Next weekend I will be presenting a robotics workshop to a keen group of 5 to 8 year olds from the Gifted and Talented Children’s Association of South Australia. The event organiser asked if I could explain some of the differences between the products available to the parents. Essentially, why did I choose Vex?

Vex Clutch Bot

In June 2019, I travelled to Sydney to visit the EduTech conference. My goal was to investigate what the STEM educational trends were and see if I could find some inspiration. You might find it a little strange that a professional Project Manager and Engineer might be attending an education conference as a delegate. However, for me, it is about adapting to my circumstances and overcoming current limitations of my family/work commitments.

The exhibition centre was full of products including pen’s that can read, computers, interactive smartboards, 3D printers, laser cutters, robots, educational toys, books, chairs……and the list goes on.

Wow! You should see what opportunities that students have at their fingertips today. Watch out employers! Make sure you have ample IT budget, because when these kids graduate they will expect to have up to date technology in the office. Oops, I have digressed.

Vex IKE robot

It was the robotics that called out to me and grabbed my attention. This is where I really could make a difference and share my knowledge in engineering, business analysis, product development and project management to inspire the students of today.

The educational robotics products on display had varying degrees of functionality. There were the brand names that most parents and teachers would know including Lego, beebots and Sphero, plus a few other new names including Makeblock, Photon, Ozobot and Vex.

The educational robotics products on display had varying degrees of functionality. There were the brand names that most parents and teachers would know including Lego, beebots and Sphero, plus a few other new names including Makeblock, Photon, Ozobot and Vex.

I was like a big kid, enjoying every moment of trying out all the robotics games on offer. I even participated in a 1.5 hr Lego robotics workshop for educators.

I had so much fun!
I was in my element!

Vex Kiwi Robot

I was inspired to share my passion for STEM with kids and to do this, I chose Vex IQ. It has been designed to engage students and keep them interested in STEM subject through upper primary and middle school. I am fortunate that I do not have the same constraints that school and teachers may have. I made the choice based on an Engineers point of view.

Here are the reasons why:

  1. Vex IQ is a teaching tool, not a toy.
  2. It is a platform that can be used to teach a diverse range of skills through hands-on experiences. STEM skills and concepts including programming, design cycle, requirements analysis, business analysis, specification development, functional analysis, test and evaluation, measurement, mechanics, electronics, physics, documentation, budgeting, teamwork, communication.
  3. Greater flexibility with the port configuration for the Vex IQ brain enables any combination of sensors and motors to be connected to the 12 input/output ports. Compare this to Lego EV3 which is limited to 4 ports for output signals only and 4 input ports.
  4. Selection of sensors including:
    • Gyro
    • Distance sensor
    • Touch/LED sensor
    • Colour sensor
    • Bumper switch
  5. A diverse range of motion components including:
    • Standard cogs but in many different sizes (12, 24, 36, 48, 60 tooth gears)
    • Rack gear
    • Linear gear
    • Worm gear
    • Planetary gear and turntables
    • Differential and bevel gear packs
    • Pulley and rubber belts
    • Variable chains and sprockets
    • Variable-length tank tread and a variety of intake flaps
    • Variety of wheel sizes
    • Omni-directional wheels
    • Metal shafts
    • Smart motors.
  6. Programming software options are broad. Recently Vex Robotics has released both VEXcode blocks (based on scratch 3) and VEXcode Text (based on Monoco). However, students can also use:
    • Modkit
    • Robot mesh studio (Python)
    • RobotC
  7. Computer Aided Design (CAD) downloads of every Vex IQ part, allowing a student to design the robot virtually using a variety of CAD software packages including:
    • SnapCAD
    • Fusion 360
    • SolidWorks
    • Autodesk Inventor
  8. If you have a 3D printer you can even print parts (although you are not allowed to use them in competitions)
  9. Teaching resources are plentiful, with Vex certification ensuring a base standard of technical knowledge and Vex STEM Labs providing lesson plans that align with curriculum requirements yet providing scaffolding and flexible formats.
  10. The world competition. Vex robotics creates a game based engineering challenge each year for teams to build a robotic solution to compete in a series of autonomous and remote driven activities. This is an opportunity to either put classroom STEM concepts to the test or learn with a hands-on activity. This type of real world activity is recommended by ACARA to engage students learning.
  11. There is a fabulous online community supporting each other in teaching with this product.
  12. When the students are ready to move on to more challenging engineering activities and use nuts and bolts instead of plastic pins, the logical step is to Vex Robotics V5. V5 is a more powerful learning tool for senior school students. Once again, a holistic STEM experience with all the support that is offered with Vex IQ.

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