Drive Forward Friday: December 2023

Thank you for making 2023 an excellent year for our robotics communities worldwide.

We loved seeing all of you across the last year, in-person or online, and we look forward to more of this for 2024. Let’s get into our last Drive Forward Friday e-newsletter of the year!

Here’s what we’re covering:

Our VP of Global Educational Strategy and author of What STEM Can Do For Your Classroom, Jason McKenna, looks back over the last year to explore what made 2023 so special in the world of robotics and STEM education.

Can you make it to Dallas for the VEX Educators Conference? (Fingers Crossed)

FETC – back in Orlando! Come see us at booths 132 and 146

Here’s a quick spotlight on some of the VEX Robotics teams we’ve featured this last year.

VEX Robotics: A 2023 Retrospective and the Road Ahead in 2024

Written By: Jason McKenna

As we stand at the intersection of 2023 and 2024, it’s a moment of reflection and anticipation for us at VEX Robotics. Remarkable achievements in STEM education have marked our journey through the past year. As we peer into the horizon of 2024, our commitment to innovation and learning continues to guide us forward.

VEX Robotics in 2023: A Year in Review

This past year at VEX Robotics was nothing short of exhilarating. We celebrated a milestone with the first-ever VEX Robotics Educators Conference at VEX Worlds and brought this inspirational event to Australia. The energy and enthusiasm of educators from around the globe were palpable, marking a new chapter in our collaborative journey.

Our community has grown phenomenally, with over 16,000 certified educators, VEXcode VR reaching over 7 million users, and over 7 million hours of coding. These numbers aren’t just statistics; they represent the expanding universe of learners and educators exploring the wonders of robotics and coding.

In terms of STEM education, our impact has been substantial. We’ve seen firsthand how our initiatives have sparked curiosity and fueled a passion for learning in students. Our challenges haven’t slowed us down; instead, they’ve fueled our innovations, like the introduction of Switch Mode. This new approach, bridging the gap between block-based and text-based programming, revolutionizes how students transition to more advanced coding levels.

Educational Initiatives and Programs

Our curriculum development took a significant leap forward in 2023. We introduced new STEM Labs across our platforms, enriching the learning landscape for students and educators. VEX PD+ now features live sessions and Masterclasses, enhancing the professional development experiences for teachers.

In our educational initiatives, we’ve witnessed an inspiring trend of school districts, both nationally and internationally, embracing the VEX continuum across all grade levels.

This widespread adoption highlights the universal appeal and effectiveness of our programs in engaging students in STEM. It’s a testament to how VEX Robotics not only enriches technology education but also integrates meaningfully with core academic disciplines, providing practical applications that captivate and educate students from diverse backgrounds and skill levels. This inclusive approach ensures that every student has the opportunity to explore and benefit from the world of STEM, thereby fostering a more comprehensive and engaging educational experience.

One of the most personal and significant contributions this year has been releasing my book, “What STEM Can Do for Your Classroom.” This book is a culmination of my experiences and insights aimed at empowering educators to unleash the full potential of STEM in their classrooms. I’m thrilled to share this journey with you all.

Community and Outreach: Building Bridges Through Partnerships

The 2023 VEX Robotics World Championship was a testament to the skills and talents of young minds globally. It was a celebration of the spirit of competition and the joy of learning.

Our research partnerships have been a cornerstone of our commitment to evidence-based practice. Collaborating with the University of Florida, we are exploring how to make our products more accessible to all students. 2023 also brought significant progress in the translation of the VEX Library, while also setting the groundwork for translation of VEX STEM Labs.  

Similarly, our partnership with the University of Maryland delved into the potential of tangible programming tools, as evidenced in our paper on VEX 123 and Coder Cards. This research underlines the effectiveness of hands-on learning tools in developing young programmers’ skills. Our collaboration with the University of Maryland also focused on Switch Mode– which has been pivotal in developing a middle ground between block-based and text-based programming, enabling learners to seamlessly transition and author text-based commands within a block-based programming environment​​.

I am also proud that Lauren Harter and I were able to publish research on the perceptions of educators regarding our robotics professional development program within VEX PD+. The findings, as detailed in our study, highlight the positive impact of our program on teachers’ confidence and competence in robotics education.

