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ROBOTC for VEX Robotics 4.53 Preview Available Today!

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ROBOTC 4-53 VEX

ROBOTC for VEX Robotics 4.53 preview is out and it sports a myriad of awesome new features that we’re very excited about! A full list of changes and improvements appear below, but here are the highlights:

Create Graphs from your Datalogs

Datalog Graph

Want to know what running your robot into a wall looks like to your accelerometer? Curious about how ambient light intensity varies throughout the day? Datalogging now supports (live) plotting of incoming data gathered on the robot brain. Science experiments involving sensor and motor data can be displayed. You can easily find out by gathering the data and having ROBOTC plot the data for you, as it comes in.

Datalog Graphical

Datalogging is no longer restricted to just Full ROBOTC, we’ve added easy to use blocks that allow you to access the same functionality in a simple manner.

Additionally, logged data can even be exported for further analysis in a spreadsheet application of your choice.

 

ROBOTC Graphical Variable Support

Variable Support

You can now use variables in ROBOTC Graphical, as well as perform various operations on them. You can add, subtract, divide, multiple, whatever your program requires. You can use variables in loops, motor blocks, you name it!

 

ROBOTC Graphical Break and Continue

Continue Break

We’ve added two new program flow blocks, break and continue. This was a much requested feature from our more advanced users of ROBOTC Graphical. You can now create more complex programs without creating work-arounds or having to switch to ROBOTC Full.

 

Beta Channel Access

Use Beta Builds

Want to have a front row seat when it comes to upcoming features in ROBOTC? Subscribe to the beta channel through ROBOTC’s preference menu and you will be notified when a preview build (such as this one), is released. Try out new and exciting features before we release them to the general public and provide us with feedback. Help make ROBOTC better!

 

Other changes and bug fixes

New features – VEX

  • You can control an LED on the VEX EDR from Graphical and Natural Language using the new setLED block or command.

Changes and Improvements – General

  • The default colors in the Assembly window (F9) have new defaults for increased readability.
  • Function tooltips have been revised and corrected where applicable.
  • License error messages have been improved. A short explanation of the error codes is now provided.
  • #info has been added to the list of support #pragma statements, such as #error and #warn
  • The start and stop buttons on the datalogging control have been merged into a single button.
  • Deleting a file from the File Utility was not possible, this has been fixed.
  • We’ve made some visual changes to ROBOTC Graphical including new colours for enhanced readability.
  • Internal improvements to the datalogging system have been made that resolve possible data corruption and inability to disable polling for a specific data series.
  • Saving a New User Model in the Motors and Sensor Setup has been fixed.
  • Various float conversion related issues have been fixed.
  • NaN (Not a Number) detection has been fixed.
  • Sscanf with more than 7 arguments could crash the VM, this has been fixed.
  • Overloaded deprecated function no longer cause warnings.
  • A discrepancy between the compiler and VM regarding the maximum number of tasks has been fixed.
  • An issue with ROBOTC crashing due to a recursive macro has been addressed.
  • The RVW package manager now shows the correct informational icon.
  • Opening the RVW package manager no longer causes an exception under certain circumstances.
  • An issue with the debugStream window background refresh causing a hang when communications with the robot was lost, has been remedied.
  • The Program Debug window no longer crops the status line.
  • You can now use displayInverseString() in combination with a char *.
  • drawInvertRect and drawInvertEllipse were not deprecated correctly, this has been fixed.

Changes and Improvements – VEX

  • The VexIQ LCD screen has been added to the #debuggerWindows #pragma.
  • A bug in the macro parser prevented the use of the VEX EDR platform when a PLTW license was active. This has been fixed.
  • An issue with debugging and using sscanf on the VEX IQ has been addressed.
  • VEX IQ getGyroRate and getGyroRateFloat return incorrect values, this has been fixed.
  • Starting a new task on the VEX EDR no longer clears the screen.
  • Using drawTextCenteredInUserScreenArea function will no longer throw an exception on the VEX IQ.
  • An issue with the start of flash file system not showing correctly in communication debug message has been fixed.
  • The VEX EDR competition template now sets the platform correctly.

Download ROBOTC for VEX Robotics 4.53 preview here!

And let us know what you think of the new updates. Happy Programming!

Written by Xander Soldaat

March 29th, 2016 at 6:20 am

ROBOTC for MINDSTORMS 4.53 Preview Available Now!

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ROBOTC 4-53
 

ROBOTC for MINDSTORMS 4.53 preview is out and it sports a myriad of awesome new features that we’re very excited about! A full list of changes and improvements appear below, but here are the highlights:

 

Create Graphs from your Datalogs

Datalog Graph

Want to know what running your robot into a wall looks like to your accelerometer? Curious about how ambient light intensity varies throughout the day? Datalogging now supports (live) plotting of incoming data gathered on the robot brain. Science experiments involving sensor and motor data can be displayed. You can easily find out by gathering the data and having ROBOTC plot the data for you, as it comes in.

Datalog Graphical

Datalogging is no longer restricted to just Full ROBOTC, we’ve added easy to use blocks that allow you to access the same functionality in a simple manner.

Additionally, logged data can even be exported for further analysis in a spreadsheet application of your choice.

 

ROBOTC Graphical Variable Support

Variable Support

You can now use variables in ROBOTC Graphical, as well as perform various operations on them. You can add, subtract, divide, multiple, whatever your program requires. You can use variables in loops, motor blocks, you name it!

 

ROBOTC Graphical Break and Continue

Continue Break

We’ve added two new program flow blocks, break and continue. This was a much requested feature from our more advanced users of ROBOTC Graphical. You can now create more complex programs without creating work-arounds or having to switch to ROBOTC Full.

 

Beta Channel Access

Use Beta Builds

Want to have a front row seat when it comes to upcoming features in ROBOTC? Subscribe to the beta channel through ROBOTC’s preference menu and you will be notified when a preview build (such as this one), is released. Try out new and exciting features before we release them to the general public and provide us with feedback. Help make ROBOTC better!

 

Other changes and bug fixes

New features – MINDSTORMS

 

  • Battery monitoring on the EV3 through the nImmediateBatteryLevel and nAvgBatteryLevel intrinsic variables has been added

Changes and Improvements – General

 

  • The default colors in the Assembly window (F9) have new defaults for increased readability.
  • Function tooltips have been revised and corrected where applicable.
  • License error messages have been improved. A short explanation of the error codes is now provided.
  • #info has been added to the list of support #pragma statements, such as #error and #warn
  • The start and stop buttons on the datalogging control have been merged into a single button.
  • Deleting a file from the File Utility was not possible, this has been fixed.
  • We’ve made some visual changes to ROBOTC Graphical including new colours for enhanced readability.
  • Internal improvements to the datalogging system have been made that resolve possible data corruption and inability to disable polling for a specific data series.
  • Saving a New User Model in the Motors and Sensor Setup has been fixed.
  • Various float conversion related issues have been fixed.
  • NaN (Not a Number) detection has been fixed.
  • Sscanf with more than 7 arguments could crash the VM, this has been fixed.
  • Overloaded deprecated function no longer cause warnings.
  • A discrepancy between the compiler and VM regarding the maximum number of tasks has been fixed.
  • An issue with ROBOTC crashing due to a recursive macro has been addressed.
  • The RVW package manager now shows the correct informational icon.
  • Opening the RVW package manager no longer causes an exception under certain circumstances.
  • An issue with the debugStream window background refresh causing a hang when communications with the robot was lost, has been remedied.
  • The Program Debug window no longer crops the status line.
  • You can now use displayInverseString() in combination with a char *.
  • drawInvertRect and drawInvertEllipse were not deprecated correctly, this has been fixed.

Changes and Improvements – MINDSTORMS

 

  • The original LEGO firmware file operations have been removed, their functionality has been superseded by ROBOTC file operations.
  • EV3 specific datalogging functions have been marked as obsolete. Users should use the new datalogging functions.
  • Restrictions on the file downloading locations on the EV3 have been relaxed a little.
  • Opening the File Utility on the EV3 will create the rc and rc-data folders, if they don’t already exist.
  • Playing a sound file from inside ROBOTC’s on-brick program folder is easier. It will check if a file with that name exists in the rc folder, before checking the built-in sounds folder.
  • A memory leak in the EV3 connection handling has been fixed; disconnecting an EV3 while the debugger was running would eventually exhaust all program memory.
  • Running a motor with a specified encoder count of 0 on the EV3 would produce unpredictable results, this has been fixed.
  • An issue with reading data from the NXT Sonar sensor in the IDE has been fixed.

