Innovation and Iteration: VEX students and teachers are creators of technology

At VEX, our vision is to achieve Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) literacy for all VEX students, teachers, and parents. STEM literacy includes hands-on and engaging ways to teach science and engineering principles. It is also seen as a way to introduce and incentivize students to pursue careers in STEM fields. VEX products and solutions allow all educators to engage and inspire the STEM problem-solvers of tomorrow. VEX students and teachers are creators, not just consumers, of technology.

One of the goals of the VEX Blog is to support the mission of achieving STEM literacy by providing teachers with practical advice about student learning while also spending time discussing the research that guides those conclusions. As in all occupations, our experiences and intuition may nudge us in certain directions, but it is important to also allow research and the voices of other educators in the field to pull us in other, and sometimes contrary, directions.

There are those rare topics on which both research and intuition agree.  One such example is the belief that a key part of increasing STEM literacy is helping teachers to build capacity.  Research tells us that asking teachers to hastily incorporate tools and products that they do not feel comfortable with is not an effective strategy.  Research also tells us that the key driver for student learning gains is still effective pedagogy and lesson design.

Informed by this research, VEX has created STEM Labs.  STEM Labs are a supplemental educational resource, created to support educators with free, easy to follow STEM lessons that align with educational standards.  Classroom instruction is always evolving, with new approaches to pedagogy, student engagement, and assessment. STEM Labs meet both students and teachers on their journey towards STEM literacy, providing the right amount of scaffolding, support, and rigor along the way.

One example of how STEM Labs support teachers and raise student achievement is through the guidance of students from a procedural to a conceptual understanding of coding. When students are first presented with a coding task, most students will rely upon “guessing and checking” in order to arrive at an answer.  A more desirable outcome would be for students to think conceptually about their programming tasks.  To assist teachers in fostering this behavior, STEM Labs ask students to create Pseudocode before they begin their programming solution.

The Pseudocode can then become comments in the students’ program, thus helping them to articulate and then apply their procedure.

Students build understanding by engaging their prior knowledge and connecting new information to prior knowledge.  One challenge for educators is that students in their heterogeneous classrooms arrive with differing levels of prior knowledge.  To help meet this challenge, the VEX Knowledge Base can be used as a supplement to STEM Labs.  The Knowledge Base contains a wide variety of articles, guides, and explanations, all designed to give educators specific, timely, and targeted information.  The Knowledge Base can be used to fill gaps in student knowledge. Used in conjunction with STEM Labs, the Knowledge Base assists teachers in creating sequenced learning experiences that can lead to a coherent learning path for their students.

Once again, it is important that teachers feel prepared and confident when implementing any type of new technology in their classrooms. To that end, VEX has created its Educator Certification program. At VEX, we have trained 14,000 teachers and mentors to successfully teach educational robotics. The free, online Certification program helps educators at all different ability levels. By the end of the program, educators will be fully prepared to implement VEX Robotics and become a leader in technology and innovation within their school and community.

However, in order for any professional development to be effective, it must be continuous.  Teachers deserve and need the same level of instructional support when teaching educational robotics as when teaching a core academic class.  Increasing STEM Literacy is a challenge, therefore we’ve created the STEM Lab Teacher’s Portal. The Teacher’s Portal contains everything that a teacher needs to help them plan, teach, and assess.  Each STEM Lab contains rubrics, integrated teacher notes, pacing guides, and answer keys. The goal of the Teacher’s Portal is to provide instructional planning and support that helps teachers respond to students’ needs and to enable all students to master the content. The teacher guide provides step by step instructions, designed with both the novice and more experienced teacher in mind.  For novice teachers, they’ll get the information they need to feel comfortable teaching new content. For more experienced teachers, they will have the opportunity to create connections between the material in the Teacher’s Portal and their prior knowledge. They can then adjust the content as needed, in order to refine how STEM Labs can best be utilized in their classrooms with their students.

Introducing educational robotics into a classroom can lead to an increase in excitement for both students and teachers! VEX products and solutions are here to help teachers and schools to maintain that excitement and produce learning gains for all.

Stay tuned to this blog in the upcoming weeks and months as we share updates concerning VEX products, STEM Labs, Certifications, and additions to the VEX Knowledge Base.