VEX Robotics at VPA

At Victoria Park Academy (VPA), we value STEAM and are committed to investing in resources that enrich student learning. We recognise that coding is an important skill for our students to learn, but coding activities often lack collaborative opportunities and hands-on creativity. With VEX, all of the boxes are ticked! We’re absolutely loving VEX so I’d like to share our progress so far. However, there’s a lot more to come!

What is VEX?

VEX offers a continuum of robotics products and services, from kindergarten to high school, and beyond. VEX provides a progression of robotics and coding skills. As well as the hardware, VEX software includes their coding platform, VEXCode, virtual environments and a range of resources to support students and teachers.

To get us started, we purchased the VEX GO Classroom Bundle. This includes five education kits, storage bags, spare parts, field tiles and walls. After we heard about the VSA competition (see below), we also purchased the VEX GO Competition Kit. This includes special tiles, parts and features required for VEX competitions. With one Competition Kit, students can build the four themed competition fields. These include:

  • Ocean Science Exploration
  • City Technology Rebuild
  • Village Engineering Construction
  • Mars Math Expedition (see the main image of this blog post)

VEX GO Certification

Admittedly, opening the boxes and seeing all of the components was quite overwhelming. Beyond simple builds, it was difficult to know where to start. Fortunately for us, VEX offers lots of training materials and self-paced certification courses. Amy Lin (our STEAM teacher) and I worked through the VEX GO online units and passed the exam to achieve certification. This course gave us more knowledge, understanding and confidence.

STEAM Classes

All of our students have STEAM classes twice per week with Amy. I also join some of them. These have offered a good opportunity to introduce students to VEX GO. The Build Instructions provide a step-by-step starting point for students with little input needed from the teacher. In these classes, students have also used VEXCode to learn the basics of block coding. These standalone classes were simply a starting point. We have started to make curriculum links and set tasks that are more challenging and creative.

Unit Integration

Our first example of unit integration was in Year Three. The students have a Where We Are in Place and Time unit about exploration and the role of technology in exploration. They were learning about Mars rovers and the challenges associated with Mars exploration that rovers must overcome. They designed new rovers and built them using VEX GO. The students were able to explain and justify their design choices.

VEX GO Competition (Virtual Participation)

In December, Victoria Shanghai Academy (our sister school) hosted an in-person VEX GO competition. Students and teachers from across Hong Kong attended the event. Although we were unable to join physically due to COVID restrictions, we were still invited to join virtually.

Students were awarded points for their robot builds, documentation using their engineering notebooks, the field challenges and their teamwork. It was a really enjoyable and worthwhile event for the students!

We understand the extra effort that this took and really appreciate the VSA team for including us.

Remote Learning and Chinese New Year

At the end of last term, COVID cases spiked in Shenzhen and we were moved online for a period of remote online learning. This was right before a long Chinese New Year holiday. For these reasons, students were physically away from school for a long period of time and our beloved VEX GO kits were untouched and left on the shelf.

Fortunately for my students, I had recently re-read Kids Deserve It! by Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney. In it, there’s a chapter about releasing fear and allowing students to borrow STEAM resources. I contacted the parents of our robotics team and offered them the chance to pick up the kits so that their child could continue building and coding over the holiday.

Out of the five kits that were loaned out, one tiny piece was lost. The student was very apologetic but I’d rather lose a piece because they’re being used than save all the pieces because they’re gathering dust! Besides, the Classroom Bundle came with a a big box of spare parts. We had to dip into it for the first time but that’s what it’s there for!

Parent Workshops

At VPA, we offer regular workshops for parents to familiarise them with our curriculum, philosophy and resources. Amy and I facilitated two STEAM workshops where parents built 2-axis robot arms and learnt to code them. They had a lot of fun and, most importantly, they realised the value of robotics in their child’s education.

Next Steps

We are just at the beginning of our journey with VEX Robotics and have exciting plans for the future. Here are our next steps:

  1. VPA is expanding next year, up to Year Eight. These older students will benefit from more advanced robotics kits. Also, our current Year Five students are now very familiar with VEX GO and will require more challenge. Therefore, we will invest in the VEX IQ kits, ideal for middle years.
  2. Now that COVID restrictions have eased, we aim to attend some competitions in person!

We look forward to building on the successes so far and taking our robotics programme to the next level!

For more updates from me and VPA, connect with me on Instagram and Twitter.

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