ROBOTC EV3 class today!


Written by Cara Friez-LeWinter

November 18th, 2015 at 6:00 am

Announcing the Mini Urban Challenge for Robot Virtual Worlds!

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Mini Urban Challenge

We are very excited to announce a brand new Robot Virtual Worlds Competition, Mini Urban Challenge! Our new virtual simulation is based off the national competition sponsored by The Doolittle Institute, the Air Force Research Laboratory, and Special Operations Command.



The purpose of this competition is to design and program a robotic vehicle that can autonomously navigate a mini-urban city, using a virtual LEGO® MINDSTORMS® EV3 robot. The robot must enter the mini-urban city from a home base, travel through the city to assigned parking lots, park in any parking space in each assigned parking lot, and then exit the city by returning to the home base and parking in the home base. The robot should use the optimal path (shortest distance) through the mini-urban city to visit the parking lots. While in the city, the robot should obey traffic rules by stopping at stop signs and following standard right-of-way rules when other vehicles are encountered. You can find the official rule here.

Our new Robot Virtual World features three modes for the Mini Urban Challenge:

1. Practice Mode allows students to develop and test their code for the challenge, without worrying about scoring, penalties, or the clock.

2. Competition Mode is the standard version of the challenge field, complete with timing and scoring to reflect the real world competition.


3. City Mode is an exciting, themed version of the challenge field, which also includes timing and scoring that reflect the real world competition.


Download and install the Mini Urban Challenge for Robot Virtual Worlds here! To submit your scores and compete with others, you will need a free account from the Computer Science Student Network!

What’s the Big Idea? Using your STEM Classroom to Teach What Matters

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Computer Science

Computers are an everyday part of life. We use them constantly in our personal lives and in the workplace. According the the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, over 50% of jobs today require some level of technology skills. And, that percentage is expected to grow to almost 80% in the next ten years.

There’s no question that computer science skills are helping students succeed. But, computer science is about more than just learning to program. Students also need to learn how to think programmatically, to use programming as a problem-solving tool, and to understand the global impact of computer science and computing.

The most effective STEM programs include what are sometimes called the “Big Ideas” of computer science – foundational principles that are central to computing and help show students how computer science can change the world. Here’s a quick overview of some of the big ideas we think are important, and some tips on how you can incorporate them into your STEM Robotics or Computer Science classroom:

  1. Abstraction – Abstraction is a key problem-solving technique that we use in our everyday lives and that can be applied across disciplines and problems. Abstraction helps students manage complexity by reducing the information and details of a problem, allowing them to focus on the main idea. But how do you teach students abstraction?

One way is to Implement a project that start with a complex problem but uses mini-challenges to break the problem into smaller pieces. Have students solve the mini-challenges, focusing on one aspect of the problem at a time, and then use those mini-challenge solutions to build a final solution to the larger, more complex problem.

Algorithm2. Algorithms – Algorithms are used to develop and express computational problems and they’re an important part of Computer Science. But, algorithmic thinking is a tool that students can apply across disciplines and problems. Algorithmic thinking means defining a series of ordered steps you can take to solve a problem. Therefore, it’s important that students learn how to not only develop algorithms, but to also learn how to express algorithms in language, connect problems to algorithmic solutions, and evaluate algorithms effectively and analytically.

Here’s one idea for introducing algorithms into your STEM Robotics or Computer Science classroom: Provide students with a list of numbers. Ask them to find the largest number and document the procedure they used. (This is also good pseudocode practice!) Next, tell students that they will be given a program that generates 10 random numbers between 0 and 30 and they will have to provide an algorithm to find the largest number from the list. Once students have generated the algorithm and seen it in action, discuss why the algorithm is valuable. While it may not be a big deal to find the largest number out of a group of 10, what if we increased the range of numbers from 0 to 10,000, and increased the amount of numbers from 10 to 1000? In a situation like that, an algorithm would be able to find the largest number much faster than a human.

3. Computational Thinking – Computational thinking is a basic a problem-solving process that can be applied to any domain. This makes computational thinking an important skill for all students, and it’s why our curriculum is structured to teach students how to use computational thinking to be precise with their language, base their decisions on data, use a systematic way of thinking to recognize patterns and trends, and break down larger problems into smaller chunks that can be more easily solved.

To learn more about implementing computational thinking in your classroom, read our blog post from last month, “What is Computational Thinking and Why Should You Care?

Creativity4. Creativity – People often think that science and creativity are two terms that don’t belong together. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Innovation and creativity are at the heart of STEM and Computer Science. Along with programming skills, students need to learn how to think creatively and need to get comfortable with the creative process.

