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Take the VEX IQ Challenge

Chris Calver explains why schools should take STEM to the next level by participating in a robotics competition

Posted by Hannah Vickers | March 23, 2017 | Secondary

STEM subjects are considered to be one of the major driving forces for future economic growth and that makes perfect sense – knowledge of STEM subjects is the thing that drives innovation, design and manufacturing. Advances in the sciences are what drives modern life forward whether it’s in medicine, computing, transport, infrastructure or environmental applications. Engineering can be considered as a branch of applied science and maths is the glue that holds all of the sciences together.

Often, students are taught these subjects quite independently and as a result, understand them independently. This means that children do not always make the connection between mathematics and physics, for example until a ‘eureka’ moment much later in their academic life. Robotics is an incredible way of bringing all areas of STEM together into one project, bringing forward the eureka moment and increasing student engagement and attainment.

The VEX IQ Challenge is a robotics competition for students aged eight to 14. Teams of students work together to design, build and program a robot to complete a specific task which is presented in the form of a game. The robot itself is built using the VEX IQ robotics platform, a completely reusable construction set that contains motors, sensors, a programmable ‘brain’ and many different structural and mechanical parts. The robot is programmed using one of a number of different programming languages which range from graphical ‘drag and drop’ through to full text-based programming.

Students from City of London School for Girls have been taking part in the VEX IQ Challenge for three years. Teacher Ashley Boll said: “We initially started the club with two teams and it has grown to eight – two in the prep school and six in years seven to nine. Students really engage with the challenges that the VEX IQ offers and they are able to go through the complete design process with a goal in mind. They develop their teamwork and communication skills as well as their understanding of physics, engineering, and computer science concepts. The excitement of the regional competitions allows them to put into practice all of their hard work, learn from other students and celebrate their achievements. Once they’ve qualified for the UK National Championships, they’re motivated to improve their design, programming, and engineering notebooks.”

Here are just a few of the ways that competition robotics can be linked with STEM subjects:

Science: Energy changes and transfers, forces and friction, balanced forces and electricity are all key scientific concepts that are vital when building a competition robot.

Technology: Electronics and sensors allow a robot to interact with its environment as well as microcontrollers to process the data. The microcontroller processes data from the sensors and controls the actuators. A computer program is then created to perform these tasks.

● Engineering: Educational robotics uses two main branches of engineering; mechanical and electrical/electronic, and requires the application of maths, science and experimentation to devise, test and analyse solutions. Competition robotics takes this a step further by giving a real problem to solve and an environment in which to test the solutions to the limit.

● Mathematics: Robotics provides a practical application for maths showing how a number of the fundamentals of maths can be used in the real world including algebra, ratios, proportions, geometry, probability, statistics and more. 

Chris Calver is the Education Manager at Rapid Electronics and has been mentoring competition robotics teams for five years.


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