Download ROBOTC 4.53 preview here!

And let us know what you think of the new updates. Happy Programming!

Written by Xander Soldaat

March 29th, 2016 at 6:15 am

Mexico’s ROBOTC and Robot Virtual Worlds Software Programming Contest

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reeduca-logoIn early 2015, our partner, Reeduca, started the ROBOTC and Robot Virtual Worlds (RVW) Software Programming Contest for both public and private school students in Mexico. Reeduca started the contest as a way to introduce students, teachers, parents, and educators to computer science and its benefits.

In order to reach the ROBOTC and RVW National Championship, students had to qualify through pre-national tournaments in each zone of Mexico. The best programmers were selected to move onto the National Championship.

Check out this video to see programmers in action at Mexico’s ROBOTC and Robot Virtual Worlds National Championship!

Written by LeeAnn Baronett

March 18th, 2016 at 5:23 am

Cool Project: VEX IQ Tetris

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CP VEX IQ TETRISTetris is a beloved and well-known classic game that many of us have been addicted to at one point or another. We wait patiently for that perfect “Tetrimino” that will create a horizontal line so the board continues to move down so the game keeps going. Well, our latest Cool Project does just that, but on a VEX IQ brain and programmed in ROBOTC!

Petr Nejedly created the game as an experiment to see what could be done with the VEX IQ platform outside of robotics. He says, “I have coded it ad-hoc in one night. The code is pretty … short, not really pretty. 233 lines including (rare) comments.” When we spoke through email he mentioned that game is currently not random at all. “So, my son came to me, that he has an improvement to the program. That I should use this random() function, it will be more fun to play … Teachable moment! We have discussed, how a computer, a very exact instrument that always follows the same instructions and in fact only moves numbers here and there, come up with random numbers. What is a PRNG and how you have to seed it (srand()), what are real sources of randomness and what kind of issues such a lack of true randomness could cause in real world, besides lack of fun.” At this point, Petr said he would like to leave the actual fix to the curious readers/programmers out there to see what they can do with it. (Let us know if you do!)

Check out the game in action here:

Petr was nice enough to share the souce code, which you can download here. You can also read the original VEX IQ forum discussing the project here.

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

Written by Cara Friez-LeWinter

December 3rd, 2015 at 6:15 am

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 socialmedia@robomatter.com and we’ll post it on our blog and social media pages!

Written by Cara Friez-LeWinter

December 3rd, 2015 at 6:10 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.

2015-10-23_15-07-45

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

2015-10-23_15-09-32

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!

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

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LiveCareer Quote
A few weeks ago, we published an infographic that illustrates the STEM Problem: there are more and more STEM jobs out there, but fewer and fewer candidates who are qualified to fill them. But, taking a look at the job market shows that employers need more than employees who simply understand science, technology, engineering or math.

Degrees and credentials are important, but the development of soft skills—skills that are more social than technical—are a crucial part of fostering a dynamic workforce and are always in high demand.”[i]

Today’s job market needs graduates who excel in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), and who also excel in the areas of teamwork, communication, creative problem solving, project management, critical thinking, and leadership. Research shows[ii] that competitions are a fun and exciting way to combine STEM with the development of 21st century skills.

This is part one of a series of articles that will show how easy it is to host a competition at your school, in your classroom, in a club, or at your home! Over the next few weeks we will continue this article and suggest teacher-tested strategies that enable you to teach many of the competencies that you can teach via competitions and project based learning via a Virtual Competition.

Why Competitions?

IMG_7431Competitions are generally multifaceted and require participants to engage in a range of activities. Well designed competitions address academically challenging concepts and teach important 21st century skills like: research, ideation, prototype development, design reviews, presentations, and iterative design-develop- and test cycles, just to name a few. Competitions involve contextualized activities that enable kids to develop the soft skills that employers crave: leadership, written and oral communication, the ability to think on your feet, and the ability to present and defend your ideas. In competitions, these skills are nurtured in a fun and easy-to-understand manner, helping students develop competencies that they’ll use in college and future careers.

IMG_7441Research shows that after participating in competitions, students are more likely to take on additional STEM classes in high school and pursue STEM degrees and careers. Teachers also report that students who have participated in competitions are more comfortable using computers than students who haven’t participated in competitions.[iii] Research also shows that competitions increase students’ professional skills, like understanding the value of teamwork and the role of “gracious professionalism.” Competitions also increase students’ self-confidence, with 89% of students reporting more self-confidence after being part of a competition team.[iv] These are just a few of the reasons we’re big supporters of competitions and competition teams.

Compete Virtually, From Anywhere

splash-image_RECF
Our goal is to support education with multiple toolsets that engage and teach at the highest level. But, we know it can be difficult to find the requisite resources to start a team and travel to competitions, especially with the very real resource constraints so many schools face. That’s why we’ve partnered with the REC Foundation to create the VEX and VEX IQ Programming Skills Challenge for Robot Virtual Worlds!

Robomatter, VEX Robotics, and the REC Foundation are really excited about presenting low cost, high quality virtual competitions that enable students to test their problem solving and programming skills in the VEX Nothing But Net and VEX IQ Bank Shot Robot Virtual World Competitions. And, not only do these virtual competitions provide a great learning experience, you could qualify for the 2016 VEX Worlds!

This Year’s Games

3Both games simulate the single-player Robot Skills and Programming Skills modes of the physical Nothing But Net and Bank Shot competitions.

In the Nothing But Net Robot Virtual Worlds Competition, your goal is to program your virtual robot to put as many balls as you can in the Low and High goals, and by Elevating Robots in your Climbing Zone.

F3or the Bank Shot Robot Virtual Worlds Competition, your robot will need to pick up balls and make some tricky bank shots! The object of Bank Shot is to attain the highest score by Emptying Cutouts, Scoring Balls into the Scoring Zone and Goals, and by Parking Robots on the Ramp. There are a total of forty-four Balls available as Scoring Objects in the game, with one Scoring Zone, one Goal, and one Ramp on the field.

Winners Qualify for VEX Worlds!

The winners of the Robomatter sponsored VEX Nothing But Net and VEX IQ Bank Shot Robot Virtual World competition will receive an invitation to the VEX World Championship April 20-23, 2016 at the Kentucky Expo Center in Louisville Kentucky!

Important Deadlines:

  • Submissions for both contests are due by March 1, 2016.
  • Winners will be announced on March 11, 2016!

To learn more about the VEX and VEX IQ Programming Skills Challenge for Robot Virtual Worlds, visit www.robotc.net/recf and visit www.cs2n.org/competitions to sign up!

Announcing the 2016 REC Foundation & Robomatter Scholarship!

REC Foundation Robomatter Banner
Because Robomatter is so committed to advancing STEM education, we’re pleased to partner with the REC Foundation to offer one $5,000 scholarship to a high school junior or senior who will be pursuing a STEM degree in college! The deadline to apply is January 31, 2016. Learn more about the The 2016 REC Foundation & Robomatter Scholarship by reading our blog (link to blog) or visiting the REC Foundation website.

 

 

[i] “Careers | Top 10 Soft Skills in Demand | LiveCareer.” LiveCareer. LiveCareer.com, n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2015. <http://www.livecareer.com/career-tips/career-advice/soft-skills-in-demand>.

[ii] Robotics Competition: Providing Structure, Flexibility, and an Extensive Learning Experience – http://users.csc.calpoly.edu/~jseng/papers/grimes_seng.pdf

[iii] The Impact of Participation in VEX Robotics Competition on middle and high school students – http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&ved=0CDcQFjADahUKEwj9nJmlkq7IAhXE_R4KHRpxC3Q&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.asee.org%2Fpublic%2Fconferences%2F8%2Fpapers%2F2994%2Fdownload&usg=AFQjCNGeCaxBzSsxmeyN7jMVLlaOFwFIXA&bvm=bv.104317490,d.dmo

[iv] More that Robots: An evaluation of the FIRST Robotics Competition – http://www.usfirst.org/uploadedFiles/Who/Impact/Brandeis_Studies/FRC_eval_finalrpt.pdf

 

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

5 Reasons to Start a Robotics Competition Team

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You may have seen our blog post from this past Friday on how to get a robotics competition team up and running but you may still be on the fence about whether or not to start a team.

