For schools, the question of which programming languages and tactics to focus is always difficult. To tackle this issue, VEX Robotics - the global leader in classroom and competition robotics - is kicking off the academic year with the introduction of two major edu-innovations. 2018/19 will be the year of VEX Coding Studio and STEM Labs. As well as getting students up to scratch in coding and computer science, both releases develop 21st-century skills like problem-solving, creativity and computational thinking. You’ll want to know about these resources - especially as they’re… free-of-charge - so let’s get acquainted.
VEX Coding Studio (VCS) is a one-stop software solution for the VEX IQ (Key Stage 2 and 3) and VEX EDR V5 (Key Stages 3, 4 and 5) robots. It seamlessly takes students from block-based to textual programming, walking learners through this notoriously difficult transition in a logical process. The software even opens up routes to advanced object-oriented concepts to stretch keen students.
VEX robots bring code to life and allow students to see the direct impact of programming on the real world. Getting hands-on with the EDR V5 and IQ robots actively involves students in the learning process and allows them to take ownership of their STEM learning; they’ll learn how individual maths and engineering elements come together to form solutions to practical problems.
The free VCS software is available on Windows and Mac, with Android, iOS and Chromebook support coming soon.
STEM Labs are a series of scaffolded, hands-on activities aligned with education standards that show real-world applications of concepts using the VEX EDR. Activities include diverse builds, games and competitions, all designed by a team of classroom teachers and cognitive scientists working closely with the world-renowned Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy.
STEM Labs offer hundreds of hours of free curriculum content across the STEM subjects and beyond. They implement concepts into Maths, Design & Technology, Engineering and Computer Science subjects, with minimal preparation time for teachers. Each STEM Lab can be used on multiple platforms and includes easy to follow build instructions. The activities give students multiple approaches to solving a problem, allowing them to communicate and collaborate with their classmates, experiment, and design creative solutions.
With these amazing free resources, VEX Robotics continues to lead the way in classroom robotics. Through the VEX IQ and VEX EDR robotic platforms, as well as the fastest growing robotics competitions in the UK, the VEX IQ Challenge and VEX Robotics Competition, the company aims to inspire the world’s next generation of innovators, thinkers and problem solvers.
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To make the most of today’s Ada Lovelace Day celebrations - which recognise 19th century mathematician and writer Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace - Code Club have created some fun and engaging resources for schools to use. For many, 13th October is an annual celebration of the achievements of women in Science, technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).
Women are still highly underrepresented in STEM subjects and technology. The 2015 statistics published by the Joint Qualifications Council have shown that girls account for just 16 per cent of those sitting the computer science GCSE, but they were also shown to perform very well, with 72 per cent of them attaining grades A* - C. Encouraging more girls into computing and technology is not just a numbers game; there is clearly a huge pool of talent and enthusiasm to be discovered from all pupils.
Following a successful pilot in over 40 schools during 2014/2015, Apps for Good’s Mini Course is now open to all schools across the UK for 2015/2016. The edtech movement, working to transform the way technology is taught in schools, has developed a free, flexible course framework during which students find a problem they want to solve and apply new skills to making a real life app. This allows them to explore the full product development cycle, from concept to coding to launch in a way that brings the classroom to life.
Given that the new computing curriculum is coming into effect after the summer, we revisit an article the Code Club’s managing director Laura Kirsop, where she examines the importance of coding at school.
For the last two years, everyone’s been talking about learning to code. From Google chairman Eric Schmidt, to will.i.am and Barack Obama. But what is coding and why is it important for our kids to learn to do it?
Computer programming and coding as a topic can be viewed as dry, so it is essential that schools deliver the new curriculum in a creative and exciting way. It is also a great chance for teachers and pupils to break the stereotype of computer programmers. The person to invent the first compiler (programme) was, in fact, female, so do shout out equality in order to encourage the right sort of creative thinkers in this growing global industry.
As part of the proposed new draft primary curriculum for ICT, there is a significant emphasis on computer science. Below I've included a selection of apps which can be used in both Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. The apps included range from basic skills in coding a Beebot to more advanced skills in coding games and simulations in apps such as Hopscotch and Codea.
I've also included some other useful 'ICT' apps, which can be used to develop a pupil's typing skills and spreadsheet skills.
In a MacTaggart lecture full of sound advice - reduce regulation, listen to the Victorians, ignore Alan Sugar - perhaps the most important suggestion made by Eric Schmidt was that computer science be taught properly in schools.
This means, as the Google Chairman pointed out, teaching children how to make computer programs rather than merely how to use them.
But in an era when GCSE marks are awarded for linking a picture of a football to the word “le football”, can pupils really cope with the protean rigours of computer programming?
Of course they can. Today’s children grow up surrounded by software. They enjoy using it so much that they are largely self-taught. They eagerly upgrade to the latest mobile phone, even if this means learning to use an entirely new operation system. Such enthusiasm and confidence are the perfect foundations on which to learn to program.
Many teachers jump straight into teaching students code. They log on, load up the interface and start typing out lines of code. Those students, who can copy from the board, do so and are successful. For those students who can’t or who miss a part of the code, then the program fails and some students are just turned off, straight away. The key to enabling students to learn to code is getting them interested and teaching them to think about what they want the program to do before they start coding.
When first introducing programming, it is useful to get students to notate on paper how to direct a student around the tables in a classroom. It is good fun and gets the students thinking about the commands they need to create and when to use them. More able students can be stretched by allowing them only ten instructions or only the use of a whistle. A remote control car is great for lower ability students to develop the concept of control and getting them to plan what turns they will need to make and in which order, to direct the car accurately around a course.
Much has been said about the Raspberry Pi and its usefulness as a tool for learning. The long waiting lists and competitive price of the Pi have created widespread euphoria. However, as all the excitement dies down, and people begin to receive their Pi, many critics have appeared asking how useful is the Pi?
Many critics and blog posts are comparing it to the iPad, which is futile as they are polar opposites. The Pi was developed as a tool to invoke learning, not as a wow piece of technology. The Pi is for content creation as opposed to content consumption. It is not the physical Pi that is the exciting technology - you don’t purchase it because of its processor speed, graphics ability or even its size - its fundamental strength is as a vehicle to develop students' computing competence and understanding.
Photo credit: Roo Reynolds