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Innovation First VEX robots provide a pre-engineering foundation

VEX Robots help students unlock the power of their imagination by designing and constructing remote-controlled robotic devices that can lift, throw, climb, gather and expand the boundaries of experimental intelligence. The system gives young people a fun, new way to learn about STEM subjects. By working together to create robots that perform exciting challenges, they also gain valuable problem-solving and team-building skills.

Teachers implementing a robotics program should consider the following:

1. Decide what it is that you want to teach using robotics

2. Choose a robot platform that is right for your instructional goals
(Are you building a multi-year program or an introductory program? Are you going to engage your students in competitions? Does the robot platform choice need to grow with your instructional goals?)

3. Select a programming software that aligns with your instructional goals

4. Develop a curriculum continuum that makes sense for your schools learning objectives

5. Develop a professional development plan that will support high quality instruction for all students

6. Order kits, software, curriculum, and storage solutions(Planning for storing your robots is important!)

7. Schedule training(This can be self-paced via an online training course, or face to face training)

8. Dedicate time to practice building and programming with the new technology

9. Prepare lesson plans(Comprehensive lesson plans are included in the Carnegie Mellon curriculum)

Steps to starting a VEX Robotics program

Congratulations on your decision to start a VEX Robotics program! Whether you are a teacher, parent, coach, or an afterschool club leader, you’ll find lots of support as you move through this process.

Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy has compiled a comprehensive step-by-step plan to help guide you through this process. All of these steps are relevant to teachers, parents, coaches and club leaders. Teachers will also need to decide on the educational specific outcomes that they are trying to achieve as well as how robotics aligns with their school districts’ standards.

Feel free to send us an email if you want to setup a phone call; go to the Contact page to get more information.

Step by step organizers:

1. Decide what it is that you want to teach and how robotics will be an effective organizer.

Are you using robots to reinforce and teach math concepts, engineering competencies, programming, teamwork, problem solving, or are you preparing your students for competitions?

2. Determine groups of students

Below are some ideas to consider when assigning groups of students:

• All work should be done in teams of 2 or 4 students per robot. Teamwork is a crucial skill in the modern workplace, and the challenges of the robotics activities lend themselves to group solutions.

• Odd numbers of students on a team can often lead to problems with one student being left out and not doing anything. Groups larger than 4 are generally too large for all the students to have something important to do.

• For classrooms, two students per robot is ideal; for clubs and teams, many coaches need to have a higher student to robot ratio based on resources.

• Consider one of the VEX Competitions available at our site or through

• First-time coaches typically do well with about 8 students. If possible, recruit other mentors for your team to lead the subgroups within your team.

• Define roles on the team and have students change roles on a regular basis, allowing them to share responsibility for all aspects of building, programming, etc.

1. Engineer (Builder)

2. Software Specialist (Programmer)

3. Information Specialist (Resource Collector)

4. Project Manager (Manager)

• In order to build leadership and management skills, assign students to all lead roles and hold them accountable for team responsibilities.

• For classrooms, single gender teams are preferable; research has found that boys use an autocratic decision making process excluding girls from participating in many of the technical lead roles. For clubs and teams, single gender pairings are recommended, when possible.

3. Identify technical and logistical requirements

Below are some ideas to consider when preparing space for a robotics classroom:

• Robots – Robotics Academy recommends one robot for each team of 2 students. Also, the teacher should have several backup robots in case of emergency situations.

• Computers – Ideally, one computer for each robot / team of students. Most of the students’ activity will be independent and self-directed as they iteratively program / test / debug their solutions multiple times during each practice. Multiple computers will provide easy access to the programming language, eliminate “traffic jams” and inadvertently changing another team’s program.

Classroom / Practice area:

1. Classroom – The space should be large enough to accommodate all the student teams, computers, practice tables, a projector for lessons, and storage area for the robots.

2. Practice – This will be different in every instance. If you have the room, you should consider purchasing the VEX Robotics Competition Field used in official VEX tournaments. The arena is well designed and enables a great playing surface for competitions. The only issue is that it is large. More information about the fields is available at

3. Storage – To keep parts organized and accessible for teams, parts organizers are necessary. There are many options – portable organizers, drawer cabinets, boxes, caddies, etc. These are readily available online and at local hardware and crafts stores. Check out this presentation (PPT) for some storage ideas.

4. Supplemental Parts (PDF) to use with the VEX Curriculum.

5. Machinery and Tools (PDF) for teaching robotics.

• Network – The software and curriculum will need to be loaded on each computer or available via the network on each computer. Programs should be included in the regular system backup or leader should make a backup to a separate disk or memory stick.

Projector – Teachers will find it valuable to review videos, building instructions, etc. with the entire class.

4. Prepare a budget and funding

Below are some ideas to consider to budget a robotics classroom and find fundings:

Classroom– A typical classroom budge consist of robots, programming language, curriculum, materials, competition fees, etc. The final cost for your robotics program will depend on the size of your team, activities, etc. You will receive best pricing if you select bundles pricing which is shown in the “Selecting Hardware” tab at the top-left of this page.

Storage – This is a must have for any teacher implementing a VEX robotics program. Your budget will be dependent upon the selection of the cabinets, storage containers, and bins that you choose. The proper storage compartments as well as classroom procedures will make teaching robotics much easier.

Potential Funding Sources – Be sure to acknowledge your sponsors at every opportunity, e.g. print their names on your team shirts, etc.

1. School district

2. Local businesses

3. Local non-profit organization

5. Connect with other educators

Below are some ideas to considers when wanting to connect with other educators:

• Find another robotics team in the area and ask to attend their practice sessions. This is a useful way to observe and make notes for first-time coaches.

• Robotics Academy

• Robotics Educators Conference

6. Attend teacher training

Certified Online and On-site training programs are available from the Robotics Academy. Visit the Teacher Training page for up-to-date information on the next training sessions.

Selecting the right hardware


VEX IQ Hardware

Innovation First’s elementary and middle school robotic education solution (can also be used to teach high school and college age students programming). This system has 12 configurable input and outputs and includes opportunities to teach students about distance, touch, color, gyro, and encoder sensors, various motor types, how to program remote controls, and many more engineering competencies. The VEX IQ platform is an excellent system to introduce students to robotics.

VEX Robotics Resources for VEX IQ


VEX Cortex Hardware

Innovation First’s middle and high school robotics education solution. The VEX Cortex is extremely popular and is currently used in over 20,000 classrooms. The Cortex System includes opportunities to program light sensors, ultrasonic sensors, gyro sensors, shaft encoders, potentiometers, accelerometers, motors, pneumatics,  LCD displays, and the VEX speaker module. In addition, the VEX Cortex System enable advanced robot builders to design and build using a vast assortment of non-Innovation First electro mechanical actuators (motors and pneumatics) if they use the Victor 888 Motor Controller or the Spike H-Bridge Relay.  The VEX Cortex platform provides an expandable platform that enables educators to teach students introductory through advanced robotics and engineering concepts.

Directly below are two of eight VEX IQ robot kit groupings. The VEX IQ Super Kit contains everything that a new robot builder needs, but not everything that a teacher needs to implement a robotics classroom. The VEX IQ Super Bundle includes everything that a teacher needs to run a comprehensive school program.

The VEX IQ Super Kit

The Super Kit enables kids to build remote control or programmable robots. It comes with the following smart sensors: color, bumper, distance, TouchLED, smart motors, and gyro as well as Clawbot IQ instructions that help students quickly build their first robot. The intuitive snap-together parts mean the there is no limit for their VEX IQ creations.

The VEX IQ Super Bundle

A classroom bundle that includes a large collection of VEX IQ Hardware, Sensors, programming software, curriculum, and challenge field (size depends on bundle size). This bundle also includes extra VEX IQ batteries, smart motors, VEX Foundation-Add- On-Kit, additional wheel types, gears, tank tread kits, chain and sprocket kits, and the shaft add-on-kit. This bundle includes everything that you need to run a comprehensive school program.