Our collaboration with STEAM for Vietnam is a heartening example of community engagement. Additionally, we are excited to be assisting Dr. Maya Israel with her Computational Thinking Workshops for educators in Thailand. Together, we’re breaking barriers in STEM education, reaching out to diverse groups, and nurturing a global community of learners and educators.

Looking Ahead to 2024

As we look to 2024, our focus is on continuous innovation and expanding our educational reach. The upcoming curriculum around Switch blocks is set to enhance our educational arsenal further, making complex concepts more accessible to learners. 

We were excited to announce the launch of VEX CTE Workcell in November.  The capstone of our VEX continuum will help prepare students for factory automation and Industry 4.0.  

We’re anticipating emerging STEM education and robotics trends, ready to adapt and lead in these evolving domains. Our strategies are geared towards reaching new markets and demographics, with a firm commitment to making STEM education inclusive and accessible to all.


Reflecting on 2023, it’s clear that our journey at VEX Robotics has been one of growth, learning, and impact. As we embark on 2024, our sights are set on building upon this foundation, driven by our passion for innovation and dedication to education.

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VEX Robotics Educators Conference 2024

You are invited to attend the VEX Robotics Educator Conference from April 29 to May 1, 2024 in Dallas, TX. This conference is a component of VEX Professional Development Plus (PD+).

This event focuses on providing an in-depth understanding of robotics education. Think of of it as an  interactive learning experience from VEX PD+ in a live setting.

Here’s what makes this conference a game-changer:

  1. Expert Access: Ever wanted a one-on-one with a VEX expert? This is your chance. It’s like the personalized learning you love about PD+, but face-to-face.
  2. Professional Development Focus: It’s all about extending our PD+ community into the real world. You’ll engage in professional development activities that complement (and go beyond) our online resources and training modules.
  3. Hands-On Workshops: You’ve seen them online; now experience them in person. These workshops are where you apply what you’ve learned and boost your robotics education skills.
  4. Networking and Community Building: PD+ is big on community, as is this conference. Connect with fellow educators, share experiences, and build a network of like-minded robotics teachers like you.
  5. Curriculum Integration: We’ll dive into how to weave VEX Robotics into your curriculum, covering everything from best practices to lesson planning.
  6. Continued Learning: The conference is just the beginning. Everything you learn and experience here will fuel your ongoing journey with PD+.
  7. Guest Speakers: We invite in some of the brightest minds from around the country to showcase & share how they approach using robotics in their classrooms and districts. 

And guess what? It’s all happening during the excitement of the VEX Robotics World Championships in Dallas, TX. So, are you ready to join us for this incredible experience? Learn more and sign up here.

Let’s make 2024 a robotics journey to remember!”

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Come See Us at FETC 2024

VEX Robotics and REC Foundation are headed to Orlando together for FETC, January 23 – 26, booths 132 and 146. Please stop by and meet the team and get hands-on with any of our robots within the VEX Continuum – including seeing the new VEX CTE Workcell! We’ll have our teams ready to answer questions, and we may even let you drive a robot or two. 

Here’s what we’ll be covering during our booth presentations (days/times TBD):

VEX Robotics and the Woodland Hills Implementation: Jason McKenna will catch up with Dr. Daniel Castagna, Superintendent of Woodland Hills. Woodland Hills School District is an urban district just outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It serves a predominantly minority student population, with 75% of the students from minority communities. Woodland Hills School District adopted VEX Professional Development Plus (PD+), a cutting-edge on-demand streaming and learning platform designed specifically around the VEX Robotics Continuum. PD+ specializes in the classroom and competitive robotics, offering a network of resources for continuous, year-round, personalized professional development. This comprehensive approach empowered educators with the tools to invigorate their STEM teaching and bring these critical subjects to life for their students. Hear firsthand from Dr. Castagna what they’ve learned and what’s next for his school district. 

Coding Across The VEX Continuum: Presented by Aimee DeFoe, Senior Education Developer at VEX Robotics. Aimee will showcase how VEX offers coding activities suitable for various skill levels. Whether educators are new to robotics or experienced, coding activities are available to engage students at every stage of their educational journey. Aimee is always a fun presenter, so you don’t want to miss this. 

From Classroom to Competition: Presented by Ulrika Peroni of the REC Foundation. This presentation is perfect for learning how to bring robotics competitions to your school. The REC Foundation is dedicated to increasing student interest and involvement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by engaging students in hands-on, affordable, and sustainable robotics engineering programs. Ulrika will spotlight how to organize events, competitions, and more that bridge classroom learning with competitive robotics.

