Robotics Class--What do you do?

New robotics teacher, again, hi!

What do you all do in your robotics classes after you have working robots? I have been following the Vex EDR curriculum. We don’t have autodesk, so much of that curriculum isn’t useful to me. I feel like I have done everything in that curriculum that isn’t autodesk, and I don’t know what to do anymore. Even if we could use OnShape CAD, I am about 95% sure most of my students would not be able to build a CAD robot on their chromebooks.

Some important info:

  • We already worked though the Vex VR curriculum
  • we did a research project of robots in various fields
  • I don’t have any V5 kits, only EDR Clawbots with Cortex brain. They are old.
  • We don’t have the 21-22 game. We have what I believe is the 18-19 game. The claws can’t grab the objects of the game, so in order to play the game, we would have to modify the robots. This is an issue, because…
  • I only have about 3-4 robots for 50 students. I have no idea why they decided two sections of robotics was a good idea when we didn’t even have enough robots for one section, but that’s neither here nor there. It is important to know though that this means students have no ownership of any of the robots. This makes it really difficult to have students do any modification projects–any changes they might decide to implement could be reverted when they return to class the next day, and it usually leaves 50%+ of students unengaged since there isn’t enough robots for every one to have a job.
  • everything keeps breaking, and I have to wait for replacements. Once one thing gets fixed, something else breaks. I know this is part of engineering, but it often completely inhibits me from doing anything (latest example, all but 1 of the brain batteries broke, so we can’t do much until they are replaced).

I am feeling so lost and discouraged. The students aren’t liking the class, and I can’t blame them. Many days they just come in, sit and do nothing while 5/25 students work on robots and I run around trying to figure out the next unforeseeable issue. I have at least another 2.5 weeks I need to fill with robotics content, though I would like to do some more robotics content next semester before shifting to 3D printing (because I don’t know how I am going to fill an entire semester with 3D printing when I know so little about it myself. Don’t you just love it when you get handed classes you know nothing about?)

Any help, guidance, advice appreciated!

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what we are doing is different designs like a bridge builder using itself as a bridge and also a robot that can climb stairs i have also made a vex version of atari pong

I’m not an instructor (I’m a student), and my school does not have a robotics class, but I do have a few things to say.

You need some serious funding. If the class existed before you taught it, try to get in touch with the previous instructor. I might put together a presentation for the school board by the end of this school year about funding and upgrading the classroom equipment (not just our VRC equipment).

I highly suggest upgrading to V5 electronics. They are much more reliable and easy to use.
Having taken a PLTW Principles of Engineering class with EDR/Cortex equipment, I know how much of a struggle it is with old and faulty motors and batteries. The batteries are a killer.

I’m guessing you already went over proper engineering notebook keeping, gear ratios, simple machines and calculations, calculating friction, and things like that. If not, look into those topics.

You could have your students go through the design process to modify or rebuild their clawbots to compete in the VRC game that you have. What is the game that you have called? If you have the arena, there are lots of things you can do with autonomous coding.

You could also try to make work cells and teach functional program and design.

You could go deeper into programming and have the students write codes for clawbots (or any other things you build) to perform tasks.

You could ask students what they would like to learn, or if they have any ideas. I’m a student, and I came up with all of these ideas in one sitting. Maybe your students would have similar ideas.

I have a taste of how hard it is keeping so many students on task from being in charge of our robotics club. Other than uninterested and unmotivated students not coming back, I haven’t figured that one out yet.

I know how much of a joke it is to have that many students with such little resources. My school’s robotics program doesn’t have enough equipment for our numbers either.
The PLTW class I took had plenty of EDR equipment, but we worked in partners. I built everything, and my partner did all the RobotC programming. Because of that, I have no idea how to program, and I regret doing it that way.
Maybe you could test your students on what you taught them, and have the ones that fail re-learn what you taught. Ther other students could play with the robots in the mean time

My PLTW class designed, programmed, and built marble sorters using EDR/Cortex equipment.

I’ve been told OnShape is available on chromebooks. You said that your students probably would not be able to CAD a robot. This sounds like a teaching opportunity. If they can’t do it know, why give up? That’s what teaching is for - expanding a student’s capabilities and enabling them to do things they couldn’t before.


Hope this helped!

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Try to get more funding. School board budget meeting, some places have special grants for STEM classes, and you could also ask the parents of the students for any donations.

I’ve used OnShape on my chromebook, it’s slow but possible (but near impossible with the trackpad). OnShape was fairly easy to learn and use, and they also have lots of videos that you can use to teach the class.