Some of the benefits of robotics competition teams are the same as any extracurricular activity: social development, improving self-esteem, helping bolster a college application, giving kids a sense of belonging, etc. But, robotics competitions do even more. They inspire young people to pursue STEM careers, to be leaders in science and technology, and to be successful in the 21st century.

Here are just a few of the compelling reasons to start a robotics competition team:

Prepare students for the real world: In robotics competitions, students must work as a team to design, build, and program their own robot. Not only are students responsible for all aspects of project planning and preparing for the competition, if a robot breaks or malfunctions while competing, students must think on their feet and work together to come up with a solution. This teaches students what it’s like to work as a team to creatively solve problems under the pressure of a looming deadline.

 

Foster intense learning at all levels: If you’ve been part of a robotics competition team, you know that they’re anything but dull. Competitions immerse students in dynamic teamwork, creative challenges, technical problems, project planning, project management, time management, computational thinking, design thinking, and a whole lot of other stuff. As they work to apply the engineering process to real-world problems, students must figure out how to work within the parameters they’re given, but must also figure out how to be as creative as possible within those parameters.

This adds up to a whole lot of STEM and 21st century learning as students plan, adapt, iterate, improvise, prototype, design, and redesign their robots. And, since competition teams often travel, kids get the added bonus of meeting new people and traveling to new places, sometimes even internationally.

 

Get students interested in STEM: Did you know that three-quarters of the fastest growing occupations require significant mathematics or science preparation? And that by 2018, there could be 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs in the U.S? And did you know that twenty-eight percent of US companies say that at least half of their new entry-level hires lack basic STEM literacy?*

There are more and more STEM jobs out there, but fewer and fewer candidates who are qualified to fill them. One way to stop this “STEM crisis” is to get more kids interested in pursuing STEM careers, and robotics competitions are a great way to do that. By using STEM skills and concepts to solve real-world problems, student get to apply their math and science skills in a fun and interesting way, and this can help spark students’ life-long interest in STEM.

 

There’s something fun for everyone: While building and programming your robot may be the team’s focus, there’s a lot more involved. Just like any IT company, the team also needs people who can design logos, create team merchandise, help with fundraising, track spending, coordinate and manage logistics, and all sorts of tasks that aren’t directly related to programming. This is a great way for kids to see how their skills can add value in a STEM-related field.

 

It’s a sport where everyone can turn pro: Unlike football, basketball, or even marching band, robotics is a field that provides each and every participant with a real chance to make it in the big leagues. Not only does being part of a competition team provide students with important real-world skills, competitions are also a great place to make industry connections, and they can also be a great way for kids to earn scholarships.

 

When you’re ready to start your competition team, remember that Robomatter has everything you need to get your team started. From hardware, software, free curriculum to help students learn to program, and training to help you get things up and running.

 

Don’t have the funding to start a full competition team? You can still start competing using our Robot Virtual Worlds software and our online competitions. These can be a great way to give kids the benefits of being part of a competition team, without making a significant investment in resources.

If you’re interested in starting a robotics competition team, be sure to tune into our Webinar on September 9th and 7:00 pm ET, Using ROBOTC and RVW to prepare for VEX Competitions. Visit www.robotc.net/hangouts to join.

 

Get an inside glimpse into what it’s like to run a robotics competition team. Check out this story from our Teacher POV blog series where Branden Hazlet, Director of Technology for Maui Prep, shares his team’s experience at the 2015 VEX Worlds Championship in Louisville, KY.

 

*Survey on CEOs Say Skills Gap Threatens U.S Economic Future, Dec 3, 2014

 

 

Written by LeeAnn Baronett

September 9th, 2015 at 6:22 am

Want to Start a Robotics Competition Team but Don’t Know Where to Start?

