VEX Monthly Newsletter: January 2023

Registration now open for the 2023 VEX Robotics Educators Conference!

Join VEX Educators and Experts from around the world at the VEX Robotics Educators Conference, from April 28-29th in Dallas, Texas! This year’s conference brings together learning opportunities from Keynote speakers to learning sessions to hands-on exploration in the VEX Showcase. Learn, explore, and connect with the PD+ community as you grow your STEM teaching practice and gain inspiration to take back to your school. Connect with other educators who are passionate about STEM while surrounded by the excitement of the largest robotics competition in the world!

The VEX Robotics Educators Conference is just one component of the VEX PD+ professional development platform. The learning doesn’t stop when the conference is over! Your PD+ membership includes registration to the conference, direct access to the STEM education experts from VEX Robotics, a vibrant professional learning community, an extensive video library, training courses, and more, 365 days a year.

Visit to learn more about the conference and register, find resources to help you make the case for attendance to school leadership, and get details so you can start to plan your trip. We can’t wait to see you in Dallas!

Using Curriculum Design to Improve Accessibility in Computer Science

Movements like CSforAll are seeking to address issues of equity and inclusion within the field of Computer Science. CSTA Voice recently published an article highlighting how students with disabilities can be successful in computer science classes, when they are considered and supported.

“When students are given appropriate support and accessible tools/curricula, they can succeed. Yet, inclusion of students with disabilities is often hampered by low expectations, as well as pedagogical and accessibility barriers which keep them from being fully included.” 

The article goes on to describe CSTA’s new UDL4CS Interactive Table resource, and how it can be used to support accessibility in computer science classrooms. Much of the focus is on shaping curriculum and teaching to give options for students to learn, present, and access knowledge in multiple ways. They outline “five steps for successful implementation” as a guide for how to make the most of classroom experiences to support all learners.

  1. Establish Clear Goals
  2. Anticipate learner needs and barriers
  3. Measurable outcomes and assessment plan
  4. Instructional Experience
  5. Reflect

The design of STEM Labs across the continuum aligns well with these steps and the accessibility considerations recommended for supporting diverse learners. This table shows some of the ways that STEM Labs support this implementation process.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) StepEngage-Play-Share STEM Labs
VEX 123 & VEX GO
Learn-Practice-Compete STEM Labs
VEX IQ (2nd gen) & VEX EXP
1. Establish Clear GoalsEach activity within the Play section of a STEM Lab begins with an animation and explanation that helps teachers and students to establish clear goals about the activity.

The images, animations, and words give options to access the goal and communicate about it to be sure that all students know what is expected of them.
IQ 2nd generation and EXP STEM Labs begin with goal setting with the class. After viewing an animation of the end game for the Lab and discussing it, students and teachers work together to establish and document clear learning goals.

The videos, animations, discussions and engineering notebook documentation offer options for students to access and communicate about their goals.
2. Anticipate learner needs and barriersThe Engage section of a STEM Lab offers a way to access students’ prior knowledge and bridge any knowledge gaps in a low stakes way, in preparation for the Lab’s activities.

The Background Information in each Unit allows teachers to anticipate knowledge gaps that they and their students may have, with descriptive information they can share with students to eliminate barriers.
The Learn section of IQ and EXP STEM Labs include student-facing captioned, teaching videos designed to help students access prior knowledge about a certain topic, and bridge any knowledge gaps in a low stakes way.

Each video has an accompanying handout to offer additional options for accessing the material, as well as formative assessment questions. Students can review and revisit this content at any time to take the time they need for successful learning
3. Measurable outcomes and assessment planThe Goals, Standards and Summary sections of the STEM Labs offer information about how standards are reached through the Lab’s activities. In addition, Objectives are offered with the corresponding Lab activity and assessment to be sure that students are reaching the learning objective during the Lab.

Students share their learning in different ways, from discussion to project sharing, offering options for expression to support diverse learners.
The Compete section of each Lesson offers students a hands-on, collaborative way to show their learning through playing the Lesson’s mini-game. Students know what they are trying to accomplish, and teachers can easily see if they have met the Lesson goals by seeing how their robot behaves in the game.