Does your school have a computer lab or media center where there’s decent desktop computers?

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one question, what grade is this for? (my response is under the assumption that it is highschool)

my teacher does projects like making the strongest (2-D) truss out of toothpicks and wood glue, then he made a test stand where you slide the truss in and measure how much force it takes to break it (the only constraint is the amount of toothpicks and the ability to fit in the test stand. (the test stand was built out of vex parts).

you can do a vex game design project where you have your students take a look at the past years vex competitions than make their own vex game. you can have them 3-D model parts for it and make their own rule book. (i know vex holds a competition to see who can make the best game and make an animation with it VEX Game Design Animation Online Challenge | Online Challenges ).

vex also has online challenges with prizes that are gift certificates to the vex store. 2022 Challenges | Online Challenges (my personal favorite is VRC High School - “Make It Real” CAD Engineering Online Challenge Sponsored by Autodesk | Online Challenges ). my teacher has used these competitions, changed them a bit and used them as school projects.

a good way to teach 3-D modeling without having to purchase any software is tinkercad.com , it is fairly different than professional 3-D modeling software, but it helps to teach basics of modeling, and you can export the files to a 3-D printer. my old teacher would have us build a project with specific guidelines and he would print out the best ones.

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Thank you so so much. You have given me some really great ideas. I especially like the idea of doing some autonomous coding and tasks–that at least will allow the student to write their own code and then they can take turns testing it out on robots. Now I just need to come up with some tasks for them to perform…

We actually do have some money for V5 kits, but with the chip shortage/backorder situation, it won’t be happening for a while. We can purchase about half the kits we need, and my department head is going to try and get more money for the other half. I think this will make next year MUCH better, but unfortunately that doesn’t help us for this year.

I was thinking of modifying robots for the games we have, but my hesitation with that is the student:robot ratio. Without students having ownership of their “own” robot, it is difficult to modify both practically and because of low student buy-in (why would they care if it isn’t “their” robot, and someone else might change it?).

As for OnShape–I didn’t mean that we couldn’t do CAD at all, I meant that the Vex EDR curriculum has students build an entire robot on CAD which seems really hard, even for a well-educated 33 year old like myself. I am not ready to do that, especially without some more basic CAD work first. I am saving a lot of the CAD work for next semester when we do 3D design and printing. Who knows–maybe our CAD skills will take off and I will feel more prepared to take on a big project like building a functional CAD robot.

Thanks again for your thoughtful response.

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Thanks. We actually do have some funding, but can’t get V5 kits due to the chip shortage/backorder situation. We only have enough funds for about half of what we need, but there is a chance we might be able to get more. I think this will make next year better, at least.

I am planning on using OnShape. However, what I meant is that I am not ready for a big project like building a full CAD robot. We are going to start off small, but I am trying to save CAD for next semester because then I have a whole other semester to fill with things I don’t know much about anxious laugh

Its a good idea to possibly go to a computer lab though, even with OnShape working on chromebooks. I can’t imagine how much it would suck to do that with a trackpad.

Thanks again!

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Thanks so much. Yes, I teach high school. I have tinkered (pun intended) with tinkercad a little bit, but not quite enough to get the hang of it. I also really appreciate the links to the challenges. I am sure I will be able to find a couple things there that I could turn into a project!

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Are you looking at V5 or EXP kits? It sounds like EXP suits your needs better, and if they really do ship Q4 this year as predicted, it could solve some of your problems for 2nd semester.

You may be surprised how easy it is to build robots in Onshape. I did a unit in 2020 about making assemblies from an existing library of Vex parts. I did this before they had ever learned to build parts, and it worked fine. Building a whole robot may be too much, but building a chassis, drivetrain, and some simple mechanisms is very doable. I made some videos for my students that show them how to do this. I haven’t made them publicly available, but I’ll try to send them to you by private message.

My other Onshape unit started by going through most of the “Onshape solutions” videos from Chris and Jim CIM (Onshape Solutions – Chris and Jim CIM). Then the students designed a new Vex part of their choice, making sure to dimension it to be compatible with existing parts.

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One thing you can do, if you have a lot of motors is to split people int groups of 6 or 7, have them build robots without the cortex. Then, they two teams can share the cortex and pass it from bit to bot

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I have a bunch of ideas and will probably come back later with them, but Seth Ponder’s beginning OnShape videos were a lifesaver when I was teaching Robotic Engineering during distance learning. They are short and simple and will teach how to use all of the typical CAD tools in OnShape. Also, OnShape worked fine on my students’ chrome books and iPads. Here’s a link to the playlist

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Wow, I didn’t even know about vex EXP. Every time I think I understand what’s going on in the vex robotics world, I realize that there was a whole thing I didn’t even know about!

