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New robotics system provides VEX factor for schools

New robotics system provides VEX factor for schools
Will VEX be the next big thing in STEM education? A teacher who has just introduced the new robotics design system in his classes and extra-curriculum STEM club – and led a team of pupils at the first ever UK National VEX Championships – believes it could be.

First introduced in the US in 2005, VEX is now so popular across the pond that the annual World Championships attracts high profile TV coverage and is part sponsored by NASA.

VEX is very much the new kit on the block over here, and with the backing of its first major UK distributor, Rapid Electronics, has recently launched its range of products in Britain. Built around the Cortex microcontroller, which is the system’s processor and programmable ‘brain’ featuring ten output ports, VEX offers considerable programming potential. 

Paul Tyrrell is a Science teacher, STEM club leader and STEM ambassador at the Gilberd School in Colchester, and led a group of Year 8 and 9 students in the UK VEX Finals. He said that his pupils found VEX very intuitive to work with. ‘They could integrate some quite complex lifting, gripping and movement elements into their robots. I have also been impressed by the demands VEX makes of pupils’ programming skills. It is great to see how their work, which combines coding, physics and maths, is rewarded with a highly responsive and multi-functional robot.’

‘I am grateful to Rapid Electronics for their help with introducing the system to the Gilberd School and providing us with support and advice as we prepared for the UK Championships’, says Paul, who runs an established STEM club at the school. ‘VEX ticks all the major STEM boxes, and does so much more. It stimulates and challenges, develops teamwork and social skills and is huge fun too.’

Gateway to glory

The first ever UK National Championships took place at the Education Show at the NEC in March. A different game is set annually for all VEX worldwide competitions, with the 2011-12 version called ‘Gateway’. Robots from 23 different schools competed against each other in a 12 ft x 12 ft arena to pick up, carry and deposit barrels and balls into bins or ‘goals’ of varying heights.

Points are scored for the amount and the order in which the objects are placed in the bins. Each game begins with a 30-second period in which each robot moves within its own enclosure. Once the gate separating the ‘interaction’ from the ‘isolation’ zone is raised, it can get lively in the arena. Robots will be robots.

Certainly Paul can vouch for that. ‘In our semi-final our lifting mechanism was damaged which limited the effectiveness of our robot. However I was proud of the way the team performed and they loved every minute of the experience.’

The three winning schools in the UK Championships were East Barnet School from North London, Great Sankey High School in Cheshire and the John Warner School from Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. The John Warner School has since competed in the World Championships in California in April, where details of the 2012-13 competition game 'Sack Attack' were announced.  

View the complete range of VEX products, as well as free resources and downloads, on our dedicated VEX minisite.

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