Adam, congratulations on starting a new team. I just started a VEX team for the school district I work for with the same exact grade levels. I have 12 students. One in 6th, one in 8th and the rest in 7th. They’re split into 2 teams of 6. We’re in Maine and as far as I know there aren’t any VEX IQ teams, so we use the VEX platform and compete against the high school teams.
Going in I had a lot of expectations and high hopes for what I’d be able to teach the students. Within the first few weeks I realized I’d have to refocus my goals. The materials and tools were all brand new to the students, so they had more to learn about assembling than I expected.
I agree with your statement about letting the students do the work, but if I could do anything differently I would have initially had my students spend more time building example robots from instructions like the ones by ManicMechanic linked above. We spent a few meetings struggling with some basics when we could have used that time building example robots and gaining skills for designing and building their own robots.
One of the biggest challenges for me is organizing the students, keeping them all busy while also helping the ones who need it. I typically had them work on tasks in pairs which worked well for us. I established a protocol where they had to consult their partner, their team, the other team, and any online or textual resources before I would help them solve their problem. It was necessary since it was just me and they had 6 different things going on in the room. I should have done more to teach them how to use their resources, but it never felt like we had enough time.
I wouldn’t meet for less than 1.5 hours at a time so you don’t have to stop to clean up just as you’re picking up momentum. We meet for 2 hours and always use up the time, but some days it’s hard for some of the students to maintain that long.
EDIT: My comments about EasyC refer to EasyC 4. I wasn’t aware they had released a new version in December.
Warning, long rant follows…
We use EasyC. I can’t in good conscience recommend it to others. From the very first it’s been a pain. It wouldn’t install cleanly on any computer I had access to without me having to download and install additional libraries manually. The licensing software they use will randomly fail to load at times or won’t install correctly.
As for actually programming with it, it’s great for doing simple things and it has some useful built in functions like PID controller and driving smart tasks, but in general I don’t find it pleasant to use. The interface is clunky and the block diagram isn’t really any easier to read than actual code - in fact some aspects are more difficult. Function arguments are all integers, so it’s not immediately obvious what functions do unless you have all the motor and sensor ports in your head. The only advantage of the block diagram is eliminating syntax errors. The help files are not helpful with a lot of copy pasted text and no information on return values.
There is an option to write C code, but the text editor is painfully simplistic and not all code can be converted from block diagram to C code. I wish they made this aspect easier and more powerful.
Long story made longer, I expected more for the money we spent. All that said, you should trial it (and RobotC) before you decide and make your own choice. I’m personally interested in PROS, but I don’t know enough about it to know if it would be right for middle school.
Good luck to you and your students! You have a great experience ahead of you.