One great way to do this is by using structured problem-solving in your classroom. Structured problem-solving allows students to be creative, but within parameters. While students will still have opportunities to personalize their projects and justify their solutions, their creativity will still be structured. That way, teachers don’t have to worry about students constantly losing focus.

5. Data – This “Big Idea” revolves around the fact that data and information facilitate the creation of knowledge. Over the past 50 years, the tasks that we perform on a routine basis have gotten more and more complex. According to an analysis done by Frank Levy and Richard J. Murane, the amount that employees are asked to solve unstructured problems and acquire and make sense of new information has increased dramatically, by more than 40% .[i] Therefore, it’s important to teach students how to analyze and interpret data.

You can do this by having students use coordinate data to code precise movements. Or, ask students to design a short, school-appropriate survey to collect data and answer specific questions. Then, have students write a program to input and analyze their data and calculate basic descriptive statistics such as mean, mode, range, and frequency. You can also ask students to plot their data on a chart or graph, and identify subgroups within the dataset to explain response patterns. Finally ask students to draw conclusions or make generalizations from their data and present their results to the class.

2_2-4_mc_bossOnRoad6. Impact
– Computers have had a global impact on the way we think and live. The way we work, play, collaborate, communicate, and do business has changed dramatically in recent years and will likely continue to change. It’s important for students to understand the global impact of computing in everyday life, and the numerous ways computing helps enable innovation in other fields.

One way to help students understand the impact of computer science is to use activities that involve things like the internet, cybersecurity, internet searches, and the power of programming within advertising. You can also create activities that ask students to connect their programming skills to content from other classes (science, math, etc.). Or, you can ask students to think about and report on the less obvious ways they use technology every day, such as making breakfast, driving in a car, using the self-checkout line at the grocery store, etc.

7. Precision
– Programming is precise. It’s important for students to learn that a computer program will do exactly what they tell it to do. This is especially evident with robots. If you aren’t precise about what you tell your robots to do, they probably won’t do what you want. However, precision does not need to be complex. Even simple programming activities can require precise, thoughtful communication – How far should the robot move? How far should it turn?



Ultimately, we’re asking students to change the way they think about giving directions. So, a great activity is to have students create a set of instructions explaining how to do a task like following a recipe, drawing a house, or making a paper airplane. Have one student provide the instructions and a second student act as a robot, doing exactly what student #1 is telling him or her to do. Most times, it quickly becomes apparent that students have not fully considered the level of detail required for programming and that they need to be more precise with how they provide instructions.

If you’re looking for more ideas on how to integrate “Big Ideas” into your STEM classroom, we’ve embedded these “Big Ideas” into our research-based curriculum, which is available for free online, or through the purchase of a classroom edition that comes with the benefits of:

  • Guaranteed Uptime – Keep your classroom up, even if your internet is down.
  • Zero bandwidth requirements – 30 kids accessing the same curriculum can really slow things down.
  • High Quality Support – Have a question or need help getting started? You’ll have access to our best-in-class support team.
  • Individual curriculum access for each student or group – With individual access to the curriculum, students can move at the instructional pace that’s right for them.



Written by LeeAnn Baronett

November 11th, 2015 at 6:00 am

Competing for the Future: Developing a Life-Long Interest in STEM, Part II

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Well designed competitions engage students in a range of activities, address academically challenging concepts, and teach important 21st century skills. But, these benefits don’t have to be limited to organized competitions. You can also get all of the benefits of a competition, right in your classroom!

Last week, Part I of our Competing for the Future blog talked about using virtual competitions, like our VEX Nothing But Net and VEX IQ Bank Shot Robot Virtual World Competitions, as a way for your team to compete virtually. This week, we explore how you can use virtual competitions in your classroom to provide a unique and challenging learning experience for all students!

RVW's VEX Nothing But Net

RVW’s VEX Nothing But Net

Step 1: Choose your competition type (simulation or fantasy)

The first step is to choose the type of competition you’d like to use in your classroom. Do you want to use a simulated competition, like the ones that they use in FIRST or the RECF competitions, do you want your competition to take place in a fantasy environment (underwater, outer space, on an island), or do you want to create your own competition?

Are you using LEGO or VEX?

LEGO and VEX are the two most widely used robotics competition platforms and there are great reasons to use both. The Robot Virtual Worlds team has a large selection of LEGO and VEX competitions for you to choose from:

RVW's LEGO Urban Challenge

RVW’s LEGO Urban Challenge

You can download each of these games from the Robot Virtual Worlds Download Center.