See the new VEX CTE Workcell, coming Spring 2024, here.

Jason McKenna will also be presenting Revolutionizing Education: STEM Transformation in Woodland Hills as part of the greater FETC conference.

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A Spotlight on Success: 2023 Stories from VEX Robotics Teams Across the Globe

Each year, VEX Robotics competitions present new problems and tasks that challenge students to design creative solutions through robotics. Each year, students worldwide find solutions that go above and beyond, finding inventive ways to play the games they’ve been tasked to compete in. 

No two VEX Robotics competition teams are entirely alike. Every team has their own unique story that comes as a result of their one-of-a-kind circumstances. No matter how a team has come to compete with VEX Robotics competitions, we celebrate the hard work, dedication, and adaptability that goes into every robot built by each team. 

Below are just a few of these standout teams from 2023 whose stories are a testament to the talent and brilliance of teams across the globe.

VEX IQ Robotics Competition

Team 670A Laurels from Setagaya, Tokyo, Japan, was a VEX IQ Robotics Competition (VIQRC) team formed at the beginning of 2022-2023 by combining two pre-existing teams. With the guidance of the older VRC students in their organization, DOH SCHOOL, which supports VEX Robotics teams in Tokyo, they grew more confident in their abilities. They built a sturdy robot that could withstand the wear and tear of travel and competition.

The members say competing in VIQRC taught them how to learn from mistakes and overcome disagreements within a team. They also enjoy the opportunities robotics gives them to meet and learn from students from other countries. 

They’re proud to have received the Excellence Award at the 2023 VEX IQ Japan Cup and special recognition for their Engineering Notebook. They are also pleased to be an all-girls team with a strong bond through their long-lasting friendships. 

Because of age differences within the group, they split into VIQRC and VRC teams for the 2023-2024 season, but they plan to join together as one team again. Their ultimate goal is to attend the VEX Robotics World Championship together once more as a team.

Team 607A Laurels at VEX Worlds 2023
The Laurels with their robot
VEX Robotics Competition

Team 18882V VIIInfinitum from Andorra la Vella, Andorra, is a group of motivated self-starters who kickstarted their school’s VEX Robotics Competition (VRC) team. The team met in school and found they had many overlapping interests, including a desire to compete in robotics. They took it upon themselves to speak with their principal about starting a robotics club, and from there, they were able to find the resources to do so.

As a team, they’ve handled complex challenges. During their first-ever competition, a key part of their robot became inoperable before a match. However, the team recovered and devised a new strategy on the fly, winning their game even under the circumstances. They’ve also faced challenges due to their location. They live in Andorra, a tiny country with limited access to competitions and foreign products. This has forced them to get creative with the parts they can acquire, in one case using rubber bands to mimic Flex Wheels in the 2021-2022 season.

They are incredibly proud to have overcome all these challenges and participated in the 2023 VEX Robotics World Championship. This tight-knit group of friends hopes to attend the VEX Robotics World Championship in 2024 and have a memorable final season together before they go their separate ways for university. 

VIIInfinitum with their robot
Team 18882V VIIInfinitum at VEX Worlds 2023

The VEX U teams of Tec de Monterrey Campus Saltillo from Saltillo, Mexico (ITESM1, 2, and 3), aim to design creative, innovative robots and get as close to perfection as possible. They have students ranging from first-year students to seniors in college, and they believe that the diversity of ages on their teams helps contribute to their strong bonds and generate a wide variety of ideas.

They’ve repeatedly overcome challenges and proven themselves to be a constantly evolving, hard-working group of teams. In the 2021-2022 season, many teams featured pneumatics as a crucial part of their competition robots. However, none of the ITESM teams had pneumatics kits and had to find ways around this barrier. Through determined trial and error, all three groups could design robots that could compete at a high level, and all three teams qualified for the 2022 VEX Robotics World Championship.

They are proud to have had all three of the group’s teams return to compete at the 2023 VEX Robotics World Championship, with all three teams also earning awards! They proudly represent their country by participating in VEX U competitions and hope to become the VEX U World Champions one day.

Team ITESM 2

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Thank you again for all your time and support this last year. Our team at VEX Robotics is honored to share the world of robotics with you and your students. We will see you again in January!

If you missed last month’s edition of Drive Forward Friday, here’s what we covered: