Archive for the ‘Student’ tag

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 Tips to Help You Streamline Your STEM Robotics Classroom

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Blog - 5 Tips STEM

Running a STEM robotics classroom can seem a little overwhelming, especially if resources are tight. How can you keep your classroom running smoothly if you don’t have a lot of resources? It’s easier than you might think. Here are a few tips to help:

Screenshot-2014-01-15_14.12.031. Use virtual robots. Virtual robots, like Robot Virtual Worlds, are a great way to add to your robotics classroom without adding to your costs. Designed to supplement physical robots, Robot Virtual Worlds allows you to teach robotics with fewer robots and more easily organize and keep track of your classroom.

You can also more easily mange students who are working at different levels, assign robotics homework, and use simulated fantasy worlds to capture students’ imaginations and make learning fun. Visit to get started with a free 10-day trial.


2. Explore grants and other funding options. Curious about grants but don’t know where to start? There are a lot of grants and funding for STEM teachers, if you only know where to look.

Project Lead The Way has a great list of grants, as well as some information on citizen philanthropy on its site.  And, Edutopia’s “Big List of Educational Grants and Resources” page is also worth a visit.


CMU RA copy3. Take advantage of free resources. While this one seems obvious, it’s not always obvious where to go for quality resources. STEM is a hot topic right now, which means there’s a lot to sort through on the internet. Here are just a few of the free resources we like:

There are a lot of great webinars, blogs, and forums as well. For example, you can check out our Back-to-School Webinar Series or join the discussion on our forums.


4. Invest in training. Investing in the right training will help you get the most out of your STEM classroom. Because STEM requires students to take a more active role in their learning process, look for training programs that provide practical, hands-on experience to help you manage your STEM classroom and maximize your resources.

By partnering with Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy, Robomatter is able to offer a full line of training for STEM robotics teachers. Click here to learn more about online and onsite training for VEX and LEGO platforms.


Uncomplicate 25. Take advantage of contests and giveaways. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to get free stuff. There are lots of organizations who want to help STEM teachers and students. Take a look at these sites for some ideas:

Written by Cara Friez

August 25th, 2015 at 6:30 am

A Teacher’s POV Blog Series

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Teacher POVWe’ve had some wonderful teachers share their stories with us this year about their experience in the classroom teaching robotics. Read their stories here in our Teacher’s POV blog series.

Here are a few recent posts:

– International School Manila
– Palisades Middle School Robotics Initiative
– RVW VEX IQ Beltway
– First Year Teaching Automation and Robotics

Do you have a story to share about implementing STEM into your classroom, a cool project you did with your students/team, or advice about teaching robotics? If so, send us an email at and be a guest blogger for us. We would love to share your stories on our blog!


Written by Cara Friez

June 10th, 2015 at 11:34 am

Student POV: Droids Robotics

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DroidsIn our newest edition of Student POV, we have Sanjay and Arvind Seshan, who are members of the robotics team, Not the Droids You Are Looking For (Droids Robotics) from Pittsburgh, PA, USA. They are actively involved in robotics all year around, whether competing themselves or teaching others. They constantly share some great pictures on their Twitter page of their team and outreach programs, so we’ve asked them to share some of their experiences in robotics …

Droids 01Our first exposure to robotics was in 2010 when we decided to visit a FIRST LEGO League tournament at the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC). We were excited by what we saw and, the next summer, we purchased an NXT LEGO Mindstorms kit and learnt to program using Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy’s NXT Video Trainer.

We haven’t stopped since! In 2011, we started our own neighborhood-based robotics team with eight other friends. We have participated in FIRST LEGO League as well as VEX IQ contests since then. You can read more about us on our team website (

Benefits of Robotics:

Droids 02Participating in robotics has taught us several programming languages, as well as general computer science skills and presentation skills. We now code in NXT-G, EV3-G, ROBOTC, Python and HTML as a direct result of robotics. We are comfortable interviewing experts as well as being interviewed about our work.

We use these skills outside of robotics contests to create webpages, and make online tools and programming tutorials. We even developed a robot in Minecraft that uses Python code to complete tasks. One sDroids 03ummer, we participated in a 24-hour coding contest called Code Extreme. For that event, we created a bicycle renting system using a Raspberry Pi and an RFID reader.

Robotics has taken us to some interesting places: the inside of a Smart House for seniors, under the hood of an airplane engine, and even to a sulfur dioxide sensor manufacturing plant. These field trips have shown us many different STEM careers we might choose from.

Spreading our love for robotics:

We do many robotics outreach activities all year round. We have been invited to teach other students at the Carnegie Science Center and four local libraries in the Pittsburgh area. At these events, we try to introduce students to LEGO Mindstorms, VEX IQ, EV3-G, and ROBOTC. Kids are naturally attracted to robots, and our hands-on workshops have been very popular. In September 2014, we expanded this outreach beyond Pittsburgh by teaching students around the world to program robots using our own lessons and website (

Challenges of Robotics:

The biggest challenge in robotics is probably robot reliability – getting your robot to “behave” as you intend again and again. It takes both software and hardware solutions in combination to improve reliability. To add to this problem, contest environments are often very different from practice environments. Kids who don’t have access to good programming lessons like the ones provided by ROBOTC, CS2N, Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy’s EV3 Trainer, and often feel frustrated.

Droids 04The challenges in robotics are not problems you cannot solve. They are part of what makes robotics interesting for us. They teach us to come up with different techniques as solutions. They also teach us patience and perseverance!

Overall, robotics has given us opportunities and skills that we might not have discovered otherwise. The greatest opportunity from robotics is finding out what all a robot can do! People some times think that a child’s robot “can only do so much”. We have found that it can lead to learning a lot of advanced programming techniques.

Robotics has opened up a world of possibilities for us. We especially like sharing these possibilities with other people we meet at our workshops and demos.

You can find more information about their team here: and on their programming lessons here:

Written by Cara Friez

March 24th, 2015 at 6:45 am

Expedition Atlantis for the iPad is Now FREE for a Limited Time!

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Flat Pad Mini MockupThe Robot Virtual Worlds team is proud to announce our iPad app, Expedition Atlantisis now FREE for a limited time from the Apple App Store!  

Expedition Atlantis immerses you in a world of underwater robotics exploration, where you must solve math problems to control your robot’s movement in the deep seas ruins.
btn_standards_rollThe math problems will help students understand proportional relationships and the basics of robot programming. It is designed for the student to learn as they play, and includes in-game tutorials to help them play along. As you play, you’ll be able to customize your robot, and also earn achievements through our Computer Science Student Network (CS2N). A full teacher’s guide for using Expedition Atlantis in the classroom is available at
btn_research_rollExpedition Atlantis was tested in a number of diverse classroom settings. In every case, students had measurable gains in proportional understanding, as well as increased interest in math and robotics. Read more about the research here!
Check out our gameplay video here …

As you play along with the app, please send us your feedback at! We’d love to know what you think and any improvements we can make.

Download Today!!


Written by Cara Friez

October 6th, 2014 at 6:45 am

Sensor Section Available Now in our ROBOTC EV3 Curriculum!

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Sensor SectionThe ROBOTC team is proud to announce the completion of the Sensing section of the Introduction to Programming EV3 Curriculum!

Check it out to learn how to use the EV3 Touch, Sonar, Gyro, and Color sensors with ROBOTC Graphical here! The curriculum is completely free to use, and more materials are always being added.

Check out two of the video tutorials below:



Written by Cara Friez

September 5th, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Curriculum Preview: Intro to Programming VEX IQ for ROBOTC!

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We are excited to give you a preview into our newest curriculum series: The Introduction to Programming VEX IQ with ROBOTC. The website is still in-the-works, but it should be completely ready by August. The focus for this curriculum is on the VEX IQ virtual and/or physical robot and the ROBOTC 4.0 software featuring the new  graphical function. It consists of videos, PDFs, quizzes, and our famous easy to use step-by-step videos. Check out some of the videos of from our curriculum series …




The Introduction to Programming VEX IQ with ROBOTC is a curriculum module designed to teach core computer programming logic and reasoning skills using a robotics engineering context. It contains a sequence of projects (plus one capstone challenge) organized around key robotics and programming concepts.

Why should I use the Introduction to Programming EV3 Curriculum?

Introduction to Programming provides a structured sequence of programming activities in real-world project-based contexts. The projects are designed to get students thinking about the patterns and structure of not just robotics, but also programming and problem-solving more generally. By the end of the curriculum, students should be better thinkers, not just coders.

What are the Learning Objectives of the Introduction to Programming VEX IQ Curriculum?

  • Basic concepts of programming
    • Commands
    • Sequences of commands
  • Intermediate concepts of programming
    • Program Flow Model
    • Simple (Wait For) Sensor behaviors
    • Decision-Making Structures
    • Loops
    • Switches
  • Engineering practices
    • Building solutions to real-world problems
    • Problem-solving strategies
    • Teamwork

For more info and to see the online version of the curriculum, visit

Written by Cara Friez

July 17th, 2014 at 7:45 am

Huffington Post Article Features CMU’s Robotics Academy!

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huffpost_3lineAn article titled, “Robots Are Everywhere! Learning About Technology From Robotics” was recently published on the Huffington Post website featuring the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy! The author, Dr. Julie Dobrow from Tufts University, reached out to some of the staff at the Robotics Academy to get their take on robotics in the classroom. Here are some excerpts from the article …



The “Robotics Academy” at Carnegie Mellon University features a variety of tips for educators and parents on using robotics to teach kids about math, science, engineering and physics. Their extremely well-organized website offers curricular information, products and support to demonstrate ways to use both VEX systems (essentially a kit with all the component parts that enables kids to build a robot) and LEGOs to teach many STEM principles. All of their work and products are based on extensive research.

Robin Shoop, Director of the CMU Robotics Academy, believes that some of the work they are doing at CMU can make learning come alive. “Robots provide the hook that can be used to excite students about STEM academic concepts. Robotics activities in and of themselves will not improve STEM academic performance, but if robotics technologies are introduced correctly, and the STEM academic concepts are properly foregrounded, then robotics provides an excellent organizer to teach kids about STEM.”

Ross Higashi, lead curriculum developer at CMU says, “It’s a common misconception that involving robots in a curriculum or afterschool program makes STEM magic happen. That’s simply not true… Robotics presents a wealth of opportunities to teach meaningful content. But doing that, it’s not trivial. It’s hard work. You need well-targeted lessons, and you need a teacher who can support students who are learning by doing. In the end, though, as many students and teachers will tell you: it’s absolutely worth it, and the hardest fun they’ve ever had.”

And kids do have fun. And not only kids. Jason McKenna, a K-8 teacher in the Hopewell(PA) Area School District who works with the CMU Robotics Academy points out that it’s the combination of high engagement, the ability to teach each student at his or her instructional level and provide opportunities for differentiated engagement “that makes Robotics such fun for me as a teacher.”

You can read the entire article here.

Written by Cara Friez

July 11th, 2014 at 7:30 am

Robotics Summer of Learning Starts Next Week!!

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Our Robotics Summer of Learning (RSOL) course opens this Sunday, June 15 with our first live webinar course starting on Monday, June 16! The RSOL gives students the opportunity to learn how to program robots using a free copy ROBOTC 4.0 (including the new Graphical Natural Language) for Robot Virtual Worlds programming software. If you’ve always thought that ROBOTC was too difficult, you should try out the new Graphical Natural Language, which is part of ROBOTC 4.0!

Sign up here!

Live Webinar Course Schedule:

  • June 16: Introduction to Software, Setup, Forums and Procedures used in this course.
  • June 17: Intro to Expedition Atlantis and Moving Forward
  • June 23: Turning and Intro to Ruins of Atlantis
  • June 30: Forward until Touch and Forward until Near
  • July 7th: Turn for Angle, Forward until Color, Intro to Palm Island
  • July 14th: Loops and if/else
  • July 21st: Repeated Decisions, Continuous Decisions, Intro to Operation Reset
  • July 28th: Joystick and Button control, intro to VEX IQ Highrise

All courses will be held at 1:00 PM Eastern Standard Time with a live instructor. A link will be available in the CS2N Moodle course for each session. All sessions are recorded so that you can take the course at your own pace. These dates are subject to change.

And don’t forget to sign up for our Robotics Summer of Learning Newsletter to get important reminders and information throughout the summer!

Student POV: Robovacuum

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Alexis and Noah are back again with another Student POV! This time, sharing how they programmed a robovacuum in ROBOTC Graphical Language for the VEX IQ platform.

In this challenge, we programmed the Vex IQ robot to perform a task that was based off of the robotic vacuums that vacuum autonomously while avoiding obstacles. Our challenge was to program a robot that would perform like a robotic vacuum. Therefore it would be able to move autonomously while avoiding obstacles.

We started our program by putting in a repeat forever loop. This means that our program will continuously run until we stop it with the exit button on the Vex IQ brain.


We then made a plan on what we needed our robot to do. Within the repeat loop, we had to put an “if else” statement. An if else statement is a command that makes a decision based on a condition. With our program, our condition is the bumper sensor. The robot checks the condition of whether or not the bumper sensor is depressed. If the bumper sensor is not depressed, it will run the command inside the curly braces of the if statement. If the bumper sensor is depressed, it will run the commands inside the brackets of the else statement. We had to put this statement inside a repeat forever loop because without it, it would only make this decision once.


We then had to decide what task the robot was to perform when the sensor was depressed. So we set up commands within the curly braces of the else statement shown here.


Below is an image of the final program.


Now our robot is able to move around autonomously while avoiding different obstacles!

– Alexis and Noah


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Written by Cara Friez

April 17th, 2014 at 8:30 am