VEX IQ - programming pathways

Everything needs to have a beginning so this description of the programming pathways associated with VEX start with the VEX IQ Challenge1. It is the VEX IQ challenge that the Kiwibots use to get students to find STEM exciting.

The structure of the VEX IQ Challenge is such that no student ever feels that they have lost at technology yet there is a champion at every event. This is achieved by having robots work together to maximise the points they jointly achieve in a game with the points they gain with different robots each game accumulating throughout the day of competition. The tournament champion is the team with the highest accumulated points. In addition, a match is only 1-minute-long and drivers have to hand over control of the robot to a team mate halfway through.

Once we have their attention and they are enjoying the sport of robotics they start wanting their robot to do more. 1 minute is not a long time and students soon realise that having the robot do things automatically is far more efficient than having a drive do it. Success competition created demand for development. This leads them to investigate programming and to start asking questions about robot design. Once this happens the rest is easy.

Teachers: Before you class starts get your students to register with the CS-STEM Network2 (CS2N) as everything they do while they learn can be recorded and tracked online. We call this their CS2N id. More on this later.

Expedition Atlantis

Expedition Atlantis3 is a great starting point for students that have never done any programming before. Introducing them to the concept of numbers to control distance and direction at the same time helping them understand these concepts before they have even thought of programming. It is a great game that is best used in lesson 1 of any program. They should also use their CS2N id when they play the game so their results and progress is logged. It is worth noting that there is a great teacher’s guide4 available to give the teacher background information on the activity.

RobotC for VEX

Having completed the Expedition Atlantis introduction game, it is time for them to start programming. We recommend that schools use RobotC for VEX5 as it is not only free but it has a scratch like Graphical mode19, a Natural Language mode20 and a full blown C mode all in the one application. RobotC can be used on its own without any curriculum support but that is the hard way.

We suggest that students are introduced to programming with Robot Virtual Worlds6 and then given the chance at distinct points in time to switch their code over to the real world VEX IQ robots7. This will maximise the learning opportunities presented to the students.

Robot Virtual Worlds

Robot Virtual Worlds6 (RVW) allows every student to do the course at their own pace without the need to have real world hardware all the time. One student to one computer for self-paced learning is easily achievable. The RVW overview video8 covers the main points of RVW and is well worth watching. Teachers and students are assisted with a wealth of free curricula that will help then through the process of learning and teaching. The curricula takes the form of a guided step-by-step lesson flow9 with a downloadable teacher’s guide10 that gives lesson plans and the background to each lesson’s module.

Teachers: Make sure your students log on to CS2N2 when they do each lesson. This will ensure that their achievements and results are recorded and that these results and progress can be monitored by you online.

RVW needs the Challenge Pack for VEX IQ and EV311 plug-in for RobotC installed in order to make sure that the correct virtual world is available.

Students are able to create their own virtual worlds using the RVW Level builder12 that is a plug-in for RobotC. Students create the world by dragging and dropping objects from an object pallet onto a 12’ x 12’ field along with starting and stopping tiles. A video13on RVW level builder is available that gives an overview of its capabilities.

RVW combined with the CS-STEM Network is a one stop shop for teaching robotics and monitoring the progress of students following the course.

There are a few inconsistencies but these are being worked on and eliminated and doing the course before using it in classroom will help the teacher get used to what is covered and when.

CS-STEM Network

CS-STEM Network's mission is to develop engaging educational technologies to support teachers teaching computer science, engineering practices, and mathematics using robots

The CS-STEM Network allows students to create groups of lessons that their students can have their results logged against. A free service to the community this is a great way to keep track of students and to get access to resources to help in the planning and execution of courses. Students simply join a group created by a teacher using a code or web link21 given to them and they become part of the group (class).

Real World Robots

Whilst RVW goes a long way to teaching students about programming robots it does not fully replace the excitement a student experiences when they see their real world VEX IQ robots7. obey their commands. This can be bone with several students sharing one robot and taking turns programming it while others work in the virtual world.

Exercises done in the virtual world can be recreate din the real world to give increased relevance to the exercises.

Code that has been tested in the virtual world can be programmed into a real world robot by simply changing the ‘target’ of the software. As long as the robot has been built to the standards indicated in the online class no code will need to be modified. There are build instructions14 at appropriate places in the online lesson that show how to do this for the robot needed. Most of the time it is only sensors that move.

The difference between the virtual world and the real world is that the teacher has the chance to let students learn about mechanics and physics with a real robot. Curriculum15 for the mechanical side of the robots covering gears etc with free teacher’s guides and worksheets are available for download. Hard copies may also be purchased if needed.

CAD links to RVW and real robots

When the time comes teachers may want to bring CAD into their courses. With Autodesk Fusion 36016 this is not only possible but there are great online tutorial videos17 available to help the learning process. Free to educational institutions and students18. Parts designed in Fusion 360 can be imported into RVW level builder or printed and used in the real world.

A complete solution++

We believe that the VEX IQ platform coupled with RobotC 4.x for VEX and Robot Virtual worlds presents the ultimate solution to teaching robotics in the classroom.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Chris Hamling

National Manager – Kiwibots

Mob: 021 664 176




  1. VEX IQ Challenge

  2. CS-STEM Network

  3. Expedition Atlantis

  4. Expedition Atlantis teacher PDF guide and PPT

  5. RobotC 4.x for VEX Robotics

  6. Robot Virtual Worlds

  7. VEX IQ robots

  8. RVW intro video

  9. RVW guided online lesson

  10. RVW guidel lesson teacher’s guide

  11. Challenge Pack for IQ and EV3

  12. RVW level builder

  13. RVW level builder video

  14. Typical VEX IQ robot build instructions

  15. VEX IQ mechanical curriculum

  16. Autodesk Fusion 360 overview

  17. Autodesk Fusion 360 tutorials

  18. Autodesk Fusion 360 for students

  19. RobotC graphical mode

  20. RobotC natual language

  21. CS2N sample group link


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The Kiwibots and their sponsors are looking for people that are team players, they discourage teams-of-one.
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