Directly below are pre-packaged bundles that include the VEX Cortex materials that you will need to implement a VEX program in your classroom.

The VEX Cortex Starter Bundle

As the name implies, the VEX CORTEX starter bundle includes the essentials that you’ll need to use the VEX CORTEX system. It includes the CORTEX microcontroller, a clawbot kit to build your chassis, a joystick to control it, batteries, and chargers. This bundle will not allow you to complete all of the activities found in the Robotics Academy curriculum.

The VEX Cortex Programming Bundle

A programming-based bundle that includes all of the VEX sensors and programmable peripherals, in addition to the components found in the Starter Bundle. This is a bundle created for classrooms that have a limited budget, but would like to use the sensors currently available for the VEX Cortex system. This bundle or the Super Bundle are recommended if you plan to use the VEX Cortex Video Trainer or other ROBOTC Curriculum.

The VEX Cortex Super Bundle

This is the premium Cortex bundle which includes everything you’ll need to use the Cortex system. It has everything from the Cortex Microcontroller, all of the VEX sensors, additional hardware kits and VEX metal. This bundle or the Programming Bundle are recommended if you plan to use the VEX Cortex Video Trainer or other ROBOTC Curriculum.

Selecting the right programming paradigm within ROBOTC

ROBOTC enables programmers to program either VEX Cortex or VEX IQ robots and has three settings, ROBOTC Graphical, ROBOTC Natural Language, full ROBOTC which are designed to provide a scaffolded learning environment from elementary school through advanced programmers. See the videos below to preview each version.


ROBOTC  is a powerful C-based programming language with a Windows environment for writing and debugging programs, and the only programming language at this level that offers a comprehensive, real-time debugger. ROBOTC is a cross-platform solution that allows students to learn the type of c-based programming used in advanced education and professional applications.

More Information:

ROBOTC Graphical

ROBOTC Graphical is an intuitive icon-based drag and drop programming language that is designed for beginning programmers.  This environment enables teachers to begin to teach students about sequencing, conditional statements, sensor feedback, and loops. This environment is perfect as an introductory programming language, but is not designed for intermediate or advanced programmers.

More Information:
VEX IQ with ROBOTC Graphical (PDF)


ROBOTC Natural Language

ROBOTC Natural Language places basic motor commands like moving forward and backward into easy to use functions that empower the student to quickly enable a simple robot behavior. Natural language also enables the programmer to call sensor commands like “untilRotations” which control how far the robot travels, or untilDark, which controls how long the robot will execute a behavior. Natural language provides a scaffolded programming environment between ROBOTC Graphical and full ROBOTC.

More Information:


Robot Virtual Worlds

The VEX Cortex and VEX IQ competition simulation environments.  Through a collaboration with the REC Foundation and Robomatter Incorporated. Robomatter models the VEX and VEX IQ competitions each year.  You can find the current VEX Competition and VEX IQ Competition simulation at their respective links and legacy competitions at the Robot Virtual Worlds download center.

More Information:

Choosing the right curriculum

Introduction to Programming VEX IQ

The Introduction to Programming the VEX IQ Curriculum features lesson for the VEX IQ Microcontroller; the curriculum’s focus is to teach beginning programmers how to program using ROBOTC’s graphical programming environment. All of the challenges in the curriculum have are available in the Robot Virtual World simulation environment.

More Information


VEX Cortex Video Trainer using ROBOTC (Legacy)

The VEX Cortex Video Trainer is a multimedia-rich curriculum featuring lessons for the VEX Cortex Microcontroller; the curriculum’s focus is to teach how to program, but it also includes multi-faceted engineering challenges, step-by-step videos, and robotics engineering teacher support materials. The majority of the challenge found in the Cortex Video trainer have been simulated in the Robot Virtual World Curriculum Companion.

More Information

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