Archive for the ‘Education’ tag

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

December 1st, 2015 at 6:00 am

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

Cool Project: VEX IQ Game of Simon

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Cool ProjectDamien Kee, a VEX IQ Super User, designed a really cool and creative Game of Simon using a VEX IQ Smart Brain, three Touch LEDs, and programmed with ROBOTC.  He says, “This is my version of the Game of Simon for the VEX IQ. The TouchLED’s are an awesome input/output device that is just so natural to use. Programmed in ROBOTC and designed to be used as a way of teaching / reinforcing the concepts of arrays, in less than 100 lines of code.”

Check out the video below that shows it in action …



For a more detailed breakdown of the code, visit his website here. Damien also is sharing his code for others to use, which you can download here! (He just asks that if you do use it, please acknowledge and forgive any errors.)

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

November 2nd, 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

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

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 and visit 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., n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2015. <>.

[ii] Robotics Competition: Providing Structure, Flexibility, and an Extensive Learning Experience –

[iii] The Impact of Participation in VEX Robotics Competition on middle and high school students –,d.dmo

[iv] More that Robots: An evaluation of the FIRST Robotics Competition –


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.

We also recommend checking out:

What is the STEM Problem and What is the Solution?

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Click here for the full size.

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?*

The bottom line is this: there are more and more STEM jobs out there, but fewer and fewer candidates who are qualified to fill them. This is what people mean when they talk about the “STEM Problem” or “STEM Crisis.”

We’ve created a new infographic that talks about the “STEM Problem” and some of the ways to address it. One of the best ways is to get more kids access to STEM education. That’s one of the main reasons Mayor Bill De Blassio announced a 10-year deadline to offer computer science to all students in New York City schools.

The Solution

But simply providing STEM education isn’t enough on its own. In order to make sure that our students are prepared for the emerging economy, kids need STEM education that:

  • Effectively motivates and engages students
  • Employs real world problem solving
  • Is easily adopted
  • Teaches critical 21st century career skills
  • And is cost effective 


Robots to the Rescue! 


This is why we love robots so much, and especially why we love virtual robotics. Not only are robots cool, they also:

  • Use real-world engineering projects to engage students and motivate them to learn
  • Provide a natural platform for engaging STEM learning
  • Promote 21st Century skills like teamwork, communication, collaboration, creativity, and problem solving
  • Are a fun way for students to learn foundational mathematics, engineering, programming, problem-solving, creative thinking, and computational thinking


And, with Robot Virtual Worlds, starting a STEM robotics program can be a cost-effective solution to the STEM Problem. Read our blog post from earlier this summer about how Robot Virtual Worlds can help you uncomplicate your classroom by:

  • Helping you teach more efficiently with fewer resources
  • Lowering the cost of staring a robotics classroom
  • Managing students working at different levels
  • Keeping students engaged
  • Capturing authentic assessment and tracking individual student progress

Need More Info?

If you’re interested in starting a STEM robotics program, but need more information, Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy has a great resource for getting your robotics program started.

Already have a STEM robotics program but want to do more? Check out our blog post from a few weeks back that talks about how you can use virtual robotics to extend your STEM classroom.

We also recommend you check out our:

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

Written by LeeAnn Baronett

September 22nd, 2015 at 6:00 am

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

Explore Robot Virtual Worlds with Free Access to Expedition Atlantis for the 2015 – 2016 School Year!

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Over the last few weeks, we’ve talked a lot about Robot Virtual Worlds, a high-end simulation environment that enables students to learn programming, even if they don’t have access to a physical robot. If you’re still not sure whether or not Robot Virtual Worlds is right for your classroom, give it a try with a free version of Expedition Atlantis!

Chapter-1We’re happy to announce that we’ve extended our free version of Expedition Atlantis until July 1, 2016! That means that you can have free access to this classroom tested robot math game for the entire 2015 – 2016 school year!

With Expedition Atlantis, you can use a game-like environment to motivate students to learn about math and teach kids important proportional reasoning skills.


Research Tested, Classroom Approved

Expedition Atlantis is part of the Robot Algebra Project, an ongoing research and development project conducted by Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy (CMU) and the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC). The goal of the Robot Algebra Project is to develop informal educational tools that effectively and significantly increase algebraic reasoning skills for middle-school age students.

Designed to enable teachers to foreground the mathematics in their robotics classrooms, Expedition Atlantis allows students to focus on learning mathematical strategies, without having to worry about the nuances of programming. You can learn more about the study that shows significant improvement in students’ proportional reasoning skills here.


Tools for Teachers and Their Classrooms

VRWe know that the majority of students guess and check their way through robot programming. Playing Expedition Atlantis is a classroom-proven method to teach kids the math that they need to program their robots! We are so convinced that it works that we include it in our free online VEX IQ and LEGO EV3 curriculum to help beginners learn behavior-based programming.

Expedition Atlantis includes an easy to follow Teacher’s Guide that guides step-by-step how to properly implement this game in your classroom.

You can download the latest version of Expedition Atlantis here:


Automatically Collect Students’ Progress  

BadgesYou can track your students’ progress in Expedition Atlantis (and all of our Robot Virtual Worlds) using CS2N’s Automated Assessment tools!

In Robot Virtual Worlds, students earn badges when they complete certain tasks or behaviors. By setting up a “group” in CS2N, teachers can setup courses and track all students’ progress as they work their way through a Robot Virtual World. To learn more about creating Groups and Generating Student accounts by going to: 


Your Next Classroom Adventure

Screenshot-2014-01-15_14.12.03Designed as a follow-up activity to Expedition Atlantis, Ruins of Atlantis reinforces 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. Like Expedition Atlantis, Ruins of Atlantis also goes hand-in-hand, and is embedded within our free online VEX IQ and LEGO EV3 curriculum.


We Speak Your Language

Expedition Atlantis, Ruins of Atlantis, and all of our other Robot Virtual Worlds can be used directly with the ROBOTC programming environment. ROBOTC is a C-Based Programming Language with an easy-to-use development environment. It’s also the premiere robotics programming language for educational robotics and competitions.

Download a free, 14-day trial at:

Virtual-NXT-with-MenuUsing our Virtual Brick, you can also use Robot Virtual Worlds with the NXT-G, EV3, and LabVIEW software. NXT-G is a graphical, drag-and-drop style programming language that can be used with the LEGO NXT. EV3 is a graphical, drag-and-drop style programming language that can be used with the LEGO NXT
and EV3 robots.

To learn more about the Virtual Brick, visit:





Written by LeeAnn Baronett

September 16th, 2015 at 6:00 am