It does look like EXP might fit my classroom needs better. It makes me a bit anxious to pivot at this point–I have looked so much into V5 and have mentally prepared to go to V5, hailed V5 as the solutions to all my robotics problems, and now there is a whole new EXP world that I feel I should explore. I see under the EXP resources they are all listed as “coming soon”–do you have any idea when they will be coming? I have been planning on doing the V5 teacher certification as it seems like you get a lot of info regarding curriculum in that training. I was counting on that to direct me with V5. Will anything like that be available for EXP in the near future? I am nervous about pivoting in this new direction, and then not having any guidance, training, or curriculum to follow, like I was counting on having with V5.

Also, it looks like EXP recommends 2 students/robot. I was planning on doing 4-5 students/V5 robot. With the EXP being a smaller, easier, and more efficient build, do you think 4-5 students/EXP robot would still work and be engaging for the whole group? 2-3 students/EXP robot is definitely out of my budget.

Thank you for the OnShape recommendations and videos. I think part of my hesitation in using OnShape to build a robot, the reason it seems like too big of a project, is that I haven’t tried it yet myself–robotics is my elective, my primary class is AP physics which usually takes priority in the little time I have (new teacher, new mom, still trying to have a life). I’m sure one day when I find the time to sit down and do a lot of it myself, it will seem a lot less intimidating. In the mean time, these videos will allow me to learn bite-size pieces at the same time as my students.

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(I’m a student)
EXP is like vex go to vex iq. Easier to use and learn, but less stuff that it can get you into. If your are just teaching a class, I would recommend EXP but if you are willing to do competitions id go for V5. I would recommend V5 so that the students can use their full knowledge of the system if they want to continue further into the vex world

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Also look at VEX V5 Workcell… maybe good for robotics automation track

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They’re estimating that EXP will ship before the end of the year, and that V5 will be available first quarter of 2022. Who knows what will actually happen.

I haven’t used EXP so I can’t speak from experience. But V5 and EXP look more similar than different, so everything you know about V5 probably still applies. I (somewhat reluctantly) took them up on the offer to switch 4 backordered V5 kits to EXP. It has most of the advantages of V5: most of the same programming options, motor feedback, same sensors, etc., but less expensive, weaker motors, and smaller structural pieces (but a lot more of them for a similar price).

I think the experience of 4-5 people on an EXP bot will be similar to 4-5 on a V5 bot. In either case they’re going to be taking turns, and you’re going to need to have a plan for what 3 kids are doing while 1 or 2 build. Yes, the V5 stuff is bigger, but it’s still hard for more than one student to get their hands on a bot at a time. Smaller group sizes make a huge difference.

If those are your two options, you’re probably comparing a V5 classroom starter kit to an EXP Education kit. The EXP kit comes with far more components like wheels, gears, sprockets, chains, etc., giving you a lot more options for teaching and for the students to get creative. The V5 starter kit doesn’t let you build much beyond a clawbot. To have similar flexibility in the V5 line, you need a classroom superkit or a competition kit, which are significantly more expensive.

All that said, if you are planning on having some students do the VRC competition, you’ll need to get V5 equipment for those teams.

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EXP is a really cool product (and yes, I’m part of the dev team). It’s a baby V5.

It has fewer ports, but has a builtin BLE radio and inertial sensor.
Smaller screen, not touch but has buttons instead.
It has less memory, but still enough for anything likely to be needed on a robot.
It can use every sensor that’s compatible with V5, including GPS and VEXlink for robot to robot comms.
It’s not competition legal, but can use the standard V5 controller as well as the new EXP controller, it responds to competition control in the same way as V5 so can be used for testing competition code.
The VEXcode API is almost identical to V5, so code should be able to be moved between V5 and EXP with only minor changes.

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Autodesk is free for schools I believe so you could look into that

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Contact your event region manager, they can ask other teams around if they have any extra electronics they could loan.

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Yeah, students can get a free license for auto desk.
Cad is a very important thing that I wish I learned more of in my engineering classes. Even if you don’t have them do a robot it still helps them get familiar with where the buttons are.

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No need to limit yourself to entry-level CAD programs like inventor or fusion, as all of the major CAD packages have free educational licenses. Details can be found in this link: CAD for VEX Robotics.pdf - Google Drive

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