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Starting a robotics competition team can seem overwhelming, but it’s not as scary as it seems. Here’s a high-level overview of what you need to do to get a team up and running:

  1. Choose a platform
    Now more than ever, robotics teams are faced with the important question of which platform they should purchase and use. LEGO and VEX are the two most widely used platforms. LEGO is primarily used for elementary through middle school (Ages 9 – 14), while VEX can be used for kids in elementary school through college (Ages 8 – 18+).Whether you choose LEGO or VEX, Robomatter has the resources you need to make your team successful, including hardware, software, free curriculum to help students learn to program, and training to help you get things up and running.
  2. Pick your equipment
    Once you’ve chosen a platform, the next step is to pick your equipment. Whether you’ve decided to go with VEX or with LEGO, Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy has a great resources page to provide you with all of the tools and information you need to get started.You can access the VEX page here and the LEGO page here.
  3. Choose your software  
    ROBOTC is a C-based programming language with a Windows-based environment for writing and debugging programs. It’s also the most used language for the VEX IQ Challenge, and for the VEX Robotics Competition. ROBOTC is the only solution that offers a comprehensive, real time debugger. It also comes with a Graphical interface, which is a great way to get new students started.In addition to ROBOTC, you may also want to check out Robot Virtual Worlds, a high-end simulation environment that enables students to learn programming without a physical robot. With Robot Virtual Worlds, students can develop and test code on a simulated robot before running code on a real robot. They can also work on the robot when they’re at home, which means they don’t need to be in the classroom to prepare for the competition. With Robot Virtual Worlds, VEX users can also take part in online competitions.LEGO users can use Robot Virtual Worlds by adding on the Virtual Brick. By looking and acting like a LEGO Brain, the Virtual Brick allows teams to program virtual robots using the same programming language as they use to program real LEGO robots.
  4. Identify your technical and logistical requirements
    Here are some things you’ll need to think about:

    • Computers: You’ll want to have one computer for each robot/team of students.
    • Practice Area: The space should be large enough to accommodate the team, computer, practice table, and storage area for the robots.
    • Parts storage: To keep parts organized and accessible, parts organizers are a must. There are many options – portable organizers, drawer cabinets, boxes, caddies, etc. These are readily available online and at local hardware and craft stores.
    • Network – The software will need to be loaded on each computer or available via the network on each computer. Programs should be included in the regular system backup or a leader should make a backup to a separate disk or memory stick.
  5. Prepare a budget and get funding
    Your budget will need to take into account:

    • Robot kits and pats
    • Software
    • Parts organizers
    • Computers
    • Miscellaneous tools, parts, and supplies
    • Competition entry fees
    • Travel expenses, including gas, food, and lodging
    • Team shirts or other items to promote your team at the event

    Some potential sources of funding include your school district, local businesses, and local non-profit organizations. You may also consider having a fund raiser, like a bake sale or car wash. Be sure to acknowledge your sponsors at every opportunity, such as printing their names on your team shirts, etc.

  6. Build your team and assign rolesIn terms of team size, we’ve found that first-time coaches typically do well with about eight students. For larger teams, or if you have the resources, recruit other mentors for your team to lead the subgroups.Once you’ve built your team, the next step is to define roles. We recommend having students change roles on a regular basis, allowing them to share responsibility for all aspects of building, programming, etc. These are the roles we recommend:
    • Engineer (Builder)
    • Software Specialist (Programmer)
    • Information Specialist (Gets the necessary information for the team to move forward)
    • Project Manager (Whip-cracker)
  7. Plan, build, test, and iterate Once you have your equipment, funding, and team in place, you’re ready to get started!To make your team most effective, it’s a good idea to stick to a schedule. Create a schedule that fits your team’s objectives and resources. When you’re ready to build your robot, be sure to familiarize yourself with the competition rules and requirements. If you have questions, reach out to the community for help. There are a lot of great forums out there, such as the ROBOTC forum.Remember, an important part of the process is testing and iteration. Make sure your team knows it’s going to take time to get it right. Luckily, both the VEX and LEGO platforms allow teams to quickly build, test, iterate, and repeat. Even still, students may get frustrated by this process. Remind them that building, programming, and testing a robot doesn’t always go as planned. But, even though a design may have failed, it’s still a valuable learning opportunity, with lessons that can be applied to the next time you try.

If you’re interested in starting a robotics competition team, be sure to tune into our Webinar on September 9th and 7:00 pm ET, Using ROBOTC and RVW to prepare for VEX Competitions. Visit www.robotc.net/hangouts to join.

 

 

Written by LeeAnn Baronett

September 4th, 2015 at 6:30 am