Archive for the ‘Computer Science’ tag

Summer STEM Activities and Resources

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Summer STEM


Summer is here, and it’s a great time to take on some new and interesting STEM activities that are both educational and fun. There are a lot of STEM resources on the web, but here’s a quick summary of a few that we think are worth checking out:


  • SOL2016Carnegie Mellon CS-STEM Network Summer of Learning: The CS-STEM Summer of Learning program is an online outreach research project run by the Carnegie Mellon CS-STEM Network and University of Pittsburgh Learning and Research Development Center, in partnership with Robomatter, Inc. The program seeks to improve student preparedness in areas related to Computer Science, Computational Thinking, Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics. Sign up today!


  • Makey Makey: MaKey MaKey is an invention kit for the 21st century. By allowing you to turn everyday objects into touchpads and combine them with the internet, beginners and experts to invent all sorts of things like, you know, a banana piano.


  • efk-logoEngineering For Kids: Engineering For Kids (EFK) brings science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), to kids ages 4 to 14 in a fun and challenging way through classes, camps, clubs, and parties. With 145 locations around the world, it’s easy to find an EFK location near you!


  • Squishy Circuits: The goal of Squishy Circuits is to design tools and activities which allow kids of all ages to create circuits and explore electronics using play dough. The site guides you through creating conductive dough, creating insulating dough, and building some really cool circuits.


  • skew rev2 - CopyROBOTC Projects on Instructables: Instructables is a website specializing in user-created and uploaded do-it-yourself projects, which other users can comment on and rate for quality. Instructables has instructions for pretty much anything, but we’re sort of partial to the ROBOTC projects.


  • Expedition Atlantis iPad App: Playing Expedition Atlantis is a classroom-proven method to teach kids the math that they need to program their robots. Through its virtual robotics environment, Expedition Atlantis allows students to focus on learning mathematical strategies, without having to worry about the nuances of programming, like syntax and debugging. And, it’s available in an iPad App!




If you have a cool robotics or computer science project that you’re working on this summer, let us know! We’d love to feature you and your project in our Cool Projects blog. Drop us a line at:

Cool Project: VEX IQ Smart Radio and iOS

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Cool Project - Smart Radio Blog
Our friend, Simon Burfield, put together a fantastic tutorial on how to get the your VEX IQ brain transferring data with your bluetooth enabled smartphone using the VEX Smart Radio and ROBOTC. Who doesn’t want to control their VEX IQ with a smartphone?!?!

And if you were at VEX Worlds 2016, you might have seen the VEX IQ Smart Radio in action with Simon’s robots. Check out a preview below:


To get started, you will need the following:

  • An iOS device with xcode installed
  • A way to run ROBOTC 4.5 +
  • The VEX firmware update program

The following video tutorial and steps below will guide you through the process:


1) Install the VEX Smart Radio firmware on to the brain
2) Enable Smart Radio in ROBOTC
3) Install the RobotC Smart Radio firmware on to the brain
4) Download the code
5) Plug a motor in to port 8, a Touch LED in to port 2
6) Install the ROBOTC (BT Demo) program on to the brick
7) Disconnect the brain from the PC
8) Find your Smart Radio ID and remember it (mine was 7436)
9) Run the ROBOTC program on the brain (remember not to be connected via USB)
10) Load code project up and deploy to a iOS device that supports Bluetooth LE
11) Enter your Smart Radio ID in to the App and hit connect

Once connected you should be able to control the motor and the LED!

You can find the original code by James Pearman here. And this is Simon’s code shown in the video tutorial.

Have questions? Head over to our ROBOTC VEX IQ Forum and we can help you out.

Happy Programming!

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

May 18th, 2016 at 6:00 am

Explore National Robotics Week with Robot Virtual Worlds

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To help celebrate National Robotics Week, we’ve created a FREE, online version of our Robot Virtual Worlds software, which you can use in your classroom to teach students about robotics and introductory programming concepts.

For the week of April 4th (and the rest of April!) we’ve opened up a free, online version of our Ruins of Atlantis Robot Virtual World, as well as a number of other Robot Virtual World challenges.


We thought Atlantis was a myth. We were wrong.

ruins of atlantis screenshot with controlsExplore the Ruins of Atlantis, 6,000 meters below the surface of the ocean, collecting data and treasure as you do!

Ruins of Atlantis is one of our Robot Virtual Worlds, themed in a fantasy, underwater environment. It’s designed to teach and reinforce behavior-based programming in a fun and meaningful way. While immersed in a scaffolded programming environment, students practice robot programming, using a full set of virtual motors and sensors on exciting new robots, 6000 meters below the surface of the ocean.

The level design of Ruins of Atlantis features a path that includes collectible objects and additional starting points, making it ideal for teaching introductory programming concepts such as path planning and encoder based movements. Even though the robots in Atlantis do not resemble the real classroom robots, students can use the same programming languages (EV3, NXT-G, ROBOTC, etc.) to control them.

Visit our National Robotics Week website to get started!


More Robotics Fun!

In addition to Ruins of Atlantis, you can also access free, online versions of the following Robot Virtual Worlds Challenges:

  • Maze Challenge: This challenge features a sequence of turns that the robot must perform in order to get to the “end” of the maze. The robot must first begin at the starting point, and get to the goal area by completing turning and forward movement behaviors.
    maze challenge
  • Basic Movement 1 Programming: In this challenge, you will program your robot to pick up the three green cubes on the far side of the field and drop them into the green goal on the near side of the field, one at a time.
    basic movement 1
  • Basic Movement 2 Programming: In this challenge, you will program your robot to pick up one red cube, navigate to the red goal without bumping any of the walls, and drop the cube into the goal
    Basic movement 2

Visit our National Robotics Week website to learn more!


Robot Virtual Worlds + Research-Based Curriculum = Excellent STEM Education

STEMWith lots of research from the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy backing it up, Robot Virtual Worlds is a great tool to create a scaffold learning experience that teaches students important math, programming, proportional reasoning, and computational thinking skills. That’s we’ve built Robot Virtual Worlds into our STEM Curriculum.

Our curriculum does more than simply teach students basic facts and concepts. We teach students skills they need to be successful in the real world. Here are a few highlights:

  • Learner-centered instruction built on research that’s been proven in the real-world
  • Helps students develop 21st Century college and career readiness skills
  • Teaches important skills in foundational mathematics, engineering, programming, problem-solving, creative thinking, and computational thinking
  • Designed to provide structured problem-based learning that:
    • Provides guidance to both students and teachers
    • Scaffolds difficult concepts and complex tasks
    • Schedules class time closely so that no class time is wasted
    • Requires students to generalize their understanding and apply learning across contexts

To learn more about our curriculum, visit our website or send us an email at

Written by LeeAnn Baronett

April 4th, 2016 at 6:00 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

Latest High Scores for our VEX Virtual Programming Skills Challenges!

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Updated Scores Can Be Found Here!

As some of you may know, we along with VEX Robotics and the REC Foundation have an exciting competition going on right now with the VEX and VEX IQ Programming Skills Challenges for Robot Virtual Worlds. This competition offers a 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, the winner of each competition will receive an invitation to the VEX World Championship — April 20-23, 2016 at the Kentucky Expo Center in Louisville, Kentucky!

The competition kicked off a few months ago, and it is time to share our latest high scores …

VEX Scores Together

You still have one more month to compete and try to beat these high scores for a chance to qualify for VEX Worlds! Think you can do it? Learn more here and visit to sign up!

Important Deadlines:

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

And remember, you must submit both your score and code through to officially register for the competition.

Written by Cara Friez-LeWinter

February 1st, 2016 at 12:32 pm

Article: Robotic Competition Moves into Virtual World

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AR-160119213The NWF Daily News in North West Florida published an article highlighting our Robot Virtual World competitions, focusing on our newest competition, the virtual Mini-Urban Challenge. The article talks about how our virtual competition is being used to help students test out their design before moving into the physical robotics competition. “Robomatter’s virtual world will test and exercise the Mini-Urban Challenge robots,” Steve Butler, the director of Doolittle Institute said. “The connection of our Mini-Urban ‘real world’ test environment to a bigger, simulated world will greatly enrich the experience of the participating students.”


Mini Urban Vs

To read the entire article, visit here – Robotic Competition Moves into Virtual World

To find out more about the Mini-Urban Challenge, visit their website here!

Written by Cara Friez-LeWinter

January 21st, 2016 at 10:24 am

PLTW Upgrade Pack – Now only $199!

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The School Year is Well Under Way, But There’s Still Plenty of Time to Make the Most of Your Classroom with the PLTW Upgrade Pack. Now on sale for $199!

When you purchase the PLTW Upgrade Pack, you’ll get:

  • Robot Virtual Worlds
  • Access to the Graphical Natural Language Programming Interface
  • The ability to program VEX IQ robots
  • Access for 100 seats for the rest of the school year

Learn more here!

Written by Cara Friez-LeWinter

January 12th, 2016 at 1:19 pm

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

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.

We also recommend checking out:

Sneak Peek: Atlantis Prime

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We’re excited to give you an early look at the newest installment in our Robot Virtual Worlds series, coming out later this month: Atlantis Prime!


Based around the legendary Atlantean civilization, Atlantis Prime is designed to make connections between STEM and computing, while fostering students’ ability to interpret information presented as charts, graphs, maps, word problems, and diagrams. These skills are important to students’ college and career success, and are crucial factors in standardized tests like the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

In Atlantis Prime, students experience all their learning activities through an avatar they select. The avatar is a futuristic explorer trapped in the recently discovered remains of the ancient society of Atlantis. Students must make their way through the challenges as they explore what remains and find their way out!

Here’s what teachers are saying about the game:

“I like the use of and interpretation of graphs exercises. I like the way that the complexity builds as you progress through the game. I teach robotics and science at a STEAM middle school. This is a great program that blends science, math, engineering and technology.”- Paul, Fisher Middle School, South Carolina

“While I was playing the game, I had a few 8th graders come in to help me and observe to see if they would be interested in something like this. They thought it was great and would really like to try something like this in their science, math, or computer classes.” – Maureen, Notre Dame Academy, New York

RVW Atlantis PrimeAtlantis Prime features:

  • Challenges based on programming logic, puzzles, and games
  • Player Customization and Online Badges
  • Instructional CS-STEM assessments with student reports
  • Introductory Programming with a drag-and-drop interface and interactive contextual help
  • A comprehensive user guide to help you get started in your classroom

Be on the lookout for more info on Atlantis Prime later this month!



Written by LeeAnn Baronett

September 18th, 2015 at 6:30 am