Palm Island Game

Palm Island Game

Another option is to use one of the Robot Virtual Worlds fantasy worlds. These worlds are more playful and have specific goals built into them. You can choose from:

  • Palm Island – Designed to teach and reinforce introductory and intermediate programming concepts involving sensor based robot movements.
  • Operation Reset – Programmers are assigned to recharge all of the Communication Towers in the colony of Alpha Base H99, a robotic crystal mining colony near the galactic center of the Milky Way.
  • Ruins of Atlantis – Designed to teach and reinforce introductory programming concepts such as path planning and encoder based movements.
Level Builder

Level Builder

Or, you can create your own competition using the Robot Virtual Worlds Level Builder and Model Importer. With an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop interface, the Level Builder makes it as easy to create a virtual challenge as it is to create a physical challenge out of classroom materials. The Level Builder provides a 12’x12′ square field on which to design your competition. It also provides several objects – from cans and boxes to line tracking tiles – that you can use to design challenging, unique, and fun competitions!

Model Importer

Model Importer

The Robot Virtual Worlds Level Builder also comes with a Model Importer that allows you to create and import your own 3D models! With the model importer, you can also modify objects to make them an unmovable object, a perilous obstacle, or a necessary checkpoint.

Step 2: Determine the rules of your competition

Regardless of whether you create your own competition or use an existing Robot Virtual World, the rules and structure of your competition will allow you to customize the experience for your class, or even for individual students. (This can also be something you discuss with your students and determine together.)

Here are a few things to consider:

  • When will the competition start?
  • Is this an individual competition, or can students work in teams?
  • What type of documentation do you want students to turn in?
    • Does the code need to be commented?
    • Do the programmers need to show pseudocode?
    • Do the programmers need to explain their use of variables and functions?
  • When does the competition end?
  • What does it take to win the competition?

Step 3: Get Ready

Once the rules are set, there are just a few more things to take care of before the competition starts:

  1. Start by installing Robot Virtual Worlds on all students’ machines. Visit our Download Center to get the latest version.
  2. If you’re using one of our Robot Virtual Worlds, such as Palm Island, Ruins of Atlantis, or Operation Reset, make sure you’ve installed that on the students’ machines as well. Visit our Download Center for the latest version of each Robot Virtual World.
  3. Make sure all students understand the competition rules
  4. Get ready to rumble and have fun! 

Need a Few Ideas for Using a Competition in Your Classroom?

With the ability to use an existing Robot Virtual World or create your own challenges, the options for in-class competitions are endless. Here are a few competition ideas if you need a little help deciding what to do:

  • Create a competition using the Palm Island Robot Virtual World by assigning points to the completion of certain tasks.
  • Create a competition that requires students to use a loop and the light/color sensor in a line tracking competition where students need to program their robots to follow a line as fast as possible. Here’s a Teachers POV blog post about the benefits of using this type of competition in your classroom, whether it’s with physical or virtual robots.
  • Robo-Slalom! Use the use the Robot Virtual Worlds Level Builder and Model Importer to create a slalom course that students must complete by programming a robot that can move along the outside of each flag. The robot’s path must prevent it from touching any flag, and allow it to cross the finish line as fast as possible.
  • You can also use a game like VEX IQ Beltway to create an in-class competition.
  • Here’s a Teacher POV blog post about how one teacher created a competition that challenged students to apply the basics of ROBOTC programming while also asking them to come up with unique strategies to try to score as many points as possible in a 2 minute game.

Written by LeeAnn Baronett

October 22nd, 2015 at 6:00 am

New Robot Virtual World Level Packs Updates!

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RVWThe Robot Virtual Worlds team has put out some updates to a few Level Packs to improve your experience. Download the latest versions today!

Written by Cara Friez-LeWinter

October 12th, 2015 at 8:13 am

5 Ways to Engage Students in Your STEM Classroom

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VEX Engage Kids

There is a direct connection between student engagement and student learning! But how do you engage kids in learning? Contextualized activities that relate learning to real-world applications provide great opportunities to teach big ideas in mathematics, engineering, and computational thinking, all while keeping students engaged. If you pick the right activities, students learn because they want to, not because they’re being told, “you need to.”

But, do we really know what students will need to know as adults? Not long ago, it was important to learn to type, but now we have voice recognition software that gets better with every new release. And most of us were taught to read an analog clock, write in cursive, and balance a checkbook, all skills that are no longer necessary in today’s world.