The engineering notebook serves as documentation of learning, and gives students multimedia options for how to represent their learning process in a way that is comfortable to them.
4. Instructional ExperienceThe Play sections of a STEM Lab offer step by step instructions for how to model an activity for students, as well as prompts to support differentiation and facilitate group work.

Students work in groups to complete Lab activities, allowing them to work at their own pace, and teachers are given information for how to support learners with extra practice, challenges, and more.

Additionally, the Pacing Guide in the Unit Overview gives specific ways to adapt and extend a Unit to best meet all students’ learning needs.
The Practice and Compete cycles of each Lesson and the culminating game allow students to work in groups and tailor their competition strategy to the component of the game or learning goal that they choose. This voice and choice in how to represent their learning through game play offers many options for student engagement, from documenting in the engineering notebook to iterating on the robot build or code to scouting and guiding team collaboration and more.

The emphasis on collaboration and teamwork throughout the Lab promotes inclusion of all students, and tactical strategies to support inclusive conversations are given in Lab instructions as well.
5. ReflectThe Mid-Play Break and Share sections of the Lab are designed to give students reflection opportunities to check in and express their learning and questions in a variety of ways.

Discussion prompts align with demonstrations and project sharing offering students options for how to express their learning in the way that best meets their needs.
The Debrief Conversation at the end of the Unit offers students an opportunity to share their learning with the teacher in response to the learning goals and discussion prompts. 

Students can engage in this meeting in a way that meets their needs – from multimedia presentations to written responses to showing and telling about their engineering notebook.

Inclusivity in Computer Science and STEM is an important issue and one that we can work towards incrementally with each lesson we teach. At VEX, we are working to help make that incremental improvement possible and attainable for all teachers, as well as all students. Want to learn more about the CSTA resources mentioned here? Visit CSTA and become a member today!

New VEX 123 Playspace in VEXcode VR Premium!

The newest addition to VEXcode VR Premium includes a 123 Playspace where you can code a virtual 123 Robot to drive around the Field to complete different Activities and coding challenges.

The Activities are based on existing VEX 123 materials, making the virtual 123 Robot a great extension for students who are using the physical robots as well. Some Activities in the 123 Playspace use the robot to drive over static images on the Field to do things like navigate a zoo or drive to numbers in order. Interactive activities like Clean Your Room or Push the Dragon add a plow attachment Art Ring to the virtual 123 Robot so that you can code it to push pom poms off the Field or the Dragon out of the village. 

There are other features unique to the virtual 123 Robot – like the VR Pen capabilities, that enable you to code the robot to draw, fill in areas, and make spots on the Field. This broadens the kinds of activities and coding challenges that are possible, like highlighting letters to make words in the Word Search Activity. There is also a Custom Activity feature which lets teachers create and upload their own unique Fields to the 123 Playspace, offering endless possibilities for learning and coding challenges!

VEXcode VR Premium offers access to a number of unique VR Playgrounds and features. It is now available at a discounted price of $299 for the year! Check out the VEXcode VR purchase page to learn more and make the most of the virtual robot experience in your classroom.

What STEM Can Do for Your Classroom Now Available!

Jason McKenna, Global Director of Education Strategy at VEX Robotics, is now a published author as well! Jason offers examples, tried and tested classroom projects, and collaborative strategies in this innovative resource designed to open up STEM education for K-6 educators in exciting and expansive new ways. 

“This book is for all elementary teachers – from first-year educators to veterans. It’s a resource for K-6 teachers who need practical, research-based strategies and methods to implement STEM in their classrooms.”

This book is a must-read for teachers looking to better understand the benefits and importance of STEM in elementary schools, build resiliency and curiosity in students, and discover a variety of classroom instructional strategies to approach STEM teaching and learning. Order your copy today!

Where is the VEX Education Team this month?

January saw travel to the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) held in New Orleans, LA from January 23rd through 26th. Several workshops featured STEM teaching strategies, as well as presentations across the VEX Continuum. 

The team is also attending the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) Annual Convention and Exposition in San Antonio, Texas from January 30th through February 2nd. If you are attending the conference, stop by the VEX booth and say hi! Share how you are using VEX materials to bring your students’ learning to life – we love hearing your stories!

Tweets Across the Continuum