IMG_7195While we may not know exactly what our students will need to know as adults, we know they need to learn “enduring understandings,” things like how to solve problems, how to reason, how to break big problems into smaller problems, and how to organize ideas. Contextualized problem-solving activities, which integrate learning with the development of 21st century skills, are a great way to engage students in learning and teach enduring understandings.

In today’s world, we find new “smart systems” integrated across all industry sectors (medical, banking, transportation, manufacturing, entertainment, etc.). These systems are robotic in nature, which makes robotics engineering problems a great choice to provide contextualize student learning. Here are just a few of the ways you can use robotics in your STEM classroom to keep students engaged:

Use Project Based Learning (PBL) Activities

IMG_2181PBL activities are great because the place the responsibility of developing a solution directly in students’ hands. Studies show that students learning in a PBL environment often retain far more than students who sit passively in class and listen to lectures. PBL activities have also been shown to improve students’ attitudes about your class, and also help develop their critical thinking, communication, and creative thinking skills. [1],[2]

Robotic engineering activities are inherently an engaging, PBL activity. However, if you want students to develop the enduring understandings that take place in well thought out lessons, the activities need to be scaffolded and foregrounded in very specific ways. For teachers new to robotics project-based learning, check out our free online VEX and LEGO curriculum, which are designed for introductory through advanced classrooms.

Already have a robotics program but need more ideas? Check out this Teacher POV blog post for some ideas on using robotics in your STEM classroom.

Hold an in-class robotics competition 

Robotics competitions have been proven to develop 21st century skills and teach important mathematics, computational thinking, and engineering skills. They also provide a fun way to motivate students and keep them engaged.

Build-BetterBut, implementing in-class competitions can be expensive on multiple fronts: the cost of kits for every student, student class time to iterate on solutions, and prep time to implement the actual competition. Our suggestion is to implement a virtual competition as a capstone activity, using Robot Virtual Worlds. Virtual competitions can be direct simulations of existing competitions, or can be hybrid competitions using one of the game worlds that are available. Or, they can even be games that students create using the Level Builder and the Model Importer.

Model ImporterAlthough virtual competitions may appear to be programming centric, they can also be used to develop teamwork and collaboration (I will solve this part of the problem while you work on that part), develop problem solving and engineering competencies (your team is responsible to develop a virtual robotics challenge that demands that students use feedback from the robot’s ultrasonic and gyro to solve the problems), and develop college and career readiness skills (you have to show your research and present your findings to the class). In other words, virtual competitions provide a unique opportunity for students to practice programming, develop engineering competencies, and have fun!

Beltway1-300x169Here’s a Teacher POV blog post about how you can use a game like VEX IQ Beltway to create an in-class competition. Another option for an in-class robotics competition is to use Robot Virtual Worlds in conjunction with our curriculum to create a scaffold learning experience for your students that’s both exciting and engaging. The schedule below shows how to implement the contest as part of a semester-long project: 




RVW_Teaching_Calendar copy


Using Mini-lessons

VEX Mini ChallengeKids attention spans are short, in the 8 – 14 minute range. That makes it difficult to hold their attention in a 50-minute lesson. This is where mini-lessons can help. Mini-lessons are short, 10 – 15 minute lessons that focus on a specific concept or skill. With mini-lessons, not only are you better able to keep students’ attention, you also give them the chance to to practice applying what they’re learning, one step at a time.

Our Robot Virtual Worlds software is a great fit for mini robotics lessons. In fact, we have mini lessons built into our free online curriculum, for both VEX and LEGO.

Here are a few other ideas for Robot Virtual Worlds mini-lessons:

  • Use the Measurement Toolkit to plot out a path, then have your students do the math to hit each waypoint
  • Use the Level Builder to teach basic game design principles like obstacles, checkpoints, and goals
  • Write a Roomba-like maze solving algorithm (move forward to a wall, then turn right, repeat forever) to navigate custom mazes in the Level Builder

Incorporate student input and interests into your lessons

Students learn better when they take an active role in their own learning. Incorporating students input and interests into your lessons is a great way to get students engaged.

Screenshot-2014-01-15_14.12.03One way you can do this with robotics is to take student input into account when designing projects and challenges. One option is to use Robot Virtual Worlds, along with the Level Builder, to to create different challenges for students to choose from. Or, even better, have students use the Level Builder to design their own challenges!

Another way to incorporate students into your planning is to use automated assessment tools to track students progress and make intelligent instructional decision about what topics students need more help with.

Here’s one way you can use Robot Virtual Worlds to direct your instruction: Create a challenge in the Robot Virtual World Level Builder that asks students to utilize different programming concepts. You’ll be able to see what skills students are struggling with, and can design your lessons accordingly.

Show students how what they’re learning is relevant

tank-girlOne of the biggest complaints students have about engineering and math is that it’s hard for them to see how it’s relevant to their world. By programming robots, students can see how what they’re learning has a direct impact in the real world, and can see how individual math and engineering elements come together to form a solution to a real problem.

Here’s a great blog post from Ross Hartley, a teacher in the Pickerington Local School District, about using robotics to provide contextualized learning and have kids solve real-world problems.

New to Robotics?

If you’re new to robotics, check out this video from Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy, which talks about the engaging nature of robotics, and the cools things you can do.



[1] “Summary of Research on Project-Based Learning.” Center of Excellence In Leadership of Learning (2011): n. pag. University of Indianapolis, June 2009. Web.

[2] Grant, M.M (2011). Learning. Beliefs, and Products: Students’ Perspectives with Project-based Learning. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 5(2).

Written by LeeAnn Baronett

October 6th, 2015 at 6:00 am

What is Computational Thinking and Why Should You Care?

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Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Computational Thinking says that computational thinking is, “a way of solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science,” and that “to flourish in today’s world, computational thinking has to be a fundamental part of the way people think and understand the world.” But what does that really mean? Think of it this way: computational thinking is like a Swiss Army Knife for solving problems.

Programming as Problem Solving

Computational thinking may sound like it’s complex, but it’s a basic a problem-solving process that can be applied to any domain. This makes computational thinking an important skill for all students, and it’s why our curriculum is structured to teach students how to use computational thinking to be precise with their language, base their decisions on data, use a systematic way of thinking to recognize patterns and trends, and break down larger problems into smaller chunks that can be more easily solved.

Here’s a video from our Introduction to Programming for VEX IQ curriculum that explains the concept of breaking down problems and building them up, and then shows how to apply that concept to programming a robot.


Computational Thinking is Everywhere

Instead of simply consuming technology, computational thinking teaches students to use technology as a tool. With computational thinking, students learn a set of skills and a way of thinking that they can apply to technical and non-technical problems by:Girl Gears

  • Applying computational strategies such as divide and conquer in any domain
  • Matching computational tools and techniques to a problem
  • Applying or adapt a computational tool or technique to a new use
  • Recognizing an opportunity to use computation in a new way
  • Understanding the power and limitations of computational tools and techniques

Students who develop proficiency in computational thinking also develop:

  • Confidence in dealing with complexity
  • Persistence in working with difficult problems
  • Tolerance for ambiguity
  • The ability to deal with open-ended problems
  • The ability to communicate and work with others to achieve a common goal or solution

These dispositions and attitudes are all important for students interested in pursuing STEM careers, but they’re also important for any student who wants to be able to succeed in today’s digital, global economy.

If you’re still not sure how computational thinking is important to you or your students, consider this:

  • DSC_0185A math student trying to decide whether they need to multiply, divide, add, or subtract in order to solve a word problem
  • A writing student who is researching a topic and needs to take notes in an organized and structured way
  • A science student trying to draw conclusions about an experiment
  • A history student trying make comparisons between different historical periods
  • A writing student trying to organize supporting details for a topic sentence
  • A reading student trying to find evidence to support character traits within the text
  • A math student trying to find a new way to solve a problem
  • A music student trying to learn how read a new piece of music

These are all examples of how we apply computational thinking each day, whether it’s in math, science, the humanities, or the arts.

Computational Thinking in Your Classroom

If you’re looking for an easy way to add computational thinking to your classroom, both our VEX and LEGO curriculum include computational thinking as part of the students’ learning process. Our curriculum teaches computational thinking skills by:

  • Immersing students in the problem-solving process, both individually and collaboratively
  • Teaching students how to decompose problems and then apply that to larger tasks
  • Providing students with opportunities to seek or explore different solutions
  • Providing students with opportunities to apply computational thinking skills across different disciplines

Iterative Design

If you’re looking for a low-cost way to work computational thinking into your classroom, check out Robot Virtual Worlds, a robotics simulation environment that can help you extend your STEM classroom by teaching kids to program, even if they don’t have access to a physical robot. With the Robot Virtual Worlds Curriculum Companion, you can use both our LEGO and VEX curriculum in your classroom, even if you don’t have access to